Please do order the full novel from Amazon. What follows is the fifth excerpt (with the Conclusion now added, below) from my novella about Israel and unrecorded acts of terror and contrition during the 1990 Iraq War with the threat to Israel of Iraqi missiles and the danger that they might carry nuclear payloads. [See February 2012 posts for the previous three excerpts.] One strong motivation to write this novella was my desire to reinforce a sense of the great danger of nuclear radiation and nuclear weapons - a danger powerfully explained by Jonathan Schell's The Fate of the Earth and The Abolition (Stanford Nuclear Age Series).
The entire short novel has been published by CreateSpace. As I wrote above, please consider ordering it through Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble etc. The link to the novel on Amazon is in the column to the right (the book also contains eight stories of the nineteen-eighties printed after the text of "Acts of Terror and Contrition" about the 1990 war; in addition, in 2004 I published a novel about the expatriate community in Los Angeles, Hungry Generations, and in 2015 my novel came out about Armenians in the aftermath of the 1915 genocide, living in Fresno, California - The Ash Tree):
Headquarters of the government were a half-mile from the
Intelligence building. Arie drove over
through the crystalline morning, and now he sat facing the Prime Minister
across the large rectangular table, and on the two sides between them sat four
ministers of the Cabinet. It was not the
first time that the Special Operations chief had attended a meeting of this
advisory group, the Prime Minister’s inner circle.
Arie watched as Yitzhak, sitting across the table,
narrowed his brown eyes in a glance of rage directed down at the polished wood
of the tabletop. As his ministers’
voices emptied their passionate rhetoric onto the table, the thin lips of
Yitzhak’s mouth were shut, his convictions in check, his allegiances
indecipherable, though disgust glared from his face – his eyes were open only a
“I must have order,” he said, his voice taut with strain
and ire. The shouts diminished, and the
small dynamo of a man glanced around the table.
“I will have order at such a moment.
Israel faces the gravest threat she has ever faced. We must be resolute and controlled; if we
dissipate ourselves with shouts and wailing, there is no hope. Each of us needs to present his views in a
nutshell. I want to hear us go around the
table; today there must be order. First
Benjamin, then Moshe, Dov, Guela, Arie, and then we’ll return to me.”
The Foreign Minister, who sat to Yitzhak’s left, spoke
first. Benjamin was a large man, with an
imposing head and graying curly hair. He
made an effort to tame his handsomeness, closely to crop his hair, to hunch his
shoulders, to mute his mellifluous voice.
He seemed to drone on, yet finally his voice filled the Prime Minister’s
office with a sort of incantation to American power, a call to participate in
their military command of the region.
Benjamin held his head perfectly still as he talked on. “The fact is that the Americans and NATO are
always there to help us. They are
confronting Iraq for us!” It was as if his rote analysis emerged from a frozen
hulk and not from a human being. “As for
Saddam’s Scuds, the Americans are sending us MIM-104’s—the Patriot air-defense
system.” Arie saw the Prime Minister frowning at the head of the table. Outrage spoke from his narrowed eyes; Yitzhak
would reject hopeless subservience. He
would act with care and force in order to stop the plummet toward a nuclear
Immediately, as Benjamin concluded, the Defense
Minister’s electric voice started. Moshe
had a tense, intelligent face and anonymous, gray eyes. “NATO and the Americans cannot defend us from
Iraq. That is crap!” The Minister was
devoted to the military, to the expertise of the generals he represented, their
arsenal of tactics and weapons. “We
must,” his voice crackled, “undertake a pre-emptive strike against Iraq.”
“Yes,” shouted Dov, the Interior Minister, over Moshe’s
voice. “We must strike first. Given what we have learned today, the day
must not pass without our declaring war.”
“I will have order,” the Prime Minister bellowed, and Dov
fell back into silence.
“I don’t mean war,” Moshe’s electric and efficient voice
continued. “I mean protecting the
security of our cities. I mean mounting
a surgical strike to remove Saddam.”
As Moshe finished, there were wrenched shouts around the
table, and now the Interior Minister broke in earnest into speech.
“Moshe, that would mean war, that would mean victory, and
I welcome it.” Dov, with his square jaw and heavy mustache, talked on, sitting
with an unlikely solidity as his voice flared out. “If we do not fight this war, striking first
and immediately, Israel will be destroyed, and at the least another bloody
Nebuchadnezzar will ransack and rule us.
At the least. My friends, what do
the Americans offer us in this dark hour, when the final cards are to be played
out here? They offer nothing but ultimatums and useless Patriots. Bush is playing chicken with Saddam
Hussein. It is suicide for the state of
Israel to submit to such a grotesque command structure, to a lethal game
between clowns and fools. It is suicide
to lie down as Iraq threatens to destroy us.
It is suicide if we do not teach them a lesson once and for all. The security of our future generations
depends on what we decide here, and we betray our sacred birthright and our
future if we do not fight this war.”
“Are we worthy of our birthright, Dov?” Guela’s sarcastic
voice broke the silence which the Interior Minister’s speech had
generated. She was a diminutive,
well-dressed woman, with a sharp, ironic face; the Energy Minister’s hair was
richly dark and thick with streaks of gray and pulled back into an austere and
“Perhaps the Iraqis are merely an instrument to punish
us,” she said. “Perhaps we have overused
the fiction of our birthright to justify aggression and intolerance. Security, it is all you—any of you—speak
of. It’s understandable, but the truth
is that our obsession with security is our curse. Always we make ourselves bear its burdens;
always our gains and losses are matters of apocalyptic pride and guilt, always
at the expense of others and ourselves.
