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JIHAD IN TEL AVIV
a novel by Ariel Lilli Cohen
Copyright © 2017 by Ariel Lilli Cohen
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be re-produced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, without prior written permission.
Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric purposes. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental.
Printed in Israel –Tel Aviv 330033 - December 2017
Israel Jihad in Tel Aviv
ISBN: 9780244056797 - 97888827509494
Israel Jihad in Tel Aviv based on the Israeli series
a novel by Ariel Lilli Cohen
Prologue – Noora
Chapter 1 – Yael
Chapter 2 – Muhammad
Chapter 3 – Yossi Kadosh
Chapter 4 – Yael – Avner
Chapter 5 – Taqwa
Chapter 6 – Avner
Chapter 7 – Happy birthday
Chapter 8 – Resilience
Chapter 9 – Sweet like salt
Chapter 10 – My love
Chapter 11 – Peace breaks out
Chapter 12 – A rare pearl
Chapter 13 – Mainstream
Chapter 14 – We are all americans
Chapter 15 – The setting sun
Chapter 16 – My first day
Chapter 17 – Hadas – Aisha
Chapter 18 – Let’s play
Chapter 19 – He who is without sin
Chapter 20 – Like a sheep amongst wolves
Chapter 21 – Smell of freshness
Chapter 22 – The end of the beginning
Chapter 23 – Generation of phenomenon
Chapter 24 – The Dawn of a New Day
Chapter 25 – We are all eropean
Chapter 26 – The googd muslim
Chapter 27 –Nice to meet you, I am Monique
Chapter 28 – I love you
Chapter 29 – The judas kiss
Chapter 30 – The favourite son
Chapter 31 – The invisibles
Chapter 32 – The smell of sex
Chapter 33 – Yael-Youssef
Chapter 34 – Black gold
Chapter 35 – Until There’s War There’s Hope
Chapter 36 – My friend is pakistani
Chapter 37 – Two good girls
Chapter 38 – American embassy
Chapter 39 – Yamas
Chapter 40 – Immunodeficiency
Chapter 41 – Tel Aviv
Chapter 42 – Old friends
Chapter 43 – Epilogue
In Israel, no one really dies.
In Israel no one really lives in.
Ariel Lilli Cohen
This novel is dedicated to…
(Or Yehuda 1997 – Jerusalem 2016)
(Ashdod 1994 – Jerusalem 2017)
(Be’er Yaakov 1997 – Har Adar 2017)
May our deceased and wounded heroes who sacrificed themselves to defend our freedom and security know the deepness of our gratitude.
Your sacrifice is to be remembered.
“Jewish people have outlived through the centuries, Jewish people have suffered for all these centuries, but that made them stronger.” Anne Frank
How I miss the bitter cold wind of Haifa in the first morning hours, how I miss Haifa! To own a 164 IQ was a curse. My intelligence stole my youth. I could have done so many things: playing volleyball, the piano, or being a model… Instead, here I am, in one of the most prestigious operational teams of the National Security Service.
Writing in black and white and expressing all my feelings wasn’t easy. I have lived many lives in one. To avoid going mad and find myself again, to tell all my experiences, fears, hopes, loves, and untold truths, I decided to write this book. To live undercover for months, sometimes years, without a break, cutting off relationships with my real life, lying to my friends, family and sometimes to myself, created a conflicting relationship with the identities I have in turn covered. This lifestyle changes the way you perceive real life.
One day, while I was playing pool in a club here in Montreal, a gentleman remarked how well I was playing for one so young. But age is not to be measured in years, but in mileage. I have travelled many miles and am tired now. Tired to have always to play hard. Tired to lie. Tired to feel frightened. In a mission you never know what may happen. Two months ago Shani and I risked to be killed. We were violently beaten up. With the taste of sweat and blood in my throat I felt like my heart was beating out of my chest and, in my mind, I went through the reasons for joining the Israeli Secret Services. The terror I felt is still with me every time I note a stranger’s look resting on me. Why am I sacrificing my life? I recalled an episode of a few years ago when we were told that a Hamas terrorist cell had entered Israel and was about to target the Dizingoff Center with a bacteriologic attack. That time we managed to neutralise them just on time. A few hours later I went back to the shopping mall to get an ice cream with my friends, Shani, Shlomit, Zoe and Aviv. All those families and children would have died without our intervention. This is why I do this job, to defend my people and, ambitious as that may sound, to defend the world democracy. Right now, as I allow my pen to put in writing my thoughts, I am sitting in a café in Richardson Street in Montreal, where I am due to meet a source. I hope everything will be fine also this time. When will all this come to an end? So much work has been done and so much still to do! I remember Milan six months ago, San Diego and Buffalo, Tel Aviv and Madrid three months ago and last month in the record shop between Pitt Street and Circular Quay in Sydney.
