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You Won’t Believe This

Below is the fifth segment of a new short story—’You Won’t Believe This’—never before published. As I say at its beginning, I’m telling you this incredible story to: “Test your core belief in the divine, or your firm conviction in reality and reason.” Enjoy the ride.

In a personal act of defiance and protest—probably my last such act—I tuned instead to the “Voice of Peace,” Abie Nathan’s radio station, which he operated in those days from a boat out in the sea. It faithfully transmitted, at all hours of the day and night, golden oldies and classic rock, mixed with messages of peace, directly through the air and over the waves of the sea at the window of my bedroom, and at the balcony of my apartment.

Next, I glanced in dread at my writing desk, situated strategically in a shaded corner of the room. On top of the desk, beside my green Hermes typewriter, rested my latest screenplay: Love under the Eucalyptus Tree. (You may laugh, why don’t you, I’m laughing too.) The one about the kibbutz, where my father, good health may always be with him, still lived. He deserves a call, too, I was thinking, and a mention in my final writing paper as well. After all, this screenplay was in large part about him: A Holocaust survivor, a socialist, an eternal idealist and dreamer. A curse and affliction I no doubt inherited from him. No wonder I turned out so screwed up.

True to form, and to that conclusion, I was planning on directing the film myself. It was supposed to be my film, you see, my singular work of art. I would finally create a splash here in the city, and make a name for myself to go along with it. Would rescue my future, hopefully, from the jaws of my past. Would prove to all those city-type people that I, a farm-boy from the Jezreel Valley, was capable of more than just these lousy video magazines. Even though, cut to the naked truth here, the copies I’d made so far of my screenplay, with considerable costs (money originally set aside for my monthly rent), kept coming back to me from those pretentious, brainless producers, and their fake production companies. Always rejected.

Rejected and dejected was how I felt that afternoon. I couldn’t go through another rewrite. No way. Even that, sitting at my desk writing—the one thing I liked doing the most—was too much for me on that ominous, albeit sunny day in Tel Aviv. Instead, I put my hand on the phone, resting on the broken, small black & white television set, intending on calling my son. See how he was doing. Yet I hesitated, my phone anxiety taking over big time, as I realized I would probably have to speak with her first. His mother. My wife still, officially. It was the worst, talking to her. I just couldn’t bring myself into doing that. Not now—not ever.

I opened the two sliding glass doors that separated my living room from the balcony, parted them wide and stepped outside. I placed my cold lemonade glass on the small round table, standing by my old beach chair, and raised the dusty green shades all the way up. It was like raising a curtain, as they used to do back then at the old, grand Tel Aviv Cinema Theater in town, before the screening of each film. Let it begin; I was ready for the end.

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The Absurd Regions

Below is the complete reportage — published here in English for the first time on my literary website — that was published originally years ago in Hebrew, on the pages of ‘Iton77;’ the literary, cultural Israeli magazine. It was titled ‘The Absurd Regions’ back then, and was comprised of twelve separate vignettes, reflecting my lyrical impressions of the ‘First Lebanon War’ of 1982-85, in which I participated. So here goes:

First Gathering
No smiles on the rough faces. The regular questions: How things? How’s life? The answers are heavy, occasionally harsh: shit, life’s in the dumpster. Ninety percent of our battalion’s command personnel identify with the ‘Peace Now’ movement. Objecting to the war. Objecting to the stay in Lebanon. Detesting what’s require of them to do next. One of the officers demonstrated yesterday in front of the Prime Minister’s house in Jerusalem. Before that, he marched from Rosh HaNikra up north to Tel Aviv. His wife advised him not to come this time. Refuse to go. But he is here—of course he is. Maybe because his friends are here. Who is he that he will allow them to be fucked with this shitty job without him. Maybe for the sake of democracy he came. The democracy Sharon and Raful crushed when they started this war. It’s been proven already before that there are more important things than this war: you, me, son, daughter. Life.

Traveling
The visions passing by us reflect a mixture of the bizarre and the absurd. Beautiful countryside, on the one hand: the small villages are cuddled by the rolling hills, while the mountains merge so nicely with the scenery and don’t bite at it, like some of our mountains do back home. On the other hand, dirt and filth everywhere. Ecology is a nonexistent word in the local jargon. Here, one does as one pleases.