This one time, Mr. Prime
Minister, we must give up the fiction of security. If we are to continue to endure, let alone to
grow as a nation, we must accept the reality of the present situation. I can only agree with Benjamin. We must let our generals join with the
Americans, yes, patiently accepting a limited and subordinate position now.”
The Special Operations Chief poised himself for speech,
for the words which would present the best Intelligence at hand and establish a
framework for the decision to be made by the Prime Minister, who calmly frowned
now at his group of advisors. He felt as
if he were poised on a precipice and about to address a churning sea. He had now to project his will not only in
his bluntly technical manner, but in a visionary way. His words would be his own, and yet it
occurred to Arie that the listening Ministers must now more than ever believe
they were hearing Rami’s voice, living on into the next generation.
“The logic of the intelligence gathered over the past
twenty-four hours is the logic of nuclear war.” The Ministers were still and
silent before him. Arie held up to them
the classic analysis of the Great War, equating the present rush of events to
the unhinging of the Balkans in l9l4.
Now as then, each country was not shaping events but merely reacting to
them as they unfolded, and each felt the need to face down its enemies at all
costs. The politicians, the generals,
and the ideologues were determined not simply to exact guarantees or reprisals—no,
they were seizing the opportunity to destroy what menaced them. Yet each party declared the legality of its
hostility—the American operation mandated by the United Nations and
international law, the Iraqis also by treaties and laws, above all by Islamic
law. Now, in the midst of the chaos,
Iraq was poised to attack Israel, and there was a high probability that its
missiles were equipped with nuclear payloads.
At the same time, Washington demanded that Israel not act, even as the
Americans themselves threatened unilaterally to act.
The Middle East was stumbling once more through the
region of ultimatums, contradictory and deadly, enacting again the prelude to
the first World War, the chaos when the only order finally was the mad order of
fratricide and millions dead. The
conclusion of such an analysis, the synthesis of this implacable dialectic, was
an apocalyptic war enveloping the region and beyond. The world must be warned, Arie said.
The images of the century’s two total wars fed his will
as he spoke. When he described the tie
of the present chaos to the First World War, he thought of the lock-step
inevitability characterizing the Second, turning war into a machine, a chamber
of death. He spoke with a tone of
unbending, detached will, which was his gift and curse. Concluding now, the Intelligence Chief saw
that his analysis achieved the effect he sought. Yitzhak would act as he must.
“In all the recommendations I have heard this morning,”
Arie was concluding, “I have heard no one confront the deepest issue here. No one has offered any hope for escape from
nuclear war, and that is the danger we face.
We must look deeper. The region
is stumbling toward nuclear destruction.
We must establish the operational conditions by which it can be
avoided. We have the responsibility—and it
may be our last chance—to warn the world that it must turn away from this
abyss. I believe the time has come for
us not to destroy our enemies, not to hold the world hostage, not even to
defend our security, but to use our nuclear resources to warn the world of what
is at stake.”
Shouting broke out in the room as Arie began describing
one of the plans he had conceived: a symbolic warning, the detonation of one of
Israel’s nuclear bombs above a remote, southerly region of the Indian
Ocean. He could barely make out their
individual responses as the Prime Minister bellowed for order. Moshe was furious, Guela appalled.
last resort,” Benjamin said, as Dov shouted simultaneously, “Not enough. No one will pay any heed.”
“We must hear out every view,” the Prime Minister cut in,
“no matter how extreme. I must have
As Yitzhak began to speak, it was clear that he had planned all along to
follow Benjamin’s lead further into chaos.
He did not understand the extremity of their collective fate. Arie was chilled and suddenly unable to
He drove back to his operations building with its
bunker-like design, as if returning to a siege.
In his office, the late morning sun angled in at the edge of his windows
facing toward the ancient town. He gazed
from his desk. Among the framed
photographs attached to the wall, there was a plaque with a yellow ceramic
roofing tile mounted behind glass. The
granular surface of one half was melted into a glaze the color of caked blood. Uncle Morris in America had given Arie the
ceramic when he was a child. It was from
the roof of a Nagasaki home, and Arie’s uncle had got it during his service as
a US Army pathologist at the close of World War Two. Arie had not been allowed near it as a
child. Though the degree of radiation
was relatively slight, the danger was still there. Even now many decades after the American
atomic bomb had burst over Nagasaki, vaporizing its buildings and human beings,
even now this tile—found a mile from ground zero and burned the color of
coagulation—would without the glass insulation be a danger. And now Tel Aviv and Jerusalem itself could
become so many irradiated tiles ringing a hole in earth.
If Yitzhak’s government did not see the need to act against
it, then he must be the instrument of action.
Alone he would strive to create a warning more profound than any the
Arab terrorists had engineered with mortar and hostage. It would be a warning worthy of the insoluble
paradox, the double-bind of relations now among nations—in the Middle East and
everywhere that the belief in power strangled realism and reality itself. He would reveal the world to itself, for this
war must never be fought.
This morning, though, he had deceived himself. He admired Yitzhak’s political acumen and the
values, which seemed to endure in him.
The Prime Minister had witnessed the Holocaust, and Arie believed that
what Yitzhak’s generation witnessed should have burned shortsightedness from
their souls. Self-blind, he sought his
father’s spirit in the bold Prime Minister.