I remember all the attacks I contributed to neutralise with my team. I think of all those nameless and faceless stars, who only live in the indelible memory of those who met them, at the entrance of the agency headquarters in Tel Aviv. I think of all those agents who sacrificed their lives in the line of duty to also save your life.
Please make sure their deaths weren’t in vain. I wish for a world where my job would be unnecessary, a world without conflicts due to religious extremisms.
As I write, my thought goes to my colleagues in Jerusalem who are the last bastion of democracy, to the lions and lionesses of Magav, to Shira fighting every day, to Heli who left her operative service at the Damascus Gate after three long years. Thanks for the great privilege of protecting the people of Israel in the most sacred place of the world.
I think of Hadar and Hadas who sacrificed their lives for Jerusalem and to Solomon who died in Har Adar. I think of his girlfriend, Betty, and relatives. How many more people, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, boyfriends and girlfriends will have to be deprived of their dearest and left alone due to terrorist actions? I don’t feel like condemning just the perpetrator’s hands for these crimes.
My wrath, rage and contempt are turned to those who arm those hands with their ideologies. Their speeches, bursting of hatred and resentment, fill like water in the desert the empty life of people brainwashed by an absurd extremist ideology. Now, those have blood on their hands. While they stay safe and warm in their houses, they send young men to die after having raised them to bread and blind hatred.
I feel I will end up, sooner or later, on that wall, a little star amongst many others. I will finally join my comrades, young guys in love with a life they could not live. At times,
I really wish to be amongst them.
This job consumes your consciousness – you have to see and do things nobody would even dream of doing. Sooner or later I will also commit some imprudence, an error of judgment, a mistake that will costs me life – a life I feel empty.
I hope this book will be enjoyable and good food for thought. I had to change a few names and camouflage some situations, which would otherwise threaten the State of Israel’s safety. My experiences have been translated in the form of a novel. I hope you’ll be able to read my message of hope and love between the lines.
This is a journey to the outer fringes of the law, which started in 2014, before the war in Gaza. It’s the work of a group of friends, who became, in the space of a few months, one of Mossad’s best operative teams.
Prologue – Noora
January 2014 - Hotel Kempinski, Geneva
Noora is sitting in the hotel bar. It may be due to the purple colour that seems to envelop everything around her, from the bar to the ceiling and chairs, or the light at dusk that gives the large lake in front of her an even more melancholy air, but Noora's mind is lost in memories of what once was.
She feels something stirring in her stomach as she thinks of the wonderful years spent at Eton with people from all over the world and kids from the richest families, who were no better than she was, as she soon realised... Still they were beautiful years. She even feels nostalgic about her teachers, most of whom she thought she hated at the time. And then her Master in Social Sciences at NYU... how she misses New York City... especially the windy days when the air used to swirl in the avenues making it hard just to keep clothes on. She reminisces about the cold weather, that same cold making the air in Geneva so clear and the lake reflecting Quai de Mont Blanc’s thousands of lights. Almost everyone who was born in the Middle East hates that cold; they see it as wrong, unnatural. But Noora liked it: it made her want to be cuddled by someone who could warm her up.
How long has it been? Fifteen? Yes, it has been almost fifteen months since she left Qatar. This trip to Geneva is her first escape after staying for so long in a place that she doesn’t feel is home anymore. After all, that's what she should have expected when she agreed to become the third wife of the Emir of Qatar. Initially, she was flattered and figured out how many good things she could do with organisations such as UNICEF to put what she studied into practice and help all those orphaned and disadvantaged children, but the day-to-day reality turned out to be much different – lots of worldly events, parties, dinners, but very little of a concrete nature. She became a UNICEF ambassador, but she knew quite well that it was the royal family's immense wealth that made it possible and not her skills. The other two wives were much more comfortable in their role, but they were the Emir's cousins and belonged to the same family. She, on the other hand, was not. She was born in the UAE as the daughter of an ambassador and now she was a Sheika, so why did she want to run away so badly?
Noora's bout of nostalgia is interrupted when an elegant man reaches the bar; he doesn’t look very happy either, but seems more disappointed than melancholy. He is very handsome and athletic, and there is a strange look in his eyes. Noora can’t keep staring at him and turns her eyes away, as her bodyguards are definitely watching her and who knows what they’ll report to the Emir. With a last peek at him, she notices a detail clashing somehow with the rest of his appearance. Instead of having a handkerchief in his jacket pocket, he has a badge with a name and a symbol that she doesn’t recognise.