It’s harvest time now. The small fields in the bottom of the hills are harvested using sickles, and the sheaves are gathered by hands. An old combine then sorts the wheat grains apart and fill the air with golden dust, fog like. Peaceful cows are grazing in the meadows. The shoulders in the narrow roads are littered with potholes. And with old cars, scattered about here and there. One of them, you know that, is a death trap waiting for you.

Lawless Country
In Lebanon there are no taxes; no licenses; no one pays for electricity. Teenagers drive the cars on the roads. Kids drive the tractors, with dark covered women walking beside them, majestically balancing sacks of wheat grains and tobacco leaves on their heads. New, shiny vehicles zoom by, passing by old ones whose guts are exposed.

Muslims, Christians, Druzes, Shiites and Khomeini supporters coexist in this country side by side. Mixed multitude. And there are, of course, the Christian Militia and the Chadad Falangists. The latter are the road-robbers of this country. They reside under the shade of the Israeli Army’s camps and wear its uniform. “Tell me who your friend is, and I will tell you who you are.” So say the soldiers here, who play bad cops in this grotesque drama.
The circle is rounded and closed with the UN soldiers from Holland, France, Senegal, Ireland… you name it. Some are friendly to us; some hate our guts and look down on us. A black soldier wearing blue uniform and brown overcoat stands in attention in a remote, forgotten ravine. His rifle is erect in his arms. No enemy in sight, though. He belongs, like all of us, to a different world.

The Village Women
Before sunrise the women of the village go out into the small tobacco fields that close in on their houses. They pluck the green leaves and put them in their brown sacks. After that, in full morning light, they carry the sacks on their heads to the houses. There, with their children, they sort the leaves and hang them on thin ropes to dry them up in the hot sun. Later still, they will milk the cows, lead them out into the field to graze, feed the children and clean the houses. They shoulder their responsibilities with primeval dedication.

The husbands, meanwhile, will enter their Mercedeses late in the morning, and will drive to town to attend to their businesses. Maybe visit the coffee house in a nearby village. Play backgammon there with friends and smoke the narghile. In the evening they will return home and receive from their dutiful wives what they’re owed: food, love, and respect. The Bible, in certain terms, is alive and well here.

Yoel The Handsome
Dead. Was killed in an accident on a treacherous road in one of Lebanon’s regions. A meaningless Lebanese accident—just like that. Those demonstrating in front of the prime minister’s home can add him to the list of the fallen. We spent six months, the entire army’s ‘Combat Officers Course’ together. He was the handsomest among us. In his kibbutz, Ayelet HaShahar (Morning Star) he left behind four orphaned children and a pregnant wife. They too, are among the casualties of this useless war.

The “Status of the Logos”
On our daily patrol we pass by the spot where three soldiers from the reserved battalion that preceded us on duty here were killed. One short burst of gunfire slaughtered them all. Luckily, we are still alive. For how long, though, it’s hard to say.

Back at our base, from the radio blaring in our kitchen tent, comes the voice of a scholarly literary critic, talking about the “Status of the Logos,” the “Sacredness of Art,” and “Esthetic Beauty.” It sounds as if the voice comes from a faraway country, whose residents, so it seems, are unaware of what their sons are up to here. “Dust to his feet we are,” so says the critic in regard to the poet he is talking about. And so are we, in regard to our country, our elders. So we climb on our armored vehicles. Load our guns. And off we go.

A Hand for Peace
The local population, so the papers back home told their readers, received the Israeli soldiers with cherries, flowers, and kisses in the air. The other side of the story is a lot less celebratory, and a lot more depressing. We don’t even receive smiles anymore. Only the kids, inexperienced in war and in politics, sometimes raise a hesitating hand for a wave as we pass on the road. They stand on the roads’ shoulders, littered with burned armored vehicles. Above them, swarms of bloodsucking mosquitos constantly hover.

A Dog Burial
A puppy was killed on the road. For the whole day he was lying dead on the roadside, and was beginning to stink. At the end, we were the ones to bury him. After a short hour, his mother found his burial place. She burrowed and excavated her dead puppy; exposing him again to the beams of the sun and the eyes of the world.

