Saving life

October 07, 2002

THE HEADLINE news from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict reads like a relentless stream of turmoil: Israeli Police Storm Muslim Compound, Arafat Defiant on Revolt Anniversary, Fighting Erupts in West Bank, Israel and Palestinians Target Children, PM Vows to End Terror in Months.

The violence and terror, the hatred of and indifference to the other, the calls for revenge and retribution reinforce a numbing sense of despair. And a hopelessness that cannot be overcome.

Then comes word of Jonathan Jesner and Rami Mahamid. One lost his life in a bus bombing in Tel Aviv last month; the other nearly lost his life trying to avert a similar bombing near the northern city of Afula. In death, Jonathan helped save a life. In life, Rami risked his own to help save several others. The teen-agers never met. The two would never have met given the brutal reality of life today in this divided land.

But their stories remind us that all is not as it seems, that individuals can overcome the prejudices of a people, that good does coexist with evil.

Jonathan Jesner, a Jew from Glasgow, Scotland, had decided to put off medical school for a year to study at a religious school in the West Bank settlement of Efrat. Raised in a Zionist family and a bright student, the 19-year-old went by Yoni, the nickname of his Hebrew name Yonaton.

On the day of the suicide bombing, Sept. 19, Yoni was traveling with his cousin to meet his aunt and uncle who were visiting for the Jewish holiday. He suffered a severe head wound and died a day later.

His parents wanted some good to come from his death and offered to donate their son's kidney to someone in need.

Yoni's family knew the recipient would be a 7-year-old Palestinian girl. Yasmin Abu Ramila had been waiting two years for a kidney.

Said the girl's mother: "I don't know how to thank the family ... for the donation that saved my daughter's life."

Rami Mahamid, an Arab citizen of Israel, was waiting to catch a bus on Sept. 18 when he noticed the bulky duffel bag of a man standing beside him.

May I borrow your cell phone? he asked the man. The 17-year-old walked a few feet away and dialed the Israeli equivalent of 911. He alerted police to his suspicions that his fellow Arab was a suicide bomber. Then he calmly returned to the bus stop and gave the man his phone.

Two Israeli police officers responded to the tip, arriving before the next bus. As the officers questioned the suspected bomber, he exploded his package. A police officer and the bomber died.

Rami landed in the hospital with a slashed throat, broken arm and fractured leg. When he awoke, he found that he was chained to his bed -- until he could explain that he was the tipster, police suspected Rami of being an accomplice. Realizing their mistake, police presented Rami with a certificate that praised his "great courage."

Neither Rami's nor Yoni's family could have expected the outcome of their good intentions. But that should not diminish the importance of their deeds: Life was given and lives were saved.

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