"A whiskey please", says the man sitting four seats down from Noora, who is no longer the barman's only customer. He stops lining up wine glasses and approaches the newcomer.
"Glenlivet, if you have it."
The barman pours the man what he asked for "Here you go... Jamal", he says, pointing to the badge on his pocket.
"Yeah... can you tell me how in the world a guy with two queens gets two chips, and then in the fifth hand the bank gives him the third queen?!"
Noora is somewhat disoriented, trying to understand what they are talking about. Jamal's clear Middle Eastern accent piques her curiosity.
"You should know", says the barman, "poker is skill, but at least 60% of it is luck".
"You're telling me", Jamal answers immediately, "I do it for a living".
"I've always wondered, can you really make a living playing poker tournaments?"
That's what they're talking about, poker! And for some reason Noora feels a sense of past danger.
"Of course, well, you have to be good but you can also make good money. The real problem is that you have to travel all the time".
"Where are you from Jamal?"
Noora is almost certain that Jamal's hesitation before answering the barman's question is due to the fact that he is looking at her and possibly sizing her up.
"From Beirut, Lebanon", Jamal says, but he seems distracted. "Here an additional confirmation", thinks Noora, then he continues, "I'll be leaving for Hong Kong tomorrow, and, if all goes well, I'll continue on to Tokyo, Honolulu and Vancouver.”
Noora crosses her legs and lets her left Jimmy Choo drop off her heel and dangle from her toes. From the corner of her eye she sees that her gesture catches Jamal's attention; she feels his eyes run up and down her body, and her heart begins to beat faster.
"Wow", the barman's voice betrays a touch of envy, "and where were you before coming to Geneva?"
"I was in New York City for two weeks for an important two-million dollar tournament."
"And did you win?"
Without consciously deciding to, Noora fixes her gaze on Jamal for the first time and runs the tip of her tongue over her upper lip, as if her lipstick wasn't merely a colour but also a taste of ripe cherries. Then she stands up, picks up her clutch and walks away. A figure in the shadow begins to move but is held back by someone else while Noora enters the bathroom in the hotel lobby.
"Uh... I didn't make it to the finals, I only won two hundred thousand..." Jamal answers, but it is as if a ghost is talking.
In the bathroom, Noora is sitting on the toilet, shaking. She is so hot she feels like someone is blowing hot air on her. Why has she done that? What was she thinking? What if the guards noticed? Now what can she do, she has to calm down. And what if Jamal accepted her invitation and followed her? No, he can’t, she keeps repeating to herself while her heartbeat shows no signs of slowing down. When she finally manages to slow her breath down, she gets up and opens the door, ready to recompose herself in front of the mirror. Jamal is there waiting for her. She begins to shake again, but then a part of herself she didn't even know existed takes over.
"And how was New York?" She hears herself saying with a hoarse voice that doesn’t seem like her own.
"It was really windy", Jamal answers as he grabs her and pulls her to him. Noora loves the feeling of his hands on her back as she offers him her lips – a pleasure she realises she had not felt for way too long.
It is a long, deep kiss. Meanwhile, Jamal's hands lift up her light silk dress and begin to touch her, and she wants him to. Then, he breaks away from her to stare into her eyes, and Noora realises what struck her as strange about him: his eyes are different, one is a deep, dark green, and the other a streaky blue, like a cat eye. He turns her around and Noora knows what’s coming. She feels him bending down and taking off her underwear, then standing up and lifting up her dress. Noora rests her arms on the sink and opens her legs slightly, moaning as he enters her. Everything explodes in Noora's head; as soon as she recovers, he stops, bends forward and whispers in her ear,
She doesn’t even let him finish the sentence and says "Do whatever you like".
The Emir gets back to the hotel a few minutes before midnight. He looks broody and tired. As soon as he enters his suite, he meets Faisal’s look, his personal adviser and friend – perhaps the only person he trusts completely.
"My dear Faysal, it's all hopeless. I wonder why we ever bothered coming here. That stubborn Assad will never accept the Americans' demands, those dogs. I wouldn't either", then he stops because he realises Faysal is frowning – a face he only ever makes when something serious happens, and this time it must really be serious because instead of holding a large cigar in his hands as usual, he is holding a tablet.
"Faysal, what's going on?"
"Your Highness, I have to show you something, but please sit down first."
The Emir sits down and Faysal gives him the iPad showing pictures of Noora's betrayal. The sovereign explodes in anger.