One of our soldiers committed suicide in a checkpoint. Those who knew him claimed he brought his troubles from home. Another soldier was sent to the “soul-health’s officer.” Those in the know said he brought his “mantel-sickness” from home. Last night, a soldier in the Border Brigade was killed in an ambush. Those who knew him said he loved the army more than he loved his home. His funeral service and burial followed the required Army protocol.

Settlement Number One
One of our provisional bases has turned into a settlement. The details, of course, are secret. But in principle, what has begun as a temporary position on the sideroad meant to protect soldiers from guerillas, turned into a permanent basis. They took possession of an olive orchard despite the local owner strong objections. Tents were raised and stakes were hammered into the ground; a fence was stretched and a flag was raised; showers were installed and latrines were dug; armed positions were built and weapons were placed in them. The commander of this new base, who comes from a left-leaning kibbutz, found it difficult to acquiesce. But his superior commander has decided so. And the silent objector, though his conscience has kept bothering him, hasn’t refused the order. That the way he was brought up in his kibbutz.

To See and To Live
A roadside munition exploded not far from here. Two soldiers were killed and sixteen were injured. Two of them critical. The mother of Amir from kibbutz Shamir—who was killed in that attack—was also killed by terrorists. Amir hated this war. He sensed it would kill him. But he didn’t refuse to come. He enlisted and died. On his bed, in his small room, he left his guitar…
A respected journalist from a very popular newspaper arrived at the sensational terrorist attack’s location, where the 70-killograms roadside explosion threw a truckload of soldiers 20-meters away. She came to see the charred remains of the truck. There was hardly a word about the dead in her report. She now sips cafe au lait at a breezy, trendy coffee place on the boardwalk in Tel Aviv. Maybe noshing on a cold watermelon.

My Commander
My commander is 50-year-old. His head is balding, his eyes are in need of glasses constantly. His reserve duty service is voluntary. In his civil life he is a high-school principle. He leads by personal example: stands on duty-guard at nights with his soldiers, goes out on patrols, sweeps the yard, and washes the dishes. He never raises his voice. Sometimes he is on the point of losing control of his nerves, but quickly regains control and resumes his duty. My commander is truly an exceptional person. He hates the war in Lebanon. He even said that much to a governmental security committee inquiring about the war. He stated that what’s being done to us here is equal to the Biblical story of “Uriah the Hittite.” Generally, he hates army life and wars. So why the hell is he here?

Finale Party
Darkness. True darkness. Our replacement soldiers are here with us already. The night is full of stars. The skewers are on the fire. The coffee is on the coals. The dog is yelling. She senses that we are leaving. The Georgian and the Bedouin are brothers; the Persian and the Yemenite are brothers; the American and the Moroccan are brothers; the Ashkenazy and the Sephardic are brothers. It is a true situation—believe it or not.

The jokes and the laughter fly with the burning sparks into the night. We sing “How beautiful the nights in Canaan,” and “Hey to the South,” and “My flak-jacket is my Lover.” Since the war-songwriters didn’t write any war-songs this year, only the wrath-poets wrote wrathful-poems, the soldiers are forced to write their own songs. So we sing the most known soldiers’ song of this war, with one additional stanza of mine:

Go down on us airplane, take us fast to Lebanon; we will fight for general Sharon, and come back home in a coffin.
How it happened that the conquest, suddenly turned into defeat; you should ask the pawn, deep in the king’s carton.

At the ‘Finale Party’ of the previous company they didn’t sing. They didn’t tell jokes and didn’t roll laughter into the air. At their ‘Finale Party’ they stood in attention. A moment of silence for three of their comrades who got killed.

We were lucky so far, but for how long…

The next day, late at night, we passed the Rosh HaNikra checkpoint at the border, crossing from north to south, from Lebanon to Israel.