Haunted by this specter, he searched for it where it could not be found,
not even in Rami himself, in the protean old man grown tired and white-haired.
his mother died over a decade ago, his father had been still filled with vigor,
his hair black, his eyes alert. Arie was
an assistant then to the previous head of Intelligence. The phone call had come from his father, calm
and in grief. He drove the hours to
Naharia on the Mediterranean coast. PLO
guerrillas had lobbed a rocket into the sea-coast sky, and it landed in the
market square, exploding at the feet of two playing children who died
instantly, their bodies ripped and mashed.
And his mother, who had been shopping at the vegetable stands, was lifted
from the ground and thrown into the street.
Magda lay half-conscious in the hospital bed when Arie arrived, her legs
bandaged, her chest swathed in gauze.
Arie sat before her. Her face was
inert: the thick, mask-like pads of her cheeks.
Tears flowed from him.
That afternoon, she awoke and seemed to regain
strength. In the evening Elena drove in
from Jerusalem with little Moshe. When
they visited her each afternoon, a self-conscious smile would open on her face,
and she sat up to hold Moshe on her lap, murmuring over him, combing her
fingers through the black hair on his small head. In the early evenings, he and his father
would walk together about the town, drifting by the scarred market, the Roman
ruins just outside the city, and the museum of Nazi atrocities. They wandered and spoke of the need to heal
the wound which Israel had become, and it was then that his vision grew, the
commingling in him of the ardent and the ruthless.
Internal hemorrhaging began on Monday; she began to
ramble, believing it was thirty years earlier and the stench of the death camp
was in the hospital room. She rose in
her bed, glaring out the window at the sea.
in the top floor of his Intelligence building, he reached to open his desk
drawer. Next to the Luger his father had
retrieved from the camp, Arie picked up the envelope with sheets of paper
inside, found in his mother’s hospital bedside table. He hunched at his desk as he read through her
letter, coming once more to the last page:
lie here on the bed, writing—forgive my uneven hand. Because I can’t face speaking to you,
Arie. It could have struck home. There could be no I to write this down, no
fat hand and body with my thick skin, my iron stomach, with all the pain and
rage I can’t express, all my efforts to keep up our face. Even in the camps, it was so. How can I be this person? I eat the pills
they give me. It must be like morphine,
this sensation of losing track.
Everything is quiet and artificially lit. You turn the corner, and an atrocity roars at
your feet. Each time you see something
must you think of me, who can’t quite concentrate on you or anyone, can’t bring
off the face I try to save. What would
they all say if Rami’s wife were a disgrace, a fool, a shrew?
know, I always feared I would diminish him.
I made myself feel I could. That
the responsibilities were mine too.
There he would be. The same man:
Rami hasn’t changed since the liberation.
The black eyes blazing through gold-rimmed glasses, the shock of black
hair, never grey even now when he’s sixty-five, the powerful lips and nose and
chin; inside me I see his face. And I
feel responsible for him, even now.
the final day of independence came—you were almost three—and we knew that it
was war, Rami was constantly in meetings with our generals, with our
politicians, and secretly with the enemies’.
Each hour his world would shatter and be reborn, and always he appeared
to be the same man, thin, tall, steady, meeting each moment of celebration or
war as if he always understood it would be so.
But then he came home, and I was there to see the cost. I should not say. Certain things are beyond who we usually
are. I respect your father. The more because I know his memories, his rage,
the dread in his voice, the heart close to stopping. He is a great man.
my body ached for days at a time as if he beat me, though my God only a few
times has he come close to unleashing his hands upon me. My soul and body ached from the twists and
turns within him, and each mood, with a glance, without saying, never even
admitting it to himself, somehow each mood was secretly my responsibility.
know the pride within him. Do you know
Rami’s guilt? The guilt when he was one of the youngest in the first
government, when the Atzel gangs rushed to avenge an eye for an eye and kill
our Arab neighbors, hundreds, even children, at Deir Yassin before our
independence, and afterwards at Qibya and at Kfar Kasem. I don’t only mean the wars since and the
bleeding of our people and our enemies.
Rami’s conscience is a hammer of steel ruling even his vengeance when
our babies were murdered at Avivia, at Quiryat Shemona. When our athletes, some your friends, were
assassinated in Munich. Each time our nation
has bled, Rami kept back a part of himself from rage. In that part the deeper negotiations of guilt
have taken place. And all the more since
the Six Day War when we took the Palestinian lands. The Palestinian camps. That is the word he insists on.
feels the same guilt for those earlier camps.
This I can’t understand. I simply
watch. And I have screamed, incensed. Because there is a limit. I’m not enough of a person to feel the
conscience which is alive in your father, the dark flower of our thousands of
will write the words; blame the fog the painkillers bring. After Auschwitz, in the holding camp, how I
gave myself up to the pain and the flow of blood and you yielded up from
inside, how you sucked at my nipples and your hands—with all ten fingers
perfect—your tiny hands would hold and gently pummel my breasts, how you
smelled of urine and curdled milk and excrement and I would wipe the brown ooze
off your tiny buttocks and your kicking legs—the strands of your hair, the blue
of your eyes, and every second of day and night I breathlessly clung to you:
starved but freed, I was hungry to touch you, to shield you, to kiss you
constantly and murmur always into the baby’s ears.
months as we were moved about, on our way to Eretz Israel, I was hypnotized by
Rami loved you more than I can say. But
I know that mixed in with his wonder was an unimaginable guilt that we had
brought you into the world. My rock of a
husband. He was shattered by our debt to
fog thickens. I don’t know where my legs
are sometimes; this paper and pen sometimes disappear. I remember the rocket whooshing in. The sun was baking my back. I saw the crystal blue of the Mediterranean
stretching beyond the town. Then I heard
it rushing in, cracking the air closer.