"Dirty whore! I only married that bitch three months ago", he says, "and look what she does the first time we leave Qatar! She gets fucked like a whore in the hotel toilet. I'll kill her with my own hands..." He is about to get up, but Faysal's strong hand stops him.
"There's something even worse, your Highness." The Emir looks up at Faysal in disbelief and dismay.
"The person, the dog, who committed this outrage is an Israeli agent." Everyone in the room expected another outburst, but the old Emir remains silent and, when he finally speaks, his voice is as cold as ice.
"It's time. It's finally time. With Allah's help, not a single stone of the damned State of Israel will continue to exist. It's time to settle the score with history. Faysal, my friend, please summon up those from Hamas and call Khalid, I want him to come here immediately. And now get out, all of you!" The guards, who had remained silent, leave the room; when everyone is gone, on his way out Faysal whispers to him,
"And Noora, your Highness?"
"I'll see to her myself", replies the Emir with a glint in his eye.
"Remember whose daughter she is, your Highness."
"I won't kill her. Not now if that's what you want to know, but now go and call Khalid."
Chapter 1 – Yael
“Too much light”.
These three words constantly echo in Yael’s mind while she waits with the rest of her family for Stern, the rabbi, to commence his ceremonial oration. Exceptionally, the memorial this year is not celebrated on Mount Herzel – location typically devoted to military obsequies, but on the plain on top of Yad Vashem, the so-called “Hill of Memory”, which was solemnly decorated for the occasion. The stage, which the rabbi is about to go on, is located in front of a big bricked and glassed building where, every year, Yael comes with her schoolmates to honour the deceased of the State of Israel. Chairs have been organised in two large wings with a passage in the middle; the army general staff is seated on the right side, behind them there are two rows of men in civilian clothes, who are also soldiers, as Yael knows. Indeed, they are her father’s ex-colleagues and, without her knowing it yet, soon to become hers too. The left side is reserved to relatives, friends and everyone who wished to take part to this commemoration.
In the same way she feels the heat growing in her eighteen-year-old body covered by clothes slightly too heavy for such a warm day but certainly appropriate for the occasion, Yael feels a physical sentiment of fraternity connecting her to all these people.
Behind the chairs, a long table, prepared by her mother with glasses and plates, is set up for the reception to follow. Beyond the walls marking the terrace’s perimeter, one can catch sight of Jerusalem’s roofs.
Yael’s eyes are burning…
Finally, the rabbi appears onstage and starts his speech: “We are here together to commemorate Eran’s tenth anniversary since his disappearance. He is one of the sons who escaped Shoah, one of the first generations our Lord, after many suffering and tribulations, decided to give back…” The rabbi is talking about Yeal’s own father. She knows by memory the speech passages: a happy childhood, his formative years in the Kibbutz Zikim – a few metres away from what is the current Gaza Strip, his sport awards and, finally, his military career. “He was the youngest special services’ official of his generation”, and so on, until his death during the Lebanon war where he sacrificed himself to save his squad during the “Sharp and Smooth” operation against the terrorist attack in Zar’it Shlom.
All of those battles’ names have been fixed in Yael’s memory since that day, ten years earlier, when she heard them pronounced for the first time by a young official who knocked at the door of their Bauhaus-style house in the Rotschilda quarter of Tel Aviv. On that haunting day, Yael, who had just turned eight, was in the small front garden with her long-lasting friend Zohar playing grown-ups by smudging each other’s cheeks with mum’s make-up.
That man, getting out of a limousine, approached her and, leaning over her, invited her to follow him inside the house where he met her mother, Hodaya. She saw her mum collapsing on the armchair with her bump inhabited for the last seven months by her soon-to-be little sister Ariel, who her dad would never meet. Yael recalls, once again, her nearly thirteen-years-old brother Avner locking himself in his bedroom for three days, and a sense of inner emptiness she was unable to fill during those ten years.
The loss of her father left an empty space inside her. She missed his precious presence in her childhood; their cuddling moments in those few times he took a break from his service to spend the evening with the family; his answers to her many questions; he was a man she had just started to know. Possibly because of that immense emptiness inside her, that little girl, who had to grow up before her time, decided to pursue the military career following her father’s footsteps as a way to get to know and feel close to him.
