Kay Wilson is intimately acquainted with evil. Eight years ago on a sunny December afternoon, Palestinian terrorists brutally stabbed Wilson and her friend as they hiked a trail in a picturesque forest outside Jerusalem.
As she helplessly watched her friend Kristine Luken be murdered with a machete, Wilson made the split-second decision to play dead — a move that would end up saving her life.
Bound, gagged and stabbed 13 times, Wilson was determined not to die deep in the woods alongside Luken where their bodies could be overlooked. Somehow, she mustered the strength to walk over a kilometer through the forest on what she calls her own personal “death march” to call for help.
Her eyewitness testimony and remnants of the killer’s DNA led to the capture of Luken’s killers. They later confessed to murdering another woman, Neta Sorek, earlier in 2010.
The extraordinary story of Wilson’s will to survive, and the subsequent police investigation was the subject of an 2018 Israeli TV documentary titled “Black Forest,” directed by Hadar Kleinman Zadok and Timna Goldstein Hattab.
The 50-minute film produced by public broadcaster Kan provided a therapeutic outlet for Wilson, who years later, is still healing from the physical and emotional trauma she suffered in the grisly attack.
On Monday night, Wilson and the film’s directors presented an English-language screening of “Black Forest,” which drew audible gasps of horror from the audience and brought more than a few to tears. But the somber mood in Jerusalem’s packed Beit Avi Chai theater took a sharp turn after Wilson took the stage to talk about the film with journalist Matthew Kalman. Within minutes, Wilson had the audience is laughing at her self-deprecating take on her own fashion sense, jabs at Bituach Leumi and absurd stories of facing her attackers in court.
Wilson told the audience that recounting the harrowing experience in the documentary helped her regain a small amount of her control over the situation.
“I did [the movie] for a purpose. I’ve been telling my story for five years, and it has a huge mental toll on me. And I don’t tell it because it’s fun, but so people know what evil does,” Wilson says.
Kleinman Zadok and Goldstein Hattab told the Times of Israel that returning to the forest to film the reenactment scenes was Wilson’s idea. “To go through all this trauma wasn’t easy for her, but it was her idea to do it,” Goldstein Hattab said.
Wilson said revisiting site where Luken was murdered was “weird… but kind of nice because I felt like I was in control.”
But the road to physical and emotional recovery over the last eight years has not been easy for Wilson, and has raised some complex questions about death and suffering.
During her discussion with Kalman, Wilson described the immense guilt she still feels towards Luken’s family to this day.
“Why me? There’s no point in asking that, because there’s entitlement behind that question. When terrorists attack or tragedy happens to people I don’t know, I think for five seconds, ‘Oh how terrible.’ But when it happens to me, why should I be the center of the universe?” asked Wilson.
“There’s no real reason why I stayed alive, I don’t consider myself to be that important. I haven’t dealt with those issues yet,” Wilson said.
Wilson calls the all-too often asked question of “Where was God?” during the attack “a non sequitur.”
“God was in the forest, in the birds, in the blood I could taste in my mouth, and in the smell of the pine trees,” she told the audience. “I think that’s entirely the wrong question to be asking… Where was man? How can people do this to one another?”
‘When you don’t succeed, other bad things happen’
As depicted in“Black Forest,” on February 24, 2010, Sorek left the Beit Jamal guest house where she way staying to take a walk. A nature lover and dedicated peace activist, the 54-year-old English teacher from central Israel was staying at the secluded monastery in the Judean Hills for a quiet weekend. When she didn’t return from her walk, police were called and a search was launched. Sorek was found stabbed to death a day later in the forest near Beit Jamal.
Police opened an investigation into her murder, but immediately ran into dead ends: Bedouin shepherds in the area refused to cooperate with the investigation, extensive searches of the area turned up no suspects and DNA evidence from the scene was not a match in law enforcement databases.
The area around Beit Jamal is known to problematic to Israeli security forces; the forest straddles the Green Line and is a known route for many undocumented Palestinians sneaking into Israel looking for work.
When investigators began combing through old police reports from the area, the name Kifah Ghanimat came up a number of times. Ghanimat, a Hebron native, had been implicated in a handful of violent incidents in the area including rape and robbery, but he had never been convicted or charged for any of the crimes.
Eventually, a Bedouin resident admitted to police that he saw Ghanimat in the area on the day Sorek disappeared. But the admission came too late. Ghanimat had vanished, leaving behind no trace other than garbage strewn around some of the caves in the forest.
In the “Black Forest,” police officers working Sorek’s murder recall their frustration that Ghanimat was able to slip away and managed to evade capture.
“When you don’t succeed, other bad things can happen,” one police investigator wearily says in the film.
