Terror Attack Survivor Seeks Answers in Award-Winning Documentary
Jack Baxter was only a few feet outside Mike’s Place in Tel Aviv in 2003 when a suicide bomber sent him flying in the air, knocking him unconscious.
“A guy on stage [said I] looked like a cartoon character,” Baxter said in a phone interview. “I remember lying in a pool of blood and beer, but it mostly wasn’t my blood.”
Surprisingly, Baxter, who was then 50, went back to Israel more than a decade later to film The Last Sermon, which is now on Amazon Prime and other streaming services. It won the Prix de l’Espoir award at the International Human Rights Film Festival in Tunis, and won best documentary at the Queens World Film Festival.
The films shows Baxter in a hospital bed quoting the Hadith, the interpretive book of the Koran. He tells journalists around his bed that according to Islam, all people are equal, and that the religion doesn’t advocate suicide bombing.
Baxter is Catholic and his wife is Jewish. Joshua Faudem, whom he hired to make the film with him and who was also near the blast, is Jewish.
Baxter has pieces of bone and sinew from the terrorist attack embedded in his body, and he has partial paralysis, though he can walk with a cane.
“I wanted to be involved in a film that could make a difference,” Baxter said, adding that the attack was the first time British nationals acted as terrorists in Israel. He said both his eardrums were blown out, so skin had to be taken from his neck and used for his ear. He said doctors told him he was the first to have this surgery, “because when you’re just feet away, usually you are dead.”
He credited the venue’s bouncer, Avi Tabib, for stopping the bomber from getting deep into the bar.
Baxter wanted to find out how people could be brainwashed to think that by blowing up civilians at a bar, they’d be going to heaven.
In parts of Europe, Baxter speaks to people to get their take on Islam, as well as to migrants.
Baxter said he’d hoped to meet the sister of his attacker, and speak to relatives to know what went through the mind of the terrorist. Though he was unable to speak to immediate relatives, the climax of the film shows what happens when he finally tracks down one of the relatives.
“I still have hope there will be peace,” Baxter says. “I know that most Palestinians want to see peace and Israelis do too. Mike’s Place was a restaurant that people of different cultures could get along at, and even though we still see terrorist attacks today, the majority of the people want to see peace.”
In a brief phone interview, Faudem said that he had creative differences with Baxter and though they were friends, Faudem asked that his name be taken off as director and the two haven’t spoken since the completion of the film.
As to whether they could reconcile, Faudem said “we might be able to.” Baxter said that “it remains a possibility.”
Baxter said he feels a constant discomfort from the blast, but the experience has made him want to push on and tell his story.
“I know I easily could have died,” Baxter said. “I’m alive and we might as well try to learn as much as we can. I wish I would have been able to speak to more relatives, but we did what we could.”
Alan Zeitlin is an author and educator based in in New York.