For years, she spent hours tiring out her mother and brother with questions about anecdotes and memories on Eran’s life and now, that some of her father’s ex-colleagues are her current tutors, she takes various opportunities to ask them about episodes of his life. Today, ten years on, they are all here reunited. Her mother, Hodaya, who dedicated her life to work after Eran’s death, succeeded in setting up her catering business and is, nowadays, one of the most sought after in Tel Aviv. Her brother, Avner, who is a few weeks away from completing his military service, is handsome, attractive, with quasi-perfect features and a shadowy temperament increasing his charm. Adored by the young girls of half of Tel Aviv, he remains extremely faithful to Zohar, who sits next to him and holds his hand. Yael’s friend, Zohar, is now her brother’s girlfriend. Their love probably blossomed during those three days of Avner’s self-reclusion, ten years earlier, when he only allowed Zohar to come in and talk to him. Lastly, Ariel, who is now only one year older than Yael was when they lost their dad.
She has never met him; his warm and big hands have never hugged her. “I wonder what she is thinking of the rabbi’s words”, Yael is asking herself, when her distracted mind is suddenly brought back into the room by a change of tone in Stern’s oration:
“We all know these facts, they belong to the history, not only of the Cohen family, but of the whole country. Allow me now a personal memory. In 1972 we were just fifteen, and Eran was already a little… actually a great wrestling champion. His trainer suggested that if Eran practiced with constancy, he would try to take him to the Olympics. I shared with him a few hours during those training months. His determination impressed me. When I happened to be on the mat with him… Well, you can guess what happened… It was like confronting three rivals at the same time. Later on, one day at the beginning of June, I arrived at the gym and found Eran resting on the changing room’s bench with a towel around his neck and tears on his face. I approached him, put a hand on his shoulder, and asked what had happened. Eran looked at me with those dark, profound eyes, I am sure, many of you still remember.
“Do you know the Russian guy, who moved from URSS last month? Mark, Mark Slavin, I think his full name is.” He explained.
“Yes, of course, the guy who won the Sovietic championship of Grecian-Roman wrestling last year.” I answered.
“Precisely. He will go to the Munich Olympics instead of me.”
We were only fifteen, so you can guess the disappointment he must have experienced from that decision. And yet, in the following days, he kept training himself with even more obstinacy, if possible at all, almost with fierceness, as if he fought not only to beat his rivals, but also to overcome his own limits. Only a few months later, I remember him at the memorial for the Munich massacre. We sat next to each other and the other gym mates. His eyes, fixed on Mark Slavin’s coffin, shined with a new light that day – the light of someone who knew he had been spared from a great tragedy to carry out a mission: to prevent such tragedies from happening again. I like to think that that day, or the following days, he developed the decision that brought him to sacrifice his life for all of us. Let us pray to our Lord now…”
Yael is happy and, at the same time, upset by the rabbi’s story. He added an important tassel to her personal collection of anecdotes on his father’s life – the more interesting as unexpected. She makes a mental note to go and visit the rabbi to obtain some more information about Eran’s adolescence.
What made her shiver, while the rabbi was talking, is the fact that she knows well that determination and fierceness he was talking about – they belong to her. Every time she forces herself to train her body beyond the usual class time, every time she stays in the library until late to study Israel’s history in depth, every time she practices shooting at the firing range. She suddenly understands her dad left a greater legacy than she had thought.
The ceremony is over. Hands have been shaken; hugs have been given and received; sorrowful events and common memories have been exchanged. Everyone ate and drank in abundance, and Hodaya almost received more compliments for the final reception than condolences. Yael is now helping the catering agency’s girls to clean up. “Mum, can you tell me again how you and dad met?”
Hodaya stares sweetly at her daughter’s face with slightly androgynous, yet genuinely beautiful features: her thin eyebrows, her high cheekbones, her sharp nose and fleshy mouth. Her dark frizzy hair, falling on her slim and muscly shoulders, shows a soft glow Hodaya cannot resist. She strokes her daughter’s hair feeling it pass through her fingers before she answers her question.
“It was, you know, at that reception after the Gulf war, but the rabbi’s account today reminded me that actually the very first time I saw your father’s face was precisely at that memorial. I was only a child, roughly ten years old. The rabbi was right: Eran had such an intense look that I felt a cramp at the bottom of my stomach when his eyes met mines; he was probably not even looking at me, but that perceived look fascinated me so much that even today I feel the same sensation every time I think of it.”
Yael would love her mother’s story to continue but Zohar interrupts their conversation: “I am going back to Tel Aviv with Avner. Ariel is coming with us. How is the planning for this Tuesday going?”
“All fine. I spoke with Hezi, the owner of Tayaley, and he said he would reserve a room with sea view for us.” Hodaya answers with a smile.
“Excellent. So, as we agreed, you will casually mention to Avner that you’ll be both busy that night, so he’ll think that just the two of us will go out for a romantic dinner…”
“Sure, but without overstating it, or he will find out.”
