For British-Israeli tour guide Kay Wilson, December 18, 2010 began like any other day. On a hike with a Christian-American friend, Kristine Luken, they’d been enjoying a balmy day in the Mata Forest west of Jerusalem – a sanctuary of pine trees, humming birds, and wildflowers.

The women sat on a limestone slab, eating sunflower seeds under the shade of a carob tree. Kristine was humming “Somewhere Over the Rainbow, when Kay noticed two men, 20 yards away, crouching in the bushes.

“Have you got any water?” one called out in Arab-accented Hebrew.

Suspicious, Kay told Kristine, “Let’s get out of here,” and slipped a small penknife out of her backpack in case of any trouble.

The trouble came quickly. The men charged up the hill and pounced on the two women, tying their hands with a shoelace and gagging their mouths.

“I didn’t want to scream, because I didn’t want them to panic,” Kay told near her home outside of Jerusalem, fresh off the publication of her memoir, The Rage Less Traveled.

The women were held prisoner for 30 minutes of sheer terror. “I feared more than anything being kidnapped,” Kay says. “Beyond my own welfare, I felt responsible for Kristine, who was more delicate. I was horrified to think of her in a dark, dungy cell, subject to who knows what kind of inhuman treatment.”

Kay tried some creative ways to get free. She showed her tour guide badge and said that a busload of tourists would soon come looking for them. When this didn’t work, Kay told Kristine to feign an epileptic attack in the hope that a medical crisis would make the men panic and release them.

Kay clung to what Viktor Frankel called the “delusion of reprieve” – doing everything to appease one’s oppressor, in the hope he’ll let you go. “The reality is so colossal, you just can’t fathom being murdered. So your thoughts go to the easier option of ‘We’ll get out of this’,” Kay says. “I told the Arab, ‘Please don’t kill us.’ He put his hand on his heart and assured me: ‘We’re good. We don’t kill’.”

The two men made a phone call to confirm their getaway car, then forced the women to kneel, gagged and bound, heads bowed.

“He took out his knife, a foot-long machete, and pushed my head forward,” Kay describes. “Out of the corner of my eye I saw a light – it was the sun glistening off the blade. I waited to be beheaded.”

A yell of “Allahu Akbar” and serrated steel plunged into Kay’s back.

Kay managed to thrust her penknife into the attacker’s thigh. Blood spurt onto her sleeve.

Kay endured another dozen blows – each harder, deeper, and more excruciating than before. “They hacked like it was nothing,” she says, “with a Marlboro in one hand and a machete in the other.”

Kay’s only chance, she figured, was to play dead. “I knew people die with their eyes open, so I lay on my side, eyes wide open.” In doing so, Kay witnessed the unthinkable: Kristine being butchered to death before her very eyes.

Believing their work complete, the men left. In severe shock, Kay lay motionless on the ground. A minute later, she felt the ground vibrating with footsteps. The attackers had returned to confirm the women dead.

Kay was rolled onto her back. "Staring up at the blue sky, I watched him plunge the blade into my chest.”

The machete missed her heart by a fraction of an inch. Somehow, she managed not to blink, flinch or move. Finally, the men left.

The picturesque Mata Forest near Beit Shemesh, Israel.

Death March

With dozens of broken bones – some puncturing her lungs and others poking out her back – Kay was determined to exert one final act of autonomy: choosing her own grave. “I was defiant,” she says. “Even if I could manage to move one centimeter, I was going to die where I chose to.”

With hands bound behind her back, gagged, with mud and blood stuffed up her nose, and bleeding to death, Kay stumbled barefoot down the thorny hills toward her car – “so the authorities could find my dead body.”

Using her tongue to shift aside chunks of vomit so she wouldn’t choke to death, Kay distracted her thoughts by composing a musical arrangement to "Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

She trekked on, gravely wounded. Faces of loved ones, contorted with grief, appeared in the gnarled tree trunks. “I looked up and thought: God is very big, He's very kind. And He's very angry.”

Thirty minutes and one mile later, Kay reached a picnic area where a family was barbequing. A woman looked up and shrieked, sending shivers through the forest.

An ambulance rushed Kay to Hadassah Hospital. In the operating room, the last thing she remembers is the irony of a glint of steel and a Jewish surgeon saying to his Arab-Israeli colleague, “Mohammed, pass me the knife.”

Meanwhile in the forest, a team of 400 soldiers, police, and volunteers were conducting an overnight search for Kristine. At daybreak, her mutilated body was found.

Kristine Luken was mistaken for a Jew and murdered by Arab terrorists.

DNA Match

That night, Kay’s series of surgeries was interrupted only by police investigators hoping she’d survive long enough to share information. Kay told investigators how she’d wounded her attacker with a penknife. Although her shirt was drenched in blood, forensic experts were able to isolate some drops of the attacker’s blood on her sleeve. Police entered the DNA information into their database and – presto – the attacker’s identity appeared as a perfect match.

Within 48 hours of the attack, police had arrested the two attackers and their 13-member terror cell. They confessed to the murder and the next day were taken by police back to the forest to reenact the crime. They described having spent the night in the forest, waiting for victims. “We came to kill Jews,” they said on videotape. “No reason. Just to kill Jews.”