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The Absurd Regions

Below are three more vignettes—published here for the first time in my literary website—that were published originally years ago in Hebrew, on the pages of ‘Iton77;’ the literary, cultural Israeli magazine. Next month, I will revisit this reportage, which was titled back then ‘The Absurd Regions,’ and publish the last piece of this lyrical impression, which I wrote during the First Lebanon War of 1982-85. So stay tune, and here goes:

Settlement Number One

One of our provisional bases has turned into a settlement. The details, of course, are secret. But in principle, what has begun as a temporary position on the sideroad meant to protect soldiers from guerillas, turned into a permanent basis. They took possession of an olive orchard despite the local owner strong objections. Tents were raised and stakes were hammered into the ground; a fence was stretched and a flag was raised; showers were installed and latrines were dug; armed positions were built and weapons were placed in them. The commander of this new base, who comes from a left-leaning kibbutz, found it difficult to acquiesce. But his superior commander has decided so. And the silent objector, though his conscience has kept bothering him, hasn’t refused the order. That the way he was brought up in his kibbutz.

To See and To Live

A roadside munition exploded not far from here. Two soldiers were killed and sixteen were injured. Two of them critical. The mother of Amir from kibbutz Shamir—who was killed in that attack—was also killed by terrorists. Amir hated this war. He sensed it would kill him. But he didn’t refuse to come. He enlisted and died. On his bed, in his small room, he left his guitar…
A respected journalist from a very popular newspaper arrived at the sensational terrorist attack’s location, where the 70-killograms roadside explosion threw a truckload of soldiers 20-meters away. She came to see the charred remains of the truck. There was hardly a word about the dead in her report. She now sips cafe au lait at a breezy, trendy coffee place on the boardwalk in Tel Aviv. Maybe noshing on a cold watermelon.

My Commander

My commander is 50-year-old. His head is balding, his eyes are in need of glasses constantly. His reserve duty service is voluntary. In his civil life he is a high-school principle. He leads by personal example: stands on duty-guard at nights with his soldiers, goes out on patrols, sweeps the yard, and washes the dishes. He never raises his voice. Sometimes he is on the point of losing control of his nerves, but quickly regains control and resumes his duty. My commander is truly an exceptional person. He hates the war in Lebanon. He even said that much to a governmental security committee inquiring about the war. He stated that what’s being done to us here is equal to the Biblical story of “Uriah the Hittite.” Generally, he hates army life and wars. So why the hell is he here?

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Meet Me in Baghdad at Sundown (Last Part)

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Only 2 minutes remain before midnight when Akef thinks about the two women in his life. His wife, who in fact had encouraged him to leave Baghdad, is no longer on his side. She is on her father’s side. She can’t live for long without all the amenities and privileges she was accustomed to since childhood. It is like a second nature to her now. And all the promises and vows to stick by him no matter what, to kill herself if he would be killed – are worthless. He is certain of that. Ab­solutely worthless. She begs and cries and terrorizes him constantly with her quest to go back. She is ready even to sleep with him again, like in the good old days when he, not her brother, was the chosen heir to the throne. And this willingness on her part is a sure sign, above all else, that something is wrong here. Very wrong.

And at the same time he knows, with the same certainty but with­out any proof to support it, that the one real woman in his life, his young mis­tress – is dead already, a victim of gang rape and brutal mutilation. (Recorded on videotape, no doubt, for the enjoyment of his enemies.) He was allowed to keep her only because everybody else – upon reaching a cer­tain position of dominance and influence – was allowed, required al­most, to do so. It was a sign of maturity and power, a privilege of sorts. But it was, still is, no secret; as there are no secrets at all in this barbaric, if modern regime.

He longs for her so much, misses her so terribly, but at the same time he knows deep inside his heavy heart that it is futile: she is in a different world already.