Not all your Intelligence could keep that Palestinian rocket from
finding its way to me walking in the burning sun. I felt spun into the sky, wheeling, and then
slowly circling. Now when you and the
others visit, I see you revolve slowly before me. We are all weightless and irradiated with a
special light. Not like Mediterranean
light at all. Now it turns to fog which
closes in on my hand as I write, on my mouth when I speak.
Her cry pulsed through him, along with all she
had not said. His fingers rooted into
his hair and pressed into his skull. He
leaned his weight down on his elbows. He
saw before him the herd of stripped human beings and the robot overseers with
their souls dead within them: his mother had been one of the ravaged, naked
animals. Gall rose in his throat, and a
cry shook his body. Rage welled from the
hidden source, flooding his eyes; his flesh shook with his mother’s knowledge,
his own. Loathing and an urgent
visionary will to life churned within him as his hands released his skull and
reached for the phone. He would act on
his own. It would be for the sake of
Israel and the world.
* * *
narrow highway cut through the Negev near the southern end of the Dead
Sea. Desert sand, stretching out to the
horizon, surrounded the domed central reactor, the erect chimney, the camps of
new low buildings, and the ring of missiles.
A young weapons engineer dressed in a silver,
radiation-proof suit walked across the compound at Demeanor, and he looked out
at the highway and the endless sand, burning even in the late September sun,
the desert blooms of spring now dried to scrub and blown by Negev winds. The man entered one of the squat structures,
passed through building security and contamination control, and set to work on
an assignment he had been alerted to before noon. On the tables of this research and assembly
plant rested four large black leather cases brought here at noon. In the past hour, the weapons team had
reinforced the suitcases with shielding, and the young technician’s job was to
fit special braces inside one of the black cases and install a nuclear device.
Four tactical weapons had been retrieved from the plant
arsenal. The idea of using ten-kiloton
bombs had been held in abeyance for years, and these small weapons were among
the few that were kept in readiness.
The young man installed the braces and helped to mount
one of the small sheathed and triggered atomic devices into the case he worked
with. The impact of ten thousand tons of
TNT, exploded in a train station or a hotel, would be complete incineration in
a circle of six blocks, buildings turned to rubble in a circle of twenty
blocks, a firestorm sweeping a circle of forty blocks, and a cloud of fallout
irradiating an oval several miles long.
The technician lifted the little bomb from the metallic table, and set
the case slowly to the ground. It
weighed sixty pounds.
Half dozen men took the four suitcases from the Dimona
installation. It was Thursday
afternoon. The room seemed vacant as the
young man joined in clearing and decontaminating the area in which the team had
worked. Slowly walking back through
contamination control, leaving his metallic suit behind, he passed security again,
and listlessly exited the building. The
Negev sun blinded him, and momentarily all he saw was a blackened disc
suspended above the fiery land.
The Schneider’s compact, yellow family car made its way
past Nachlat Schiva where Rami lived, and it headed to the Moslem quarter, north
of the Old City. It was the day before
Yom Kippur eve, and Elena was alone, driving to visit Jena, the Arab woman who
had helped raise her.
She passed a knot of men in hats and with fringed
tallises showing beneath their coats.
They raised their fists at her as she drove through their
neighborhood. One man ran into the
street and threw a stone at the car; it scampered down the empty sun-bleached
street. Elena gripped the steering wheel
tightly; her head was erect, her red hair tied back in a severe bun. She sped her car away.
Jena and she had not talked for over a year. Yet on this day there was a need, an urgency,
to reach beyond the circle of her life.
At 9 AM, she had called the old Palestinian woman and invited herself
over for a visit.
noon, Elena had dropped Gily at Grandma’s house. The short, bright, gray-haired woman had
agreed to babysit for a few hours.
Elena’s mother had come to Israel from New York for a year, after
independence, in order to join a kibbutz, one of the nation’s earliest
socialist communes. And she had stayed
to marry the son of the founder.
Multilingual, Mrs. Milstein had
worked as a gifted teacher of English and French.
When Elena was born, her mother wanted to name her
Helene, but her father had prevailed. Then, after his early death, the daughter had
drawn close to her mother, and she came to share the older woman’s perspective
not only toward names and words. She
felt her mother’s American doubt about Israel’s orthodoxy, its provincialism,
the rancor and rigidity its survival seemed to necessitate. The doubt found crude outlets in her American
refrigerator, the Italian ceramics, the Cuisinart. Often it would well up, intolerable and
Now she drove down a street of dusty Arab tenements. As she parked and locked her car, children
ringed her, chanting a taunting song. A
little girl Gily’s age, but sallow and thin, put out her hand at the woman in
her fine knitted dress. Elena bore
herself carefully through the street, not looking at the stream of Moslems
flowing about her. She found Jena’s
apartment and knocked. The plump,
white-haired Palestinian opened the door and admitted her to her tiny living
room with an oriental carpet on the floor and a threadbare couch.
“Forgive my small place,” the old woman said. She sat down to serve dark sweet coffee and
rounds of pocket bread with sesame tahini and honey.
“Oh Jena,” Elena said, gesturing toward her friend. “I’m glad to see you.”
“How is your mother?”
“She’s retired from teaching. Last year.
