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Wednesday, February 1, 2023


Terrorist attack survivor shares hope in the midst of pain


Kay Wilson spoke about her journey from being a victim to survivor on Thursday evening, surrounded by friends and students. | Karis Johnson/The Cougar

Kay Wilson paused in the middle of her story and turned her back to the audience, pointing to her rib cage and describing in gruesome detail two of the 13 stab wounds she sustained during a terrorist attack in 2010 while in central Israel.

A British tour guide who lived in Israel for over 30 years, Wilson shared her personal story of survival at the University of Houston’s Baptist Student Ministry building Thursday.

Hosted by Students Supporting Israel and Hillal, a UH Jewish student association, Wilson spoke to the students about her story of recovery from the trauma of surviving a terrorist attack.

“The idea is that I don’t want to be a perpetual victim,” Wilson said.

The attack occurred when Wilson was hiking with an American friend, Kristine Luken, in the hills of central Israel. Wilson said she noticed two men lurking in the thicket and cautioned Luken that they should move back toward the parking lot.

Pulling out a penknife from her backpack “just in case,” Wilson proceeded to walk away, but the two men jumped out from behind and quickly overpowered them.

During the struggle against her captor, Wilson was able to briefly stick the man with her knife, but the two women were easily brought to the ground where they were kept at knife-point for 30 minutes.

“And then began half an hour of eternity, half an hour of terror, half an hour of debilitating uncertainty, half an hour of confusion, half an hour of unadulterated fear,” Wilson said.

The men gagged and bound Luken and Wilson before dragging them deeper into the woods and forcing them to their knees.

Wilson said she remembers catching a brief glimpse of the sun glinting off a machete before the men cried out in Arabic and began hacking at their backs.

“Each time he plunged his machete into me, I could hear my bones crunch,” Wilson said. “I’m lying there and thinking, ‘Never again will I see the people I love, never again will I embrace someone or hear the sound of the desert wind.’ All of this terrible grief as I contemplated my eminent death.”

Wilson stumbled into the parking lot after a mile of up-hill climbing, where she was found by Israeli authorities and rushed to a hospital. Luken died of her wounds in the forest, but Wilson made a full physical recovery after extensive care and therapy.

Despite conquering her physical wounds, Wilson said it is an ongoing process of healing emotionally and mentally.

“Although I don’t forgive and I can’t possibly forget, I don’t want to live the rest of my life in hatred or fear,” Wilson said. “And how do I do that? One step at a time. I have to go back to the forest, and I have to remember that walk, and I have to remember the sound of my lungs filling with blood, and I am ever aware that the next breath could be my last, then and now.”

Wilson’s story did not end there. Israeli authorities were able to use the DNA from the blood on her penknife to track down their attackers as well as 13 other terrorists in the Hamas group. The men were arrested, and although she became a national hero in Israel for a period of time, Wilson said her true peace comes from knowing that she has the power to change her perspective on her pain.

“I can’t work it out, I can’t make sense of it,” Wilson said. “But it’s my commission to make meaning. And by speaking on campuses and alerting the world and the universities to these problems that are coming up against Jewish people, I’ve realized too…that I have to see the setting sun and not just the machete.”

Political science sophomore Tatiana Uklist, a leader with Students Supporting Israel, said she worked with the pro-Israel organization StandWithUs to invite Wilson to speak at UH.

After interning with the organization, she said she realized how powerful Wilson’s story would be when presented on a college campus.

“We want to include anybody and everybody who supports Israel for whatever reason,” Uklist said. “Our mission is to educate the 80 percent that have no ties to Israel about the culture and everything Israel provides. We want to shed a positive light on Israel.”

The StandWithUs program is a nationwide organization dedicated to educating and promoting support of Israel. The StandWithUs southern region high school coordinator Heather Viniar also attended the event and said she hopes that students realize that “Israel is for everyone.”

“You walk around Israel and it’s one of the most diverse places in the world,” said Viniar.

As Wilson concluded her story, she said despite the terror that happens in places like Israel, there is still hope for change and fostering a different worldview centered on caring for fellow human beings.

“Life is a choice, and in that sense I’ve learned that life is living in this present moment,” Wilson said. “(It is) taking those steps of gratitude and hating evil and loving good.”

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