Several months later, Ghanimat was back in the Beit Jamal forest with another man, when they spotted Wilson and Luken standing at a lookout point just off one of the trails.
He and Ayad Fatafta jumped the women, bound and gagged them, before stabbing them a dozen times each with machetes.
Wilson recounts the moments she realized that she and Luken would die. After gently removing her Magen David necklace, Wilson says she saw glimmer of light out of the corner of her eye.
“It’s not God, it’s not my life flashing before me, its the sunlight [reflecting] off his machete,” she says in the film.
“I lay bound and gagged, staring at the autumn skies. In those moments, which I believed were to be my last, I looked at the sun obscured by a man’s hand wielding a machete,” Wilson says. “Thirteen times they plunged their machetes into us to the blood-curdling crescendo of ‘Allahu Akbar,’ Kristine screaming ‘Jesus’ and my own whimpering of ‘Shema Israel.’”
Wilson continues, “I had never contemplated being brutally murdered. But who does? At only 46 years old, even death had barely crossed my mind. It was half an hour of madness so debilitating that even the moments necessary for preparing myself for death were strangled by the dread of the manner of my imminent execution.
Somehow, says Wilson, she realized that her only chance for survival was to play dead. “I made a moral choice, and I tried not to move and I watched — no more two meters away from me — him hacking Kristine up.”
The killers stabbed Wilson 12 times before leaving her for dead. But returned several minutes later to stab her a last time just to be sure.
“He rolls me back over so I’m looking up at the pine trees, and the sun is low, its pink and orange and purple, and suddenly this silhouette of this hand holding a knife covers the sun… and I watch him stab me in the chest, but I don’t blink, flinch or move,” she says.
The knife missed her heart by 4 millimeters.
“My last commission on earth was to die, but I wanted to die closer to where I parked the car so that police would find my body,” Wilson says. “I manage to stand, I turn my back on Kristine — or what was left of her — and step by step I begin to walk.”
“It’s extremely hard, my lungs were filling with blood, it was like breathing through a straw… everything was closing down. I started thinking of a musical arrangement to the song ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow,’ and everything is collapsing, and everything turns cold.”
After walking over a kilometer, Wilson reached the parking lot at the start of the trail, and stumbled across a picnicking family who called first responders.
As she was being rushed to Jerusalem’s Hadassah hospital to undergo the first of several emergency surgeries for the stab wounds that fractured her lungs and diaphragm, shattered her shoulder and sternum, Wilson relayed information about the attackers to police.
“I’m getting all of the details from her while she’s in the hospital,” an investigator named Lilach says. “She was so weak that wasn’t even sure that she was going to make it.”
Wilson told Lilach that she lightly stabbed one of the attackers with a small pen knife she had been carrying, causing him to bleed. Though her clothes were soaked in her own blood, forensic analysts managed to find an uncontaminated sample of his blood on her shirt, and ran it against police records. The sample yielded a match for Ayad Fatafta.
Fatafta was brought in for questioning and soon confessed. He linked Ghanimat to the scene, who also confessed to attacking Wilson and Luken. Police revealed that Ghanimat was the leader of a small, Hebron-based terrorist cell that included Fatafta and his brother, Ibrahim.
In addition to Luken murder, the three men during questioning also admitted to murdering Sorek earlier in 2010, as well as committing a number of other violent crimes in the area.
For the film, Wilson returned to the scene to reenact parts of the attack, taking viewers through an emotional retelling of the harrowing experience firsthand. The filmmakers also chose to include police footage of Ghanimat’s return to the scene, where he too reenacts parts of the attack for police after his confession.
Starkly juxtaposed to Wilson’s gripping reenactment, Ghanimat stands at the site of the murder, nonchalantly shows how he and Fatafta ambushed the women, and even produces the murder weapons they dumped in a nearby bush.
“We wanted to kill,” he casually explains to the detective as he stands at the scene shackled. When asked to clarify who they wished to kill, Ghanimat answers: “The Jews,” but quickly adds “there was no reason for it, we just wanted to kill.”
A month after the grisly attack, police had enough evidence to arrest the three. Fatafta and Ghanimat were charged with murdering Luken, and the attempted murder of Wilson. The Ghanimat brothers were separately charged with Sorek’s murder. In 2012, all three were sentenced to multiple life terms for the murders and the other crimes.
As for Wilson, though human evil robbed her of her health, livelihood and anonymity, she credits the progress she has made so far to the kindness of others.
“Evil doesn’t make me cry, its kindness that makes me weep,” she says in the film. “When you experience goodness, and I have been at the receiving end of so much goodness from so many people. I wouldn’t want to give them the privilege of making me cry.”
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