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After Think-Israel published my story "Daud" I received a few e-mails from people I knew and people I did not know asking me for clarification of the tragic end and suggesting different scenarios. So, I thought about it and this is a result of my thoughts.
My story started when I was born not to a nice and rich Jewish family living somewhere in America but to a poor Palestinian family living in Gaza, Palestine, right next to the Jews in Israel. What is Gaza, Palestine? To us this is the homeland and to you it should look like hell, where natives hate each other more than they do you. Our neighbors? We have Arabs on three sides and we have Jews on the fourth side. These Jews on only one fourth of the surrounding territories occupy our minds and lives for two hundred percent and that is why we call their presence an occupation. Arabs, our big brothers, told us that, if we wanted to have future and to be happy, we had to kill all the Jews. Arabs gave us money to kill Jews and to become martyrs at the same time. We were on the way to becoming rich martyrs. Now I can understand it: empty houses, overflowing cemeteries and billions of dollars in the unclaimed accounts in Arab and Swiss banks. Palestinians - the happy nation of martyrs. But from the time I was a little boy, I wanted to be the one of them. It was like in some other countries kids dreamed of becoming a ball player or a drug dealer or a Noble Prize winner. I wanted to become a martyr. This was the dream of millions of Muslim boys around the world. That was our way of life, and that's how popular it was.
My father was Ahmed (the Most Praised), my mother was Abia (the Great), my name is Daud (Arabic for David - the Beloved), and our home for a thousand years already was in Gaza. I don't think we were the praised ones or the great ones but we managed. Yes, yes, I read the history book too when I attended the school in Israel. I know we, the modern Palestinians, are not the original Palestinians or Philistines from the bible and are actually the mix of Turks, Arabs, Europeans and whoever else cared to donate to our gene pool. And that is why Arabs, Turks and the rest of the world do not accept us as equals. They don't think that our blood is pure enough for any of the great nations. We are considered bastards and the poor relatives that should not enter the house from the main entrance but be served from the back. Our religion is Islam because the Turks and the Arabs convinced us over the centuries using the stick and the sword that it was the true religion. After this serious convincing, rape, pillage and murder, we started to believe in them and we embraced Islam with a whole heart regardless of our origin, ancestry and the genetic and cultural heritage we have accumulated over that memorable time. We were taught not to discuss and question the fine points of Islam but to accept it without doubt or hesitation and education was removed from our daily chores so our minds would not get confused and overextended. In Islam all you have to know is Islam - or a particular version of it.
We Palestinians have mostly lived here only since the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century. Turks had relocated some of us over here from every possible corner of their empire as laborers and servants, just to fill the void between the treacherous Arabs, the mighty Turks and the growing population of Jews and the British. Today we serve as a pincushion and a punching bag for the Arabs, Jews, Americans and the rest of the people, with their own countries and acceptable pedigrees. All of them, the pedigreed nations, stick their pins into our bare feet, souls and the exposed behinds and we have to take it while kissing their bare feet, souls and their exposed behinds. So one side gets plenty of kissing exercise and the other side melts in constant pleasure, being kissed and fondled and wanting more and more of it. They have the power and we have only the sand on the soles of our feet. But, if the sand will become in demand, they will have the power and the sand on their feet and we will have gurnisht, babkis (that's what our Jewish brothers call a big NOTHING). But we've survived for thousands of years and we will survive.
They say that they gave us a country - Jordan - but we live in Gaza. What good does it do us? But they say that we do not deserve any better and we are not clean. They say that we do not know our forefathers. So what? Do they always? For all we know, we could have the same ones. We have rights and our only brothers, the Arabs, say we have rights. Turks don't count any longer. They lost the war and their empire to boot. And the rest of the infidel world can go to hell, and we can help them to do that. We can speed the process by killing the infidels now instead of waiting for natural causes to kick in and take effect. Arabs would give us more money to fight for our rights and their wishes, and we fight. I saw the money and I know how to use the weapons purchased with this money. These are good weapons, made in Russia by our Russian brothers that hate Jews as much as we do, if not more. They always hated Jews and they have experience doing that. We just started and have to learn a lot. It is not easy to catch up with professionals. Russians, Germans, French, Polish, Lithuanians and the Ukrainians hated Jews for generations for hundreds of years and they know how to deal with them. We are only students but we learn well. Many Palestinians actually like the Jews and there are some mixed marriages, as well. This I cannot understand at all. Druses accept the Israeli citizenship and live with the Jews as brothers. Druses too are our enemies. Once I asked my teacher how could one hate Jews more than we do and he said that many people do, and that proves the point.
"What point?" I asked again.
"The point is that Jews are terrible people. They are evil people sucking blood of the world. They were not chosen by God but by the Devil. Did you know that they mix blood of the Muslim children into Matzo - the Jewish kosher bread used for Passover? They are greedy and they take everything they want leaving us with nothing. There is a Jewish conspiracy and they own the world. We want things too but Jews got them all and there is nothing left for us. They do not work and they use blackmail and lies to get what they want. Jews are always scheming using art, media and politics to control the world. They own everything and they conspire against us, the poor people. They killed Christ, for Christ sakes." The teacher chewed on a big juicy date and drank some of the strong light-colored Arabic coffee. "They are insects, parasites and we are charged by Allah the Merciful with the task of clearing the world of them. The best way of doing it is to drown them in their own blood. We are the chosen people. Allah the Grateful will reward for this when you come to paradise to meet our maker. Praised be Allah." Teacher looked at the sky with the dreamy eyes. I wanted to meet Allah right than and I did not want to wait for an incident. I wanted to control my destiny.
"Christ? But Christ was the Christian God. Why do we care if Jews killed him? They can kill anyone they want to. This is their right for as long as they don't touch us Muslims. Jews did not kill Mohammad, did they? Christians should worry about that. Christian should kill Jews for that." Yes, I wanted to know everything. I wanted to dig to the roots of the cause, no matter how deep and wide they were grown. I was only fourteen years old and already thirsty for the wisdom of Islam. Islam was the wisdom of the human race.
My teacher was wise and I loved him as any student loves a good teacher. No, I loved him more. I loved him as a symbol of everything I loved. To me he was perfect; he was wise, knowledgeable, holy. He was the pillar of Islam and our Islamic culture, the proper way of life. To me he was Koran, Mohammed and Allah. In my young, impressionable, but very vulnerable mind, Mohammed looked like my teacher. I saw it in my dreams and not once but many times. I saw my teacher in Paradise next to Allah. He smiled, blessing my family, my friends and me. He blessed the world I was living in. He blessed it all but the infidels and their countries. Often I wanted him to be my father but I had another father and I had to respect him as my elder.
"Boy! Ha, ha... Christ was not God." The teacher lighted another powerfully smelling Turkish cigarette. "You still have a lot to learn, boy. Don't worry; I'll help you. Learning is like acquiring light and learning Koran is like acquiring the most powerful light. Allah is that light. Learn hard and Allah will give you that light."
My father and my mother died when I was just a few years old. The Jews killed them during a raid on our part of town. Someone informed the Israelis that a militant cell of Hamas responsible for the latest suicide bombings and a few random killings of the Jewish settlers were hiding in our local mosque, and the Jews came. First came the soldiers. Hamas responded by sending children with rocