A Father's Torment: As His Daughter Lay Dying in a Terror Attack, He Didn't Answer Her Call
The Dee family slaughter in Israel: Anatomy of a terror attack
As I watched the Israeli television broadcast of Rabbi Leo Dee eulogizing his murdered daughters, Maia (15) and Rina (21), on Sunday, his lamentations blending with the mourners’ keening, I felt empty. To see a family so gutted, before your eyes, in real time, is surreal. To observe this depth of pain and intimacy so publicly. I’m not sure it’s a good thing. Writing about it almost feels wrong.
But tell me, in such situations, what is right?
This collective despair and grief is something with which Israelis are too familiar.
And the last few months have been particularly bloody. In the recent terror wave many have lost their lives, among them, eerily, are three sets of siblings: Asher (8) and Yakov (6) Paley on Friday, February 10, in Jerusalem; Hallel (21) and Yagel Yaniv (19) on Sunday February 26 in Huwara, West Bank in Jerusalem; and Maia and Rina Dee.
Everyone living here is thinking, constantly: Who will be next? Where? When?
And then you go grocery shopping.
Yet the horror never dissipates. We Israelis do not become accustomed to constant terrorism.
So many say that we are to blame for such macabre murders. Even at times like this, we are vilified, and forced to assert our humanity, dignity and morality.
Last Friday morning, during the Passover holiday, the Dee family of seven set out in two cars from their home in Efrat – a settlement of some 10,000 in the West Bank. They were heading north to Tiberias, a city on the shore of the Kinneret - or Sea of Galilee - as it is commonly known in English.
At a remote intersection near the town of Nablus in the northern West Bank, about two hours into the journey, reports indicate that the car being driven by Lucy Dee, accompanied by two of her five children, was ambushed by a gunman who sprayed them with fire from a Kalashnikov rifle.
He sped off with an accomplice, leaving 48-year old Lucy in critical condition and her daughters either on the verge of death or already gone. The reason for the uncertainty is that we now know, from Leo Dee, that at some point in the mayhem – 10:52 am, to be precise - Maia telephoned him, but he failed to answer. He later saw the unanswered call on his phone.
Who knows why he didn’t answer. He was driving. Perhaps he was concentrating on the road. Or having a sip of coffee. Or he didn’t hear the ring over the chatter of his other three children travelling with him in the forward family car. Or there was music playing. A million possibilities, each as mundane as the next.
But what I am certain of is that all of these possibilities will run through Leo’s mind, forever. As he wondered recently: “Was Maia trying to reach me during the attack?” “
As a parent, my first thought was that what likely cycles through Leo’s tortured mind is a churning regret. “God forbid that I could have comforted her in her final moments, as her life ebbed away, and I just. Didn’t. Pick. Up. How could I not have answered?”
He has to live with that.
So many haunting, tormenting moments come from an unspeakable tragedy like that which befell the Dee family.
Leo and the three children with whom he was driving first learned that something had gone wrong when a relative messaged them saying that there had been an attack in the area where they were travelling.
So, Leo tried calling his wife and kids in the second car but no one answered. One of his daughters had seen a photo on social media, showing a car just like theirs, with suitcases, just like theirs, splattered with blood. Still, they hoped.
He turned around and drove for 90 minutes before reaching their bullet riddled car.
Eventually, they arrived at the scene that they dreaded: medics, ambulances, the horror of his murdered daughters and unresponsive wife, who had been airlifted to hospital in Jerusalem, to which they drove immediately.
As he spoke on Sunday before the shrouds of his murdered daughters, Leo stood with his surviving children, a son and two daughters.
Leo was Job in all but name, his torment so fresh, raw, unvarnished. Remnants of what had, by all accounts, been a loving family of seven, two days earlier, sentenced to a pain too deep and dark to contemplate. But they were still hopeful that Lucy would recover, as Leo anguished: “How will I explain to Lucy what happened to our two precious gifts?”
On Tuesday, Lucy Dee succumbed to her mortal wounds. Five of her vital organs were harvested and transplanted that same day into others, saving as many lives. The decision to do so had been made in principle with her husband long before, in the days when they likely would not have imagined such a moment would strike their family. It was finalized by the remaining family members, together.
It is impossible to imagine the boundless grief in which these survivors flail. No moorings but their faith and one another. Which, I suppose, can be an awful lot.
You see, in Israel, the possibility of one’s life being so transformed, in a moment, is not unthinkable. Not at all.
We neither measure nor compare such episodes. And in recent months there have been so many.
When we are confronted with horror, political differences are suspended. In these moments, there is only black and white; the holy and the profane. You just stfu. Mourn and respect.
I am quite certain that my views on many issues do not align with the Family Dee’s, but as human beings, Israelis and Jews, our fates are shared and we are enmeshed in one another’s lives. When the world looks in we are seen as a monolith. The Jews.
And, on this eve of Holocaust Memorial Day – which is marked in Israel this year on Tuesday, April 18 – it is important to remember. How the world sees us. And how it saw us. Anyone indulging the delusion that so much has changed since then ought to pause, rewind and rethink.
Before I lived here, I used to wonder: Do you become accustomed to the attacks? The violence? The tension?
Almost ten years on I can say unequivocally that the answer to that question is NO. No. The violence and uncertainty change you. But one never becomes accustomed to such brutality.
With profound condolences to the Dee Family. May they find their way through these dark days, to light.
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