And it so happens that when only 1 minute remains till mid­night, Akef still can’t decide what he is going to do when the telephone would finally rings. He finds himself caught between the hammer and the anvil, as the elders used to say back in his village, and can’t see a way out of it. But, as he looks with dismay at the peaceful, yet so menacing black instrument, and then stares fearfully at the electronic clock, as if trying to prevent it from moving forward, he suddenly thinks about Allah: the one and only God. He must put his trust in Allah, and in his son Muhammad, to guide him out of this dark tunnel. After all, Allah is the real Supreme Ruler, and in his name he did all those terrible things he was forced into doing. He just obeyed the damn orders, anyway; he was always an obedient servant. And suddenly – as if it were not so much by his own volition, but rather he is forced into it by a power much greater than himself – he falls to the floor and puts his head on the rug in the direction of the window, and hopefully Mecca. His eyes, however, are full of tears; he is praying silently for forgiveness and guid­ance, for…

The telephone rings while Akef is praying and catches him by surprise. He raises his head from the rug and glares at it, just when it rings for the second time. He crawls on the floor towards it and stops by the small coffee table, as the third ring sounds. He then raises his hand above the telephone, hesitating still, his mouth dry like the mouth of a dead man, when it rings for the fourth time. It is as if Akef didn’t expect this call at all, as if he didn’t anxiously wait­ed for the telephone to ring for the last 10 minutes, the last 6 months – since that terrible dream in Baghdad. Or, as a matter of fact, waited for it his whole life.

His wife, Layla, picks up the receiver on the fifth and final ring. He did not hear her opening the door, nor did he see her coming in. But now, as she stands above him smiling, reminding him of her father more than ever before; it seems so right, so befitting, so natural – the telephone cord resembling a hanging rope – that she would be the one to hand him the receiver. He takes it from her, his hand shaking heavily, even though he knows with absolute certainty who, carrying what message, is waiting for him at the other end: The angel of death, instructing him to meet him in Baghdad at sundown.

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Meet Me in Baghdad at Sundown (Part 2)

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Akef takes a good, long drag on his cigarette, now at 8 minutes before the expected, dreaded phone call. He then tastes for the first time the black Turkish cof­fee in front of him. Layla had prepared it for him, so considerate suddenly, after the much trouble and crying she had inflicted on him lately. But the taste of her coffee is still good, and unlike her, warm and strong. And she is right, he is forced to admit, she always was her father’s favorite daughter: the olive of his eye. And she knows him best, too. To her, she had said, he never lies. Nor ever will. All is forgiven, then, and the letter of remorse and unconditional surrender is accepted without conditions. Even her father – who danced merrily after so many funerals, those of his enemies and those of his friends, and who drank their blood as if it were but sweet wine – even he wouldn’t hurt his own daughter, his own flesh and blood, and his own grandchildren and their father. After all, he and Akef have been through so much together, at war and at peace. And if not for his snake-eating son, the cold-blooded murderer who would readily, if the opportunity were to present itself, kill his own father without a second thought, this whole sad affair – their defection to Jordan – would never have happened. As the son, Akef is sure of this, was the one to convince his father to get rid of him.

But now, Layla promised him, her father himself is losing all trust in his son and his days are numbered. She spoke with him by phone and got all the right assurances. As a matter of fact, her father had said, Akef is needed now more than ever before. His “baby” – the biological-bomb-for-mass-annihilation – is in deep troubles. Only Akef, by taking charge again of these mad scientists, can resurrect it now. At the same time, the damn Kurds are gaining ground again, up north. And who else if not her husband, so he had told her, would be able to suppress and eradicate them once and for all. And after that – Jerusalem!

And suddenly, at 7 minutes to midnight, for the first time in these long 6 months of exile that Akef feels at peace with himself. He is almost happy it is all going to end pretty soon. Even the splitting headache that follows him everywhere and the deafening whistle in the core of his brain have mysteriously disappeared. He won’t be in need­ anymore of those amateurs who call themselves doctors, over there at the Royal Hospital of Amman. Oh no, he is confident again; he is ready for action; he is resolute once more. Most probably he will be able to sleep tonight, after the telephone conversation, for the first time in a long time. He won’t be surprised, even, if his wife will join him in bed. And just as he is thinking about that he feels – no, he is not dreaming – an erection coming on. It is a sign of life he hasn’t felt since leaving Baghdad. And it feels so good, oh Muhammad son of Allah, so normal again – even if, after the short moment of elation, it quickly wilts down.

