The Psalms book that saved a life - and helped redeem Jerusalem

Attempted murder, an unlikely friendship, and the redemption of Jerusalem all woven together in this fascinating true story.

Arutz Sheva Staff,

Life-saving Psalms
Life-saving Psalms
Ateret Cohanim

In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem, Arutz Sheva together with Ateret Cohanim are presenting a special project highlighting the renewal of the Jewish presence in eastern Jerusalem, including in the Old City and the village of Shiloah.

In this latest episode, we learn about the fascinating true story of the Arab taxi driver who nearly lost his life helping restore Jewish Jerusalem, and the Psalms book that saved his life.

At the time of Ateret Cohanim’s foundation back in the mid-1980s, one of the group’s founders had a chance encounter in the Old City that would help establish Ateret Cohanim as one of the leading organizations revitalizing the Jewish presence in east Jerusalem – and help save a man’s life.

“The hand of God,” says Ateret Cohanim’s Daniel Luria, holding up a bullet-ridden book of Psalms, now cleaned of blood and framed.

"Over 30 years ago, Matti Dan, the head, founder, chairman of Ateret Cohanim, went to the JNF and discussed with them the revival of Jewish life in the Old City. In fact, the JNF even recommended to meet a particular Arab that may be able to help Ateret Cohanim - that was in its foundation - try to find Arabs that were ready to sell.

"The meeting never took place, but a few years later Matti, who was engaged to his wife Ettiya, had to meet her at the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem. He was living in the Old City, so he goes to the Jaffa Gate to find a taxi. There were few taxi drivers there,” but, none were available.

After he left Jaffa Gate by foot, Dan flagged down a taxi outside of the Old City. Once he entered the taxi, Dan began to vent his frustrations over the refusal of the drivers in the Old City to take him. Believing the driver he was riding with was Jewish, Dan said somewhat tongue in cheek that all the Arab drivers in the Old City should be thrown out of the country.

“Everybody except for me,” responded the driver, revealing that he too was Arab.

“Yes, everybody except for you. Thank you very much for taking me,” said Dan.

“No, you understand nothing,” said the Arab driver, pulling out a handgun from his glove compartment.

“But don’t worry,” the driver reassured Dan, “I work with the police, the secret police, with the Israeli government – I even work with the JNF.”

As it turned out, the driver helped arrange sales of property across the capital to Jewish groups and the Israeli government – a business he found to be quite lucrative.

Yet the driver lamented that he was unable to find buyers for many properties.

“You Jewish people don’t love Jerusalem. I go to the JNF and I say I have property to sell, but the JNF never go through with it.”

At that moment, Dan leapt at the opportunity, offering to purchase whatever properties the driver had. Dan gave the driver his phone number and even handed him a book of Psalms, telling him “remember me”.

The two in fact did do business, and through the driver’s efforts a dozen buildings in the Old City were purchased by Ateret Cohanim.

Several years later, however, assassins hunted down the driver and barged into his home one night, shooting him as he sat on a coach. The gunmen shot the driver no less than five times in the upper body, then left him for dead. His crime? Helping to sell properties in Jerusalem to Jews.

Near death, the driver was rushed to the hospital. Doctors believe he was a lost cause.

Yet he survived – in no small part because one of the five bullets, shot directly at his heart, had stopped just before it penetrated his chest; stopped by the Psalm book he had been carrying in his shirt pocket.

Another twist of the story, adds Luria, is that the bullet which was stopped by the Psalm book bore into the thin paper towards the driver’s heart – until it halted at Psalm 84 on the words “courtyards of God”.

For more details about Ateret Cohanim's activities and to join the “Building Jerusalem Together” project, click here.