“She was a fine teacher.
She taught me, you know.
English. Correct Hebrew.”
“I know,” Elena smiled.
“How are your children?”
“Gily is seven,” she began. She explained that her daughter was spending
the afternoon with her mother and Moshe was visiting his great-uncle in
America. As she spoke, it seemed
impossible to make these fragments of her life coherent, let alone alive to
this elderly guide from childhood, this stranger. Arie had not come home last night, and his
secretary had called in the morning that he would be tied up in the
extraordinary meeting of the Cabinet.
She was alone, isolated from her husband’s world, yet trapped inside
it. There must be a life beyond, and she
needed to confirm that it was there. Yet
she did not want to impose on Jena, more than she already had.
“How is your son, Jena?” she asked softly.
old woman seemed not to hear, but then she began: “He lives near the Old City,
but he seldom visits me. It’s very sad,
Elena. He says he would not impose his
sorrow and bitterness on me. I feel
sorry for my Sayeed. But there is
nothing I can do.” After another pause, she continued, “I’ve told you about the
village where I grew up. For generations
my family lived on the edge of that hilltop town. There were little houses of red stone, sweet
yellow jasmine. And then below, on the
slopes of the hills, there were big terraces rung with stones and groves of
olive. Those big black trees were
planted by my ancestors hundreds of years ago.”
“And then there was the naqbah,” Jena said in
Arabic. “The catastrophe.”
“I know, Jena,” Elena said bitterly, with silent tears
suddenly in her eyes. “Oh shit, I can’t
bear it. My God, your son will never
inherit your olive trees. This petty
little country, how can we go on, all the time pretending we’re so pure and
moral? Since long before the intifada, your people have suffered so.”
“What’s to be done? The olive trees shrivel because the
Israelis take all the water. But now we
are struggling for justice. We will
survive.” Jena’s voice was calm, without rancor, yet not comforting. “What do the children chant? ‘A hen has a
home. A rabbit has a home. Where is the Palestinian’s home?’”
“That’s why I sent Moshe to visit another country, to
America, so he can see how to try to be free of this injustice, this racist
hatred,” Elena said, though America was not the answer for her or her children.
“To America?” Jena’s brown, wrinkled face smiled. Her voice was severe, detached, speaking to
this woman whom she had diapered and fed and taught to cook. “Elena, the Americans built their first
settlements on the skulls of Indians.”
Saturday, September 29, 1990
The sun rose over the city, and the dawn flowed in on Haim who sat cross-legged on the bed. Outside the fifth-floor window, Paris did not exist. He no longer inhabited his tingling body. There was the scent of ionized oxygen in the room. His skin and stomach were in pain. His sensations were signs of decomposition in the corpse to which he was attached. Whatever life remained was concentrated in the black rectangle sitting in the center of the room. If any will had survived in him, Haim would have killed what remained of himself. He registered the morning silence punctuated by murmurs and ticks of sound. The apartment door was smashed open, and Haim welcomed the bullets piercing his head and chest, throwing his body against the wall.
Dan slept fitfully on the living room couch, always dimly aware of the guest in the bedroom closet. The telephone, which might ring with further instructions, took on a grotesque life. He had left on the television set, which buzzed and flaked before him. Through the early hours of Saturday, bored and riveted, he had kept watching the American coverage of the crisis: A heightened alert had been put in place across the world; still Arie’s threat could have an effect. Maybe the powers that be would use the chaos of rioting and protests across the world as an excuse to pull back from the abyss. His thoughts had grown gradually diffuse. He could not rest, and he watched the trembling television screen. His taut and vigilant body tossed about on the couch.
Sasha had taken up his position looking out over the metropolis awake and bustling on Yom Kippur morning. At his window with the telephone and the short wave radio on at his elbow, he watched the shoppers at the markets near the complex, their movements, the objects they carried, the cars and trucks which drove about. It was a Russian pleasure to take comfort in ordinariness, in an orderliness of struggle and consumption, on the verge of collapse. Patient and appalled, he waited for his room to be invaded and he destroyed.
The apartment stank of fever and vomit and ozone. Eli lay naked on his bed. It had been light for some time in the Austrian capitol. He was unable to move, almost to breathe. For thirty-six hours, he had lived inches from the leaking radioactive case beneath the box spring. A Greek army trampled the air, a disfigured woman screamed, a melody grew grotesque, a dissonant burlesque.
Pink-gold light filled Arie’s office as the sun glinted off the city and the Judean hills east toward Jordan. Brown stubble grew on his face. Scattered before him on his desk were reports from his remaining staff, the tan monograph, the ivory-bound bible. The government had isolated him completely, yet they had not moved against him. Occasionally before, a minister or functionary was allowed his maverick extremity. If what he said or did led to embarrassment or failure, the government found a way to disavow their instrument. Yet Arie’s isolation was such that he was beyond being any government’s plot or strategy. He was solely an instrument of human opposition. At his desk, he worked to finish a last message to be wired to the world powers. Forging his protest, he worked to break the circle of silence, which had tightened around him.
The phone rang. It was security. Rami was at the compound’s entrance and wanted to come up. Through the wall of window, Arie saw his father standing by the checkpoint entrance; nearby was a sheroot taxi. The old man and the car and the slouching Arab driver waited in front of the agents guarding the compound. He told security to allow Rami through.