He sucks on the cigarette as hard as he can when only 6 min­utes remain, then releases the rings of smoke as slow as possible. He promised in his agreement letter to reveal all the contacts he had made here in Amman, name all the names of the people he had met, and disclose all the places he had visited. He swore to reveal where they hide, all these traitors who call themselves patriots, the “sav­iors of the homeland.” They had called him a “war criminal” to his face, his hands still dripping blood of comrades, they had said. He will show them a pool of blood, an ocean in fact. They refused to name him their leader, refused to crown him the next king. Work with us, they had told him, here in the marketplace of the old city, here in the darkness of the narrow alleyways. Be one of us: a foot soldier. Then we shall see. But he wasn’t ready for that: then, now, or ever. He wasn’t, still isn’t, a foot sol­dier. He is a general! He will personally command the unit of brave men that will penetrate their ranks and kill them all. In one swift move. The same way he had used to cut wheat with his scythe, back at the village of his lost childhood and youth.

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The Kibbutz is Burning (Part 7)

Kibbutz HeftzibahThe dreamlike saga of this new short story, magic-realism in the Holy Land continues after the battle on the big dining room has ended, and the one for the soul of the kibbutz begins.

Dusk was descending on the kibbutz, whose residents had gathered on the slope of the biblical mountain. The sun had set down already—just as it had done so many years ago, after kissing the dead bodies of King Saul and his son Jonathan a last farewell—far behind the red Edom Mountains, high above the Jordan River. But the Jesreel Valley below was still drenched with her majestic golden light. A thick blanket of smoke covered the kibbutz, hanging low and heavy, while every few minutes or so, in a last rebellious attempt, an orange flame would flare up through the dark gray screen, only to die down soon.

Under the Children Orchard, untouched by the fire, they all huddled and sat down. The elderly were there, the veterans who came to this place when it was nothing but a swamp; parents with their children where there, even babies; the guests, too, sons and daughters of the kibbutz who had returned home to celebrate the anniversary, and had stayed to fight the fire.

No one spoke. The atmosphere was thick with smoke and sorrow. Only the random burst of embers trying to reignite the fire, and the occasional wailing of sirens by the fire engines, ambulances and police cars, coming or leaving the kibbutz, occasionally broke off the dreadful, monotonous silence.

David was sitting high on a mountain rock, at the edge of this crowded group of people. His grandson Asaf was on his lap, secured by his tired arms. Close by on the ground his son Gideon was sitting, together with Dina his wife. David’s own wife, Roza, had been driven to the central valley hospital to be with Rafi, their adopted son, who was wounded in the battle. Their daughter Dalya was there as well, busy with other women in handing everybody sandwiches, fruits and cold lemonade. A donation from the nearby kibbutzim.

Amos, the Secretary of the kibbutz, was the only one to stand up. His grave looking face, with a bloodstained white bandage crowning his forehead, had told the story of the day before he even opened his mouth to speak. David heard his voice, but absorbed his words only partly. Some words registered in his mind immediately, and permanently, while others disappeared as if they were never uttered.

Yariv, the leader of the kibbutz’s resistance, was killed in the battle of the dining room. He—a veteran of the Six Days War, the War of Attrition and the Yom Kippur War—had died defending his kibbutz. Ephraim, the veteran firefighter of the kibbutz and David’s old friend, was dead too. His heart had failed him. Because, David knew for certain in his own heart, he was unable to extinguish the fire and stop the destruction.

The people from Beit She’an had suffered heavier losses. Six were dead, among them the brothers Jacky and Sami Ben-Simon, who were fired last week from their work in the kibbutz’s plastic factory. The firing was the result of an ordinance issued by the Kibbutzim Movement, explained Amos apologetically, to employ only kibbutz members in the fields and factories whenever possible, and not “hired labor.” Maybe that was the reason, David now realized, why the brothers were so angry at him.

The list of damaged working places and burned down buildings was infinite to the ears of the kibbutz members, so they asked Amos to be brief. There was no need to pour more oil onto the fire, they said, it was still burning. So he switched gears, as he so laconically had put it, and told the somber crowd that they may find some comfort in the knowledge that their kibbutz was not alone in this predicament. The chief of police from the town of Afula had informed him, in full confidence, that two other kibbutzim from the Republic of the Kibbutzim—“His words, not mine,” stressed Amos—were attacked in a similar fashion: One in the Galilee Mountains, up north, the other in the Negev Desert, down south. They were also the victims of an attack from nearby development towns. The police, as was customary in such situations, had already assigned a name to the events of the day: The Red Shabbat.