The terrorists also confessed to various acts of rape, theft, and the murder of Neta Sorek who’d been stabbed to death a few months earlier in the Judean Hills. (“There was speculation that Neta had taken her own life,” Kay says, “and this restored dignity to her name.”)

For her courage and presence of mind in using the penknife, Kay received a commendation from the Israeli Police and the Israeli Security Agency.

“The prophet Zechariah (4:10) says not to take little things lightly,” Kay says. “I think of how a tiny penknife brought down a terror cell and put those murderers in jail.”

Physical and Emotional Trauma

I had so many wounds and broken bones,” she says. “It’s like the joke about two Jewish ladies in a restaurant. The waiter comes over and says, ‘Is anything okay?’"

That day in the forest, Kay physically aged a decade. She spent the next two years recovering in bed, her 5-foot-4 frame shrunken to 81 pounds. “I'm still in chronic pain, like a toothache all over my body,” she says. “I’m in physical pain every time I breathe – a constant reminder of the attack.”

Kay also experienced extreme emotional trauma. “The nights were never-ending and even the days felt like night,” she says. “I had flashbacks of Kristine writhing and screaming as the terrorist impaled her to the ground. I clawed my pillow and drenched it with tears.”

Emotionally, Kay had reached rock-bottom: “I lost my friend, I lost my health, my independence, my income, my appetite, my sleep, my routine, my anonymity, my innocence, and sense of security.”

Kay suffered survivor’s guilt for leading Kristine to her death. “Kristine should have lived till age 90 and died in a soft bed under pink cotton sheets surrounded by her loved ones,” she laments.

As treatment for her intensive PTSD, Kay underwent Gradual Exposure Therapy whose goal was to have her gain closure by returning to the site of the murder.

“I told the therapist: I am not going back there. Let me repeat myself: I am not in a million years, ever, going back to that forest. Or to any other forest, for that matter. Ever.”

As a first step, Kay agreed to stand in proximity to a tree for a few seconds. Slowly, slowly, she progressed through therapy, eventually returning to the scene of the crime.

“I used to spend a lot of time thinking about the murderers,” she says. “But you get to a point where it’s not possible anymore. That’s just giving them space in your head and sapping your energy.”

Through it all, Kay reminds herself that “waking up every day in mental and physical pain is better than not waking up at all.”

Telling the Tale

Kay dramatically captures the attack and its ongoing aftermath in her new book, The Rage Less Traveled.

“I feel a commission to bear witness. Not only to what evil does, but also to the goodness of Israel. Being in a society where everybody has lost somebody to terrorism, and where pogroms are a constant part of Jewish history, I've been able to draw on others' experiences. I’ve received a lot of goodness and kindness. That’s what I also want to bear witness to.”

Kay was born in London, came to Israel in 1986 and made aliyah in 1991 during the Gulf War. “I’ve always considered myself more Israeli than Jewish,” she says. “I made aliyah to be a pioneer. But since I was almost murdered for being a Jew, I figured I might as well be one. So I started reading a lot more Jewish things.”

How does Kay respond to the inevitable question of, “Where was God?”

“That’s the wrong question. The question is: Ayeka – where are you [a reference to God’s reproach to Adam in Genesis 3:9]. Account for yourself! How could anyone human being do this? I’ll never forget the image as he was about to stab me in the chest. I looked up to see this amazing sunset, obscured by the silhouette of his hand holding the machete. Here was a hand that God made, and it was like God standing behind and saying, ‘A hand and knife can either save a life, or murder’.”

Kay says she is not bitter. “If I blame God for the destruction brought upon my life, then I must also accuse him for my daily redemption. If I blame God for the destruction in my life, then I must indict Him for life.”

On September 11, 2011, nine months after the attack (and the 10-year anniversary of 9-11), Kay faced her assailants in court. They proudly confessed to the crime, even giggling at the hearing.

“I will never forgive my attackers,” she says. “They showed no remorse, no regret, no fear of punishment. They said they’d do it again.”

The attackers were sentenced to lifetime in prison, yet Kay fears they may one day be let out in a prisoner exchange. One month after the trial, kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was released in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, many with blood on their hands, serving multiple life sentences. Kay understood this could include her own attackers.

“This left me in a clammy sweat: What if, upon release, this man made an effort to find me? For the first time in my 25 years in Israel, I concocted a tentative plan to leave the country, should they be part of the exchange deal. It wasn’t just the fear; it was the injustice. Till today I am determined: These men will get out of prison over my dead body.”

In the courtroom, Kay comforts the parents of Kristine Luken and Neta Sorek.

Life of Meaning

As she began to heal, Kay understood that the best revenge against terror is to live a life of meaning. “Laying there in recovery, I had a lot of time to ask myself: When I can actually get out of bed, what will I do with my life?”

I don’t want to be remembered as ‘the one who got stabbed.’ I want to be remembered as the one who did something good because she got stabbed.”