A knock sounded at his door. Rami entered, his wiry arms in short sleeves, the sport-jacket carried under his arm, the same tall man with white hair. Yet his father had changed. There was a pallor to his skin. Neutrally his eyes surveyed each object in the office. He glided about for a few seconds, past the computer console and the tables laden with books and files. “A remarkable place,” he said, his distracted voice peculiarly resonant, raw and teasing.
“I have only a few minutes to spare.”
But Rami still walked about. “Here we have Morris’ radioactive brick, even encased behind glass,” he said. “Nice and safe. Almost four decades ago he gave it to you. What wonderful years. When Morris visited us then, he was dismayed. He brought you this legacy, and what did you do? Seven years old, you played with it. A toy to play with. How your uncle yelled. The shy man shouted.” Rami sat down on one of the chrome chairs across from Arie at his desk. “He couldn’t help himself.”
“Ever since, I’ve hated such weapons.”
“Your aversions have a way of getting out of hand,” the old man grinned.
It was a burlesque Rami was enacting, and Arie cut in: “The bomb is part of mankind’s gamble now, and obviously we’re losing. The world is given the simplest choice between life and death, and each of its leaders is willing to choose death.”
“Yes, you’re right,” Rami’s voice was intimate and vulnerable now. “No one is choosing to let life be, to struggle on in nature, not to turn it into weapons of will.”
“I revolt against the weapons.”
“Yes,”Rami’s eyes flashed, “because these weapons mean the opposite of everything that is alive to you, the opposite of creating, of loving, of forgiveness, of struggle, of tolerance.” His father had become radiant and possessed, a presence, a mouth, beyond the being who had entered the room. He embodied all that Israel seemed to have lost. Yet the rigor of revolt sustained Arie, and he knew that Rami still circled. “Why, Arie, why can’t man accept the gift of his genes, of nature?”
“It’s a fallen world. Should I be telling you it’s a corrupt world, father?”
“No.” The survivor’s voice was suddenly cold, and now he stared at his son. “In an hour, Benjamin is sending a delegation here. I refused to join them. They will have a large escort, Arie—an army escort. Before they arrive, you must tell me where the bombs are and who are your operatives.”
“Save yourself the humiliation and despair they’ll bring down on you.”
“What if you’re killed or imprisoned? What if there should even be an accident? Your men will blow up their cities. Apocalypse will begin. Call a halt.”
“No, father. It will not happen because I will not stop this operation. If the world’s leaders contemplate nuclear war being waged here, they must not doubt that the horror will engulf them.”
Rami gazed at Arie as at a rock, an insect, not his son, no longer a man. The white haired survivor rose and paced. He picked up the ivory-bound bible on Arie’s desk and held it as if it were a stone. “Yes, they are barbaric. But you have rejected what makes you different from them. You are a man who threatens to use atomic bombs. For power, for protest: it makes no difference. Why have we bothered to crawl from the slime?”
“What I am doing,” Arie shouted, shaking his fist at the Nagasaki tile on the wall, “is to reveal power to itself. These men can be stopped only if the image of their horror is tangible, immediate, irrefutable.”
“Then man is hateful. He is evil,” Rami yelled. His body twisted and keened in a circle of rage. “Our lives are repulsive. We deserve to be destroyed.” He hurled the bible at the framed tile on the wall, and shards of glass exploded about the room. Arie rose from his desk and lunged at the old man.
“You’re pathetic, father,” he hissed in Rami’s face. “Your heart has failed. This pillar of fire is given to us, and if we ignore it, we will perish. The threat of it is the only language men understand.”
“Empty words,” his father whispered and began to cry. “I can’t tell you what death I’ve seen, I see, I foresee. There are no words to express it. And the words you use, they’re dead. You think you oppose the machine of nuclear war. But you’re hypnotized by it, just as the machine of the death camps hypnotized them. You’re a dead soul.”
“Goddamn it, what I say is just not what you want to hear. My words are not ‘humane.’ But the atomic world is not humane. What I say and do is the only way humanity will find the way back to itself.” Arie saw his father, a foot away, as if Rami were a distant figure on a charred landscape.
Rami sank to his knees. He cried at his son’s feet. Arie shrank back a space, stepping onto the shards of glass.
His father spoke in a hoarse whisper: “Must that beautiful being which is man take the shape you give it, Arie? You’re the representative of homo sapiens I must bow down to? You, my son, who fashion this fiery, evil image of revolt? Then I’ve fashioned an image too, and it’s false.” His throat choked with tears, and his mouth gagged out his words. “If this is so, all I believe is false. I am a dead man. I have no self, no son, no world.” The old man showered blows at his own body, his chest, his thighs. On his knees, his body began to tremble. “Everything I am is poison. I have no right to a voice, a mouth, to live, to speak. I must be silenced.” He ripped and beat at his face with his hands so that the blood came. “I cannot speak—my tongue, my mouth, I have no mouth.”
Rami curled on the floor into a posture of birth or sleep. The son was cast down into the landscape of death. He vanished as a person. Yet the twisting particle of life which was his revolt held, a tick of sound within the silence. Solely protest lived, almost the word alone, hypnotic and obscure, yet it was the language which housed what remained of his being, a black space enclosed by the language of his dialectic. Power and his revolt against it.
Rami lifted himself up. His lips and nostrils were bloodstained. His eyes turned and beheld Arie. A mechanical voice emerged from his father’s mouth.