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The Kibbutz Is Burning (Part 5)

Kibbutz HeftzibahShort Story — Fifth Segment.

(The dreamlike saga of this new short story, magic-realism in the Holy Land, continues when the battle on the big dining room is ensued full force.)

One of the invaders noticed David, who stood hopelessly, staring at him dumbfounded. It was Jacky Ben-Simon, who worked in the kibbutz’s plastic factory. His hand lifted a thick stick, and was about to lower it on David’s head.

“Why?” asked David.

“Why, I tell you why,” said Jacky. “Because you have everything, and we have nothing!”

“Not true,” called Sami, Jacky’s brother who stood threateningly in front of David, his left hand holding a burning torch, the right hand raising a long, shiny knife. “It’s because you, damn Ashkenazim, got everything from the state. And we, poor Sephardim, got nothing!”

For a moment, hesitating, the brothers looked at the bewildered old man, before turning away without hurting him. They continued, nonetheless, in destroying and setting fire to his precious dining room. At the same time, a group of kibbutz members reached the dining room as well, holding iron bars, fire extinguishers, hoes and pitchforks. A battle of life and death ensued. Some of the members fought the rioters, while others tried to extinguish the fire, aflame already in tables and curtains. The men from Beit She’an were also divided into two forces: One destroyed everything in sight and set fire to every corner, the other defended against the kibbutz members.

David, stunned and pushed aside, saw his adapted son Rafi arriving into the fighting arena. Rafi was hitting left and right, so much so that it became difficult on David to determine which side he was on. Gideon, his own flesh and blood, was there as well. He got hold of his father and pulled him away forcefully. The last thing David had managed to see before they got out, an image he would carry with him to his grave, was how the fierce red flames began to eat the shiny black wood of the grand upright piano. The one that—like David himself—survived the Nazis.

They broke out of the fire and smoke, and into the open air of the big lawn. Many of the kibbutz residents where there already, among them women, children and the elderly. Some members with authority began the difficult task of moving them all away from the burning dining hall.

“To the mountain. To the Children Orchard,” was the call that blew through the crowd like a sudden wind, its source unknown.

By that time, a group of kibbutz members had moved closer to the dining room. Yariv, the reserve paratroops colonel, was leading them on. They held rifles and even Uzi machine-guns: battle ready. Gideon, a reserve paratroops officer himself, told his father that he would like to try and stop them, see if he can mediate between the two sides. But his father held his arm firmly, and ordered him to stay put.

“It’s not your battle anymore, son,” he said.

Just then Yariv shouted, “Follow me”—the famed battle cry of the Israeli army commander—and charged in. His followers stormed in after him, firing their guns. The entire dining room was already burning by then, with gray smoke streaming through its shuttered windows. Ferocious orange flames followed the smoke out, and quickly spread fire to the green branches of the trees surrounding the building.

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The Kibbutz is Burning

Short Story – First Segment:

David stayed in bed, not fully awake yet from a terrible dream. He blamed the uneasy feeling growing inside him on the dream, and at the same time resisted a strange need to go back to it. He fought that urge, trying to concentrate instead on listening to the birds outside, a habit of his for many years. They were calling on him to join them, but he wasn’t in a hurry to get up. It was Shabbat morning, after all, and beside him his wife Roza was still asleep, snoring softly. He delayed also going to the bathroom, though the pressure on his bladder was very heavy, as was the case often at this time of the morning. He was afraid, most of all, that he might wake up his dear ones: his grandson, his son and his wife. They were all asleep on the open couch in the adjacent living room; tired, no doubt, from the festivities of last night.

Yes, that was a real celebration, he affirmed to himself fondly. Sixty years, as the youth were so fond of saying these days, don’t go by foot. And as for the old, like David himself, they should be proud of themselves for a day or two. Here, on the slope of the biblical Mount Gilboa, where King Saul and his son Jonathan fought the Philistines, and where once only an infested swamp existed, now stood a beautiful, successful kibbutz.