Kay fought hard against the tendency for victims to wallow in self-pity. “Victimhood is very self-centered, seeing life from the perspective of ‘it’s always only about me.’ That is very debilitating,” she says. “When I die, I don’t want to be remembered as ‘the one who got stabbed.’ I want to be remembered as the one who did something good because she got stabbed.”

Kay was inspired by an essay, “The Virtue of Hate” by Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, who posits that rage against injustice, violence, evil, and intolerance is a virtuous response.

Kay directed her energies to the "Pay to Slay" system, whereby the Palestinian Authority pays terrorists – including her attackers – a generous monthly stipend, what Kay says is “ten times what the Israeli government awards me as disability allowance.”

Kay has spoken at the UN and Dutch Parliament, lobbying Western governments to end the foreign aid that funds Pay to Slay. “I want to ensure that cold-blooded psychopaths will no longer receive American and European taxpayers' money for murdering American and European citizens,” she says.

Kay contacted every British newspaper, radio and TV station, but all refused to interview her, as her ordeal did not match the narrative of “Palestinian victimhood.” She also wrote to every Member of British Parliament. “I enclosed photos of my stab wounds which were pretty horrific, and told them: ‘Stop paying these savages money.’ Only six bothered to write back.”

Yellow Brick Road

The more Kay thought about victimhood – and her determination not to let it define her life – the more she saw in her own story a parallel to the Palestinian national story.

“Collectively, the Palestinians have adopted an identity of suffering. From the age of kindergarten, Palestinian children are indoctrinated to hate,” she says. “That is one of the greatest things keeping the Palestinian people down. Victimhood robs them of their quest for identity and cements them in misery. A victim feels some theological entitlement, like payback for life being unfair. Yet life is not fair. And feeling sorry for oneself all the time is treating life with contempt.”

To help resolve the problem, together with a Palestinian friend, Kay created “Yellow Brick Road,” a project that teaches Palestinian children to take responsibility and reject victimhood. Yellow Brick Road set up an after-school club in a Palestinian refugee camp to teach English, art, and music. The program also teaches kids how to lose gracefully at sports, and how to take responsibility with everyday things like picking up trash.

“I want my horrendous experience to help these kids unshackle themselves from the lies they’re being told and telling themselves,” she says. “There is nothing ‘moral’ about what UNRWA is doing – shackling people in perpetual victimhood. They’ll feel better when doing something for somebody else.”

Arab Relations

In the years since the attack, Kay has emerged as a contact point for Arab-Jewish reconciliation. For example, she was contacted by Yahya Mahamid, a Muslim teenager from the northern Israeli city of Umm al-Fahm. “He started off hating Israel,” Kay says. “Yet we formed a friendship and now he’s enlisted in the IDF.” She has also worked with Gabriel Naddaf, a Greek Orthodox priest who encourages Arab-Christians to enlist in the IDF.

“It’s all about building relationships,” she says. “I traveled to Egypt to meet with an Arab peace activist, and now I’m conversing with someone from Saudi Arabia. They know that Jews are not killers, yet they can’t come out openly in their society to say what they’re thinking and feeling.”

In 2014, Kay helped to protect Mohammad Zoabi, a 17-year-old Muslim from Nazareth who, after speaking out on social media in support of Israel, received multiple death threats (including from his own relatives). When Mohammad was forced to flee his home, Kay housed him at the risk of her own life. She says, “I know from the machete scars on my back that death threats should always be taken seriously.”

In order to avoid being recognized in public during his month at Kay’s home, Mohammad wore a kippah and was introduced to friends and neighbors as her nephew “Ethan.”

It was what one writer likened to the plot of a novel: A British-Jewish tour guide, who survived a Palestinian terror attack, that left her American-Christian friend dead, helped shelter an Arab-Muslim teen, threatened for supporting Israel.

Kay with Mohammad Zoabi, an Israeli-Muslim-Arab-Zionist.

Black Forest

Kay’s story is also the subject of an acclaimed Israeli documentary, Black Forest, which includes footage of Kay back in the forest to re-enact the scene. The film has been translated into 23 languages, and Kay visits various communities for a movie screening followed by Q&A.

This spring at the AIPAC Conference, Kay spoke from the main stage and played a piano rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Written by the two sons of cantors on the eve of World War Two, the song speaks about yearning to be at home in a hostile world, “where the skies are blue and the dreams we dream come true.”

Despite all she’s been through, Kay remains optimistic about the future of the Holy Land. “My hope is the Arab surgeon who saved my life. My hope is the Arab translator at the murder trial who cared for me. My hope is the Arab taxi driver who took me every week to trauma therapy, free of charge.”

As for herself, Kay says the attack has taught her how to let more things go. “I was recently in line at the supermarket and found myself being yelled at. I thought, I have no physical disability or outward disfigurement. If I were in a wheelchair or had a big scar on my face, I’d receive more compassion. So maybe other people who behave not nicely also have hidden scars. That thought tempers my reaction.”

Not every day is easy, but Kay continues to take what she calls “the long, lonely, terrifying yet exhilarating walk out of the forest of hate.”

She reflects: “As someone who has faced death, I know that we’re here on Earth for a moment, a hair’s breadth. I don’t want to waste a minute of my life.”