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'I'd only had one lesson in Krav Maga. All I had in my mind were, like, things from movies'

US-born soldier says he’d forgive Palestinian who stabbed him

Seth, from Utah, was lightly wounded in attack last month in Jerusalem after fighting off his attacker — who, he says, should ‘get his life together’

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Seth, whose name has been withheld for privacy concerns, salutes after having received an award from his battalion commander for bravery on January 6, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
Seth, whose name has been withheld for privacy concerns, salutes after having received an award from his battalion commander for bravery on January 6, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)

Seth wanted to be a good soldier, so while everyone else he was with illegally jay-walked across the street outside the Jerusalem Central Bus Station on December 27, he alone opted to use the crosswalk.

Once he had crossed — weighed down with two big bags of clothes and gear for his return trip to base — Seth felt someone jump on his back.

“I thought maybe it was a friend of mine. I have a couple of friends that say ‘hi’ like that,” he said, thinking it was an army pal messing with him first thing in the morning. “But when I turned, I didn’t recognize the face.”

Seth had been stabbed. It was just after 6 a.m. on a Sunday.

American-born Seth (the IDF requested his last name be withheld for security reasons) is not an Israeli citizen, but a permanent resident. He is originally from Ogden, Utah, but came here with his family when he was two-years old. His family has some Jewish roots, but not enough to qualify for citizenship through the Law of Return.

Paramedics at the scene of a stabbing attack outside Jerusalem's central bus station on Sunday morning, December 27, 2015 (Magen David Adom)
Paramedics at the scene of a stabbing attack outside Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station on Sunday, December 27, 2015 (Magen David Adom)

Seth has attended Israeli schools his entire life, and though his Hebrew is slightly accented, he feels entirely Israeli, with no desire to go back to the States. Not even after his brush with terror. The 21-year-old soldier had joined the IDF’s Artillery Corps this past November, and was just days shy of finishing his basic training when he was attacked.

Seth was officially sworn into the Israel Defense Forces on Wednesday and at his swearing-in ceremony received an award of distinction from his battalion commander for the bravery he had displayed during the stabbing incident just 10 days earlier.

In a phone interview, Seth described the attack calmly and modestly, giving an unembellished account: “He did this with his right arm, I did that with my left arm, I noticed this, he said that.”

The terrorist’s knife went through the strap of Seth’s bag and punctured him in the back, below his right shoulder. But with adrenaline pumping and because of the sharpness of the blade, he said he didn’t actually feel it at all.

‘I lifted my left hand up to defend myself. I didn’t know what else to do.’

“He got off of me immediately and started running. When he stopped and turned, that’s when I noticed the knife in his hand,” Seth recalled. “That’s when I understood, ‘Okay, this is a terrorist and he’s trying to hurt people.'”

In that moment, Seth still hadn’t realized that he had already been hurt. Due to the multiple layers of fabric the knife penetrated — undershirt, shirt, coat and bag strap — all of his blood had been wiped off the blade, so it didn’t appear to have been used.

The terrorist, a Palestinian in his 30s from the West Bank, saw that Seth was still standing and began walking back towards him. Seth started backing away slowly, which prompted the terrorist to break into a full run after him, Seth said.

“I lifted my left hand up to defend myself,” he said. “I didn’t know what else to do.”

The two grappled outside the bus station, Seth struggling to hold both of his assailant’s arms. He managed to push the attacker to the ground and pinned down his arm, which was still clutching the knife.

The knife used in the stabbing attack outside of the Jerusalem Central Bus Station on December 27, 2015. (Israel Police)
The knife used in the stabbing attack outside of the Jerusalem Central Bus Station on December 27, 2015. (Israel Police)

“I was putting a lot of weight on his arm so he couldn’t move. And I was pushing my hand down on his face,” he said.

“I’d only had one lesson in Krav Maga,” the soldier said, referring to the Israeli martial art. “All I had in my mind were, like, things from movies I’d seen.”

At that point a security guard from the nearby bus station came along. When he saw the attacker’s knife, he realized what had happened. He asked bystanders to call the police and medics, and then assisted in holding down the attacker, Seth said.

“I don’t know what I would have done if the security guard hadn’t come over,” he added.

It was only when police and members of the Magen David Adom rescue service arrived that Seth finally realized that he’d been injured. The blade missed any major artery or vital organ, hitting only muscle, so Seth required just one stitch. He was released from the hospital later that day.

If the knife had gone in a little deeper, or just a few inches to the side, Seth’s injuries could have been much more severe. His spine, his lungs or any other vital organ could have been hit. But Seth says he bears his attacker no hatred.

“If I get the chance to meet the guy, face-to-face, I’d tell him that I forgive him,” Seth said. “But I’d tell him he’s got to get his life together.”

Initial reports downplayed his role in apprehending the attacker, as police officers arriving at the scene had missed the bulk of the action. Because he was so calm about the incident, his parents also took the potentially disastrous incident in stride, and didn’t “overreact,” Seth said.

Back to base

His commanders, including the head of his battalion, came to visit to make sure he was recuperating fully. Although he was given a week to recover at home, after a few days he decided that he wanted to return to his base.

Seth, whose name has been withheld for privacy concerns, receives an award from his battalion commander for bravery on January 6, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
Seth, whose name has been withheld for privacy concerns, receives an award from his battalion commander for bravery on January 6, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

When he got back that Friday, the other soldiers started calling him “hero,” Seth said sheepishly, though they also ragged on him for not making use of the full days off that he was given.

Seth couldn’t take part in every aspect of basic training because of his injury, but finished the course on Wednesday.

That evening, during their swearing-in ceremony, in which soldiers hold a rifle and swear on the Bible to defend the State of Israel, the battalion commander named Seth as the unit’s “distinguished soldier” and spoke about Seth’s bravery in the attack, before presenting him with a certificate of appreciation.

Seth, who completed a post-high school, two-year engineering certification program, is older than most new soldiers in the IDF, but will still serve the full two years and eight months of required service. He said he may go even further, perhaps becoming a career officer.

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