“Something has never passed my lips, but I will say it now. I lived with this guilt all my life, and I believed it would be buried with me in the grave. Where does your hatred come from? You think you’re in revolt, but, Arie, you hate. A hatred greater than the self-hate which tortured your mother. What is its source within you? Not every survivor has it, not every child of survivors. The most brutally tortured mute their hate with despair. We even delude ourselves with hope. Why does your hatred go deeper?”
The father’s hoarse whisper emerged from the dead space around him.
“After Auschwitz when you were born, your mother had died within herself and this new-born animal gave her the sole motive to struggle back to life. For that reason, I embraced you as my son. We heard her screams when she was taken from us before the liberation. She was raped in the Nazis’ quarters. You were conceived. You were born. You live on.”
Rami’s face contracted to a rectangle of white flesh. Arie saw gazing at him the gaping holes, which were his eyes. Rami walked away, closing the door behind him.
His gorge rose. His body fluttered and trembled above the glass-strewn floor. The words Rami had uttered screamed on. They obliterated and exposed him as a sham, a corpse. Arie stumbled over the slivers of glass, a shattered mirror. Torturer and tortured were trapped within, and out of the shards the torturer stepped, coming to claim his body. A new being entered, and he saw the corpse of what he had been. The dead language of revolt betrayed the obscenity of his genesis.
He pressed his face against the unopenable wall of glass. The luminous, arid hills glared. He brought death to them when he had sought to strike water from the rock. His revolt arose from hate and will, not from the desiccated beauty before him. He saw a radiant cypress, olive trees, a forest of pine. He saw Rami and Israel wandering. Then everything joined together: the sun over the forest, thin threads of ash covering the land, his body joined and cleaving to Elena’s, the infinite silence of being, the golden vista of Jerusalem, the ineradicable image of a flash falling from the sky.
Arie let go his grip on the glass. He sat down at his desk and wrote out the names and locations of the four terrorists he commanded. Opening the drawer of his desk, he took out the loaded pistol, the remnant of the death camp. The barrel in his mouth, he pulled the trigger. The bullet hurtled through his skull.
Sayeed did not look at the odious dogs he drove past in his dilapidated truck packed now with explosives. He was living in an eternal present, alert, floating above the multitude, feeling nothing but scorn for everything around him. A stream of incantations flowed through him, verses and imprecations filled with images of the ruin and destruction to be wrought by him, the falling building, the slaying of the false, the proud. Two blocks from the fate he would embrace, he noticed a peculiar commotion before him, and he slowed his truck to a crawl.
It was incredible. Rather that the Sabbath and Holy Day laxity he expected, there was a roadblock ahead and a cordon of military vehicles filling the street. A squadron of soldiers was visible in the parking lot. Emerging slowly from the mass of men and trucks was a decrepit Arab taxi. He must decide what to do instantly. He could plow his pickup into the roadblock, the crowd of trucks and men, and the taxi emerging from the lot and pointed directly toward him. Or he could turn at the corner and save his terrible load for another time, perhaps another place than this Mossad building which was now unreachable.
A glaring smile formed on his face. He turned, and floating on a wave of power and hatred, he drove his dusty lethal truck back toward the Arab Quarter. He drove east, insignificant and terrible, committed to the purity of his idea: the use of terror to resurrect the Palestinian nation. No one noticed him as he passed undetected, a deadly wraith haunting Israel’s streets.
Elena sat in the living room of their apartment. An Israeli novel lay unopened by her on the couch, and she stared across the room. She could not blot out her last sight of Arie standing in his office, frozen in rage. She felt helpless before the gap between them, and she knew that the failure was not only his but hers as well.
She heard distant children’s voices. Gily was playing on the slope in back of their flat, and Moshe was still in his bedroom, sleeping late after his flight. It was the morning of Yom Kippur. Arie was not home. Normally they would witness the nation’s observance everywhere around them, the atonement as ancient as the blood baked into Israel’s earth. The day would pass slowly. They would float together in airless space. But Elena was alone. Waiting for the approach of noon, the emptiness of the holy day suffocated her.
The telephone began to ring. It would be Arie. She walked wavering to the phone and picked it up. She heard Rami’s voice distant and exhausted.
“Sit down on the couch,” he said softly; “listen to me. Call Moshe to the phone.”
As she called him, she imagined Rami was hurt, struck by a car, beaten up; the shock and nakedness of his voice terrified. “What’s happened to you?”
“I must tell you something, Elena. Arie is dead.”
She plummeted through the air. Her eyes began to stream, and a whimper sang in her throat.
“Elena,”he cried. “Moshe. Call Moshe to the phone.”
She screamed her son’s name. Barefoot in his pajamas, he ran down the hall and picked up the phone she dropped. He sat by her, speaking with his grandfather.
“Dad killed himself!” he cried.
“No more! Not another word!” she called out, covering her ears with her hands. Her last hold was loosed, and she tumbled in an arc above the earth, in a region of ice and fire. Then she soared beyond the boundaries of her hatred. Its object vanished. Only the corpse remained.
Elena sat on the couch and quietly screamed and plummeted. Her son moaned, rocking slowly back and forth next to her. He gasped for air and began crying in heaving breaths. She reached to gather him in her arms, and she held him until the gulping cries quieted.
Then she stood and glided, automatic and possessed, through the room to the credenza in the dining area. She took out and placed on the dining table a box of candy, a bottle of brandy, the half-consumed chocolate cake. Her dazed voice rang out, “You must eat.” She went to the kitchen and brought plates, silver, glasses, a dish of cold lamb, a wilted salad, cold pilaf, chalah. She made her son stand and walk and sit with her at the table. Moaning, he began to take small mouthfuls of the sacrilegious food. She poured him a glass brandy and made him sip.