“Yes, Yael, you are right. Let’s keep a low profile.”
Next Tuesday it is Avner’s birthday, he will be twenty-three. Perhaps, the proximity of his birthday with Eran’s death made that day an important event for the whole family. Every year since, his mother, sisters and girlfriend have been planning a surprise party for him somewhere in the city. It is very likely, Yael suspects, that Avner is well aware of the party but plays along with it and, every year, pretends to be truly surprised.
“Yael, may I talk to you one moment?” The three women were so absorbed by their planning that did not notice a tall man, dressed in dark, approaching them.
“Of course, uncle Tamir.” Yael stares straight at colonel Tamir Amossi’s face. Tamir Amossi is ex-leader of Israeli Secret Services and has been Eran’s trainee. Since Eran’s death, he has become a constant presence in the Cohens’ life, to the point that Yael and her siblings call him uncle. They part from the two ladies who keep chitchatting.
“Yael, how are you?”
“I am fine, dear uncle.”
“How is your first year of military service going?”
“I am half way through it, you know. I am fine, I am happy to…”
“Everyone is saying nice things about you… Someone said that on the training camp, at times, you remind them of your father…” Yael bows her head and turns red to Tamir’s words.
“Listen. Tomorrow, before going back to the military base, you need to go to the Mossad’s headquarters as they want to talk to you.”
“Are they going to ask me to carry on my conscription within the Secret Services?” Yael realises her voice is trembling while she is asking this question.
Tamir smiles at her and gives her cheek a flick. “It’s not up to me to say… no more”.
He leaves her with one million emotions that his ill-concealed confirmation has triggered in her soul.
Chapter 2 – Muhammad
The bedroom is white, so are the beds. There are eight beds aligned on the two sides of the room. Next to each of them, a blood-cleaning machine with LCD screens displaying luminescent values is the only chromatic variation in the pearly uniformity of that environment. To each of the eight machines, eight men are connected. Muhammad is the second one in the row from the left. Just one hour has passed, out of the four of dialysis treatment he has to undergo three times a week. A nurse approaches his bed with a sphygmomanometer:
“Muhammad, give me your arm, please. I need to check your blood pressure.” Her voice sounds cold and slightly aloof.
“Clearly, they are compelled to provide medical care to a Palestinian such as me in the best hospital of Tel Aviv, the Hayarkon Medical Center… If it weren’t for that Italian-French journalist, I wouldn’t be here, hospitalised every other day in Tel Aviv.”
His mind goes back to the day of the failed attack, when he and his comrades got intercepted by one of the Shabak teams, also known in western countries as the dreaded Israel’s Internal Security Agency, Shin Bet, which managed to detect them just moments before the attack. They, Shebab militants, had planned to pass through Qalandia Checkpoint in the north of West Bank and reach the Mercury Hotel in Ben Yeuhda, where some of the UN executives with their politicians, all representatives of the damned west, were staying.
Close to the east entrance of Jerusalem, just beyond the defence wall, Israeli Special Forces had already killed the other five components of the command, but not him. He managed to escape, but got seriously wounded on the back and lower abdomen. The smoke bombs exploded by the Israeli soldiers, mixed with the acid smell of tyres, burnt by the Shebab militants in the middle of the road, made the air unbearable. He was wheezing on the ground between the sidewalk and a car riddled with bullets, when an agent approached him with a gun in his hand. Muhammad knew he was just about to give him the finishing blow. No prisoners, this is the rule. One shot one kill.
When he heard that voice: “Do you really want to execute him?” Soon after, he lost consciousness.
He woke up in hospital connected, for the first time, to that annoying machine, which, while cleaning his blood, was enfeebling him. He was so weak he had to rely on the people he hated the most.
In the following days, he managed to reconstruct what had really happened. The voice he heard before fainting belonged to an Italian-French journalist who was filming with her cameramen the conflicts that too frequently occur in Qalandia. He did not catch her full name, something like Gore… plus something else.
Not only had she prevented the young Israeli agent from killing him, but she even threatened to sue Israeli police for their hasty methods. Consequently, someone carried promptly Muhammad’s body into one of the ambulances that had gathered at the crime scene, hoping, perhaps, he would perish during the trip to the hospital. But he did not die and, once in hospital, doctors did not take much time to diagnose kidneys malfunction due to the bullets. They signed him up for the dialysis programme. This event got extremely publicised. “Here lives are saved, we don’t do politics”, replied the doctor to the criticisms of the country’s most conservative party.