This accomplishment was the basis and main theme of the colorful pageant performed last night at the new Community Center: The first days of Aliyah, and the struggle and triumph that followed, as the new Jewish immigrants conquered Eretz Israel. Of course, the presentation was done with the best that modern equipments can offer, including audio-visual effects. And yet, it was the pure voice of the choir that had melted his heart so easily, singing those old pioneer songs. What a pity his son Gideon wasn’t among them; he always was such a fine singer. But that was before he got married and left the kibbutz. Before that city-girl of his snatched him away from here.

A short cough came out of David inadvertently. He tried to strangle it but was too late. Roza mumbled something first, then turned away from him and went back to sleep. He hoped his cough hadn’t waked up little Asaf: he needed the sleep, so he could grow up and be strong and healthy. And who knows, David thought wishfully, maybe one day he would be the one to come back to the kibbutz.

He closed his eyes, trying to imagine such a favorable scenario. At the same time, the irresistible temptation of that bad dream came back to haunt him. It was possible, he couldn’t tell at first, that he did go back momentarily to visit the realm of that dream. Because suddenly—just as he felt how the mask of sleep was beginning to veil him again—he found himself in the bathroom, trying to relieve his urinary pressure. He stared at his bathtub while at it, trying to help things along by counting the tiles. Who would have believed back in the old days, he asked himself rhetorically, that one day we would have private bathtubs? What happened to the old Community Shower? And where are we heading, anyway, that we have houses with color televisions and personal telephones in them, and separate kitchens with refrigerators and oven toasters? What will be the end of it all?

And suddenly—again, he was unsure how it had happened so quickly—he found himself planted in the middle of his garden, wearing his black working shoes, his khaki shorts and gray undershirt. Apparently, he had drunk already his strong black coffee, and was “ready for wars,” as his son used to say. The kibbutz was still asleep, to be sure. And why not, it deserved it after last night’s big celebration. Only he and the birds were awake. For them, it was a morning like any other morning: the Sixty-Year Anniversary of the kibbutz meant nothing to them. The same could be said about Libi, his neighbors’ dog, a Border collie who kept running around his pecan tree for some reason. Right where his old, red bicycle was leaning on the trunk.

He stooped over his beloved daffodils, and in spite of the pain that was tormenting his lower back lately, began to methodically extract the wild weeds that were threatening to suffocate them. It was not so hard: only the crab grass fought back, as it had done for almost forty years now. It was a war without winners; it was a war without end. Like the war…

He straightened up abruptly, smelling smoke. His nose was especially sensitive to such smells, as Roza his wife had pointed out not once. Yet he looked around and saw no sign of smoke, or fire for that matter. Not even a garbage barrel burning. The kibbutz was secure and serene as ever, and so was the mountain above it, with the Children Orchard nestled in the bosom of its slope. A pine tree for every child of the kibbutz was planted there, including for his own son and daughter. Luckily, Dalya was still living in the kibbutz. But how come she was yet to get married? Was yet to bear him grandchildren to play with in his old age?

There was still hope, he believed, as he picked up the black hose and turned on the water. He placed his thumb on the mouth of the hose, so skillful at it, and created a perfect umbrella of silvery drops. He watered his garden with easy, calculated moves, up and down, left and right. He always liked watering his garden this way, before the rainy season, as he expected, would start in earnest. It made him feel alive, and so in tune with nature, especially when the soft morning breeze blew a few drops of water at his face. All his anxieties were gone by now, left behind in the house.

But then, just as he was raising the water hose high in order to reach the row of hawthorn bushes framing his garden, he thought he saw smoke rising from somewhere. He threw down the hose and grabbed his old, reliable wooden ladder. Next—and again, it was so fast he couldn’t understand how it had happened—he was high on a branch of the pecan tree, together with the black birds. He looked over the roofs and trees, far away toward the valley below and its flat brown and green fields, bordered by placid fishing ponds, glistening in the morning sun. He then turned his eyes over to the plastic factory and the cowsheds, all the way to the main yard of the kibbutz. Where he saw—clearly, he didn’t need his glasses—a column of black smoke rising.

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