Moshe began to talk, and Elena listened to the distant voice rising from his throat. It was a sin to have done this to her son, to take an axe and hack him down. Tears came from her eyes, and quiet crying came from her mouth. The youth stood up from the table. He walked to his mother and held her head against him.
Jaeger kneeled across the room from Haim. The smell of blood and ozone was in the room, and he wiped his hand down his nose and across his unshaven upper lip. By him on a table were Arie’s instructions, and open on the floor was the suitcase baring the nuclear bomb and its triggering device. The American did not call his handler. Instead he sat studying the instructions, glancing occasionally at Haim’s body. With sudden decision, he began to work at the timing device. He set it for a half-hour, to coincide with noon in Jerusalem. Then he opened the door to the fifth floor hall. In front of him two Israeli agents trained their machine guns on him.
Eli lay on his bed as the bomb in its faulty, radioactive case was hoisted into a steel chest. Two men in glittering, radiation-proof suits lifted the agent onto a stretcher. His body, twisted in an arc of retching, was marked by sores. His eyes and mouth were inflamed.
The patio doors admitted a glimmer of light as sunrise neared in Washington. The urban vista beyond the glass flickered in a steady, mechanical pattern. It was all a matter of indifference to Dan: Arie’s instructions discarded on the table, the phone knocked off its cradle, the suitcase open before him on the living room floor, the image trembling on the nearby television screen. Sweat poured from his face and body. He kneeled slowly over the case and moved in mechanized gestures as he worked with the triggering device for the nuclear bomb. He set it for fifteen minutes when it would be noon in Jerusalem. Then he sat cross-legged in front of the purring, black case.
There were no messages, no communication from Arie. Listening to the television, he heard that Israeli fighter-bombers were on highest alert in the air on Israel’s borders and out over the Mediterranean. Protests were being exchanged back and forth among the world powers and the Middle Eastern nations, and Iraq’s threats had only intensified. The suitcase with its bomb was open on the floor of his room, but Sasha did not even glance at it now. Instead he sat with clenched hands by the phone, the radio, the television. He had continually to control an impulse to weep. It is nearly noon in Jerusalem. What if the imperial bureaucrats and paranoiac leaders of the world wage nuclear war in Israel and the Gulf? What next? Though soon the Secret Service will come to bear me away. Death will be the welcome blossom of my grief.
Jerusalem stretches before Rami as noon approaches. Alone and with the wrenching roar of grief in his ears, he climbs the stairs to the Temple Mount, to the high expanse of Haram ech Sharif, with its edge atop the western Wailing Wall.
The tissue of lies must crust and scar. All these acts of terror and contrition must remain unrecorded. Lying is our only chance. If not, man would long ago have perished of the truth. If not, my lie is as obscene as the horror which maddened Arie. No Nazi spawned my son. I, his father, became the Nazi thrusting him into the fire.
How can I endure except to lie, to imagine the presence of hope? In this world, there is so much contempt for the human in the name of purity—the only recourse is to act as if hope exists. Hope’s illusion is the child of possibility, the brother of acceptance, the father of forgiving. But, no, I’ve released an unforgivable lie into the maw of silence. It’s I who should have died, not my child, my flesh, my soul. I know only that Israel will not now bear the final blame.
I had to lie to you, Elena. How could I tell you the truth? You too would die to me. Moshe and Gily would be lost forever. I could not endure it. I want the children to live.
But it may not be. Soon, enemy missiles may flash out of this crystal sky and drop their nuclear blast on Jerusalem. An archaeologist in a thousand years may dig into the transfigured earth like the earth over Troy. Will he find a crater where once lived hundreds of thousands? Will he imagine a wall of steel speeding down on Temple Mount and out to the Garden of Gethsemane, to Mount Zion and the surrounding suburbs? Will he see that from this crucible arose a globe of fire, burning to ash all within the crater? Will the evidence of fire be found not only in the burnt circle and its rim of rubble, but miles away in the skeletons of buildings, of animals, of men? Will he test the earth and discover that it was ravaged by radiation spewed by the blast over all Israel and beyond? But who will be left to excavate Jerusalem? Death will come to all—if not now, later; if not later, now.
The flesh of cities everywhere may be interred. The radiating earth will tear at testicles and ovaries, and the mutated race will yield up the earth to insects and tufts of grass: the species which tears the future to shreds.
Over the elevated mount, Rami bears the weight of his body past the gold mosque where Mohammed leapt to heaven and where Isaac bound beheld the fire. Finally, with the helpless tears of mourning in his eyes, he stumbles to the sheer, southern edge with the Golden Gate bricked below.
Arie, you were born amid memories of the Nazi camps, and the machine of death transformed you. I failed you. I did not teach you to transfigure, to give the lie to savagery and hate. Didn’t you know the furnaces shed no light? Now will Jerusalem vanish into death’s oven? Will mankind follow you into the blackening fire?
I saw your head shot away. But already before your skull hung open, my Arie had vanished.
Moslem voices wail their call to prayer. It is noon. Warplane streak through the blank sunlit sky. He stares at the white globe shining down on Jerusalem. Everywhere he looks now, there is the black disc of the sun’s absence.
I hear no sound: nothing is said. Jerusalem’s streets are hushed.
An infinity of death. Words vanish.
—Cleveland, Berkeley, Fresno, Cambridge, Jerusalem: 1982-2012