This is what irritates Muhammad the most: to feel that he has been exploited for propaganda in favour of the cursed State of Israel. Stories like this at the various Checkpoints of Israel are as common as the flowers Shebab put on the roads in honour of the martyrs killed by Israel. His thought goes straight to Ahmed, his younger brother by two years, and Youssra, his older sister by one, both victims of the Israeli soldier’s blind rage. A rubber bullet hit his brother on the chest, while his sister got run over by a military car escaping a hail of stones… Muhammad knows that if it weren’t for that journalist, he would also be dead by now.
How irritating it is the artificial way doctors treat him! They have been smiling and kind to him, explaining every therapy he has been receiving. Amongst them, a blonde female doctor with a pleasant face, despite wearing eyeglasses, keeps addressing to him by his first name, as if they could be friends.
However, Muhammad believes they have been acting this way only because they fear he could declare in some potential interview to have been treated badly and with no dignity. Israel actually robbed everyone’s dignity back in 1947 and hasn’t given it back yet.
Doctors are cunning. Nurses quite the reverse. They avoid speaking to him unless it is absolutely necessary and, even when they do it, their voice sounds icy and detached, including the one, he seems to recognise, of a Muslim sister, who lowers her gaze every time their eyes meet.
Many small clues make Muhammad feel his diversity. In the big room there is a television located in the opposite corner to the one from which two walls with beds unfold. He was never given its remote control, not even that time he arrived earlier than the other patients and, for nearly a quarter, waited on his own in the room. The nurse kept it, zapping through channels without asking what he wished to watch. In this right moment the remote control is held by a creepy and chubby little man, whose bold head, reflecting the cold neon light, and prominent belly are the only two parts visible to Muhammad. He must be a merchant of some sort or someone interested in finance since he appears to be exclusively interested in finance news and stock exchange bulletins. Who knows what kind of enormous investments this little man must handle, whereas Muhammad, just like the majority of his Muslim friends residing in those seized cities, is compelled to live with very little. With his market stall behind the UNRWA refugee camp in Qalandia, between Jerusalem and Ramallah, he has just managed to get going, but now, being on dialysis, he can no longer accomplish hard chores, which are usually the most profitable. He typically spends his days sitting in his kiosk and cannot decide whether he is more disgusted by the looks of the few tourists, often buses of brave devotees venturing themselves into that dodgy side of West Bank in search of their Christian origins, or by the ones of the other venders who clearly consider him a nullity.
The creepy little man changes the channel on i24News, the new network broadcasting incessantly the latest hot news about those three Israeli guys whose bodies brutally tortured and killed by a Hamas cell in the West Bank were found in a wood just outside Jerusalem. On screen the Prime Minister appears delivering an official declaration: “Let’s give Hamas one last chance… Stop the rocket attack, or we shall enter and conquer Gaza inch-by-inch, foot-by-foot, and annex it to the State of Israel forever. However, if you stop the rocket attack against undefended citizens, we shall also stop”.
Suddenly, in the hospital room time seems to stop – one of the dialysis machines starts beeping alarmingly. A swift hand, that he is unable to identify, surrounds his bed with a blind separating him from the other patients. Muhammad can hear the rings moving along the chromed bars and understands that the others are also being isolated.
“He is going into cardiac arrest!” Muhammad recognises the alarmed voice of the blonde doctor with spectacles.
“Hurry up, get a defibrillator!”
Muhammad feels like being in one of those American ER drama series. In a slightly alienated mode, he listens to sentences he has heard millions of times on television: “We are losing him. Keep going with the cardiac massage!” His rage seems to be fading, but it quickly comes back: “I wonder whether they would worry this much if it happened to me.” He speculates, “They would probably leave me agonising and feel relieved by it.”
“Death time: 09.02.” Suddenly, a chilly silence falls into the room. Someone is opening the blind around his bed. It is the blonde doctor with spectacles.
“Muhammad, I am sorry you had to witness a casualty after everything you had to go through.” For the first time, Muhammad reciprocates the doctor’s smile. Through a quick glance, he understands that the deceased is the man holding the remote control… Muhammad sighs and, despite the dramatic nature of that moment, manages to hold back his satisfaction for another Zionist death.
Chapter 3 – Yossi Kadosh
“It was the Iranians!”
The face of Yossi Kadosh, Head of Israel’s Secret Services, is covered by a shadowy tinge making him suddenly look older.
The voice that announced that verdict was Etzion Glick’s, one of his closest collaborators and the best one to collect confident intelligence on masterminds of either terroristic or military operations.
His words confirmed Kadosh’s worst fears: an Israeli submarine sank just off the Hormuz strait – the greatest mercantile intersection of the Middle East, shared by Iran, The United Arabs Emirates and Oman. Twenty-two hours ago, it stopped responding to the control communications. Kadosh is now empathising with the atrocious fate of those poor thirty-five guys belonging to the submarine’s crew. His memory goes twenty-five years back. It was ’88 during the Iranian-Iraqi war. He experiences again in his mind those instants preceding IR655’s shooting down. It was an A300 Airbus hit by an American cruiser. Kadosh was on duty that hot morning of July as the young section head of the SIGINT National Unit 8200, the Israeli equivalent of US National Security Agency.
After days of hostilities between Americans and Iranians, the American cruiser, during a maritime chase in the nearby waters, threw missiles against what they thought a military plane flying through Amber 59 airway. It was actually an Iranian civil plane. All 290 passengers perished in the catastrophe. Back in the US, the American crew got rewarded for what will be revealed as an unforgivable mistake, an inexcusable tragedy.
That morning, Kadosh was watching the monitor and realised straightaway that it was a civil aircraft – it was indeed travelling on an international airway. At the same time, it was clear to him that the American argument asserting it was a MiG was unfounded, as the plane was flying over an Iranian airspace.
That same day, he understood the high price to pay for previous mistakes. That American misdeed escalated Middle Eastern unrest, strengthening anti-western hatred and tying Arab factions together even more.
After a silent moment that feels endless, he finally addresses the people surrounding him, his General Staff.
“Let’s make sure the news doesn’t get spread out. You all must go to pay a personal visit to each of the deceased’s families. Explain that we shall honour their sons in due manner but, in this moment, we need to tame tensions as they are particularly high after the three guys’ murder.”
“Regarding this issue…”
Kadosh turns his head towards the person who is talking on his right.
“The President publicly asserted we should give an exemplary and hefty response to the assassination of those young guys. Rockets from Gaza have been falling on our citizens for weeks. This situation is unsustainable. His precise words were: ‘Hamas will pay a high price’, but it doesn’t seem to me that what we’ve done so far is going towards that direction.”
Kadosh stares at Ronen Uziel before replying to him. He knows he owes respect to that six-day war veteran boasting preferential relations with the most powerful politicians in the country, including the President himself. Moreover, despite a grenade’s shard compromising his left leg’s use, he managed to upgrade to military counsellor in the various governments following one another since the seventies. For this reason, Kadosh makes an extra effort to give his answer a moderate tone – something unusual to him.
“We did identify the guilty parties and blew up the two Qawasameh clan’s bosses’ houses!”
“Do you consider this ‘settling accounts’ with Hamas?”
“You know well Qawasameh is one of the most ferocious and unruly clans amongst the Hamas affiliates, and it is very likely they acted without asking the central command for permission.” While he speaks, his eyes, in search of confirmation, keep turning to Etzion, who responds with a reassuring nod.
“These are unproved conjectures. I believe we should do more in memory of Eyal, Naftali and Gilad.” Ronen Uziel cannot compromise his deep fondness for the Israeli people in front of his General Staff.
“Listen to me carefully, Ronen”, Kadosh’s patience completely disappears from his tone of voice. “I have a son of Naftali and Gilad’s age, who could have been with them hitchhiking on the way home that day, and I cannot let you make insinuations about our potential disrespect towards those poor guys’ lives. The point is that we know that Hamas is just waiting for an excuse to start his offensive.”
“Then, let’s give them one, for goodness sake! This way we shall solve the problem once and for all!”
Kadosh is well aware Ronen Uziel’s generation regards an eye for eye a fair punishment, with no exceptions. However, “an eye for eye makes the whole world blind”, Ghandi used to say. For years, Ghandi himself experienced first-hand how unsuccessful a definitive solution to conflicts is. Kadosh forces himself to remain calm while responding to Ronen Uziel, even though he is tempted to shout at him with all of his frustration.
“Don’t you realise this would be just useless? Do you really think the problem lies in Gaza and Hamas? How long does it take to us to understand that if we defeated Hamas in Gaza, it would be the perfect pretext to have the whole Arabic world against us? Plus…” A young lieutenant, after having announced himself with a couple of knocks on the door, enters the room interrupting his outburst. It is Oz Lihait, responsible for intelligence collection of local incidents, perhaps a bit too smart-alecky for Kadosh’s tastes, but very good in his job. Today, however, there is no sign of the usual boldness characterising him.
“Excuse me, General Kadosh, something you should know has just happened”, Lihait informs, “Police this morning found a carbonised body.”
“In a wood, outside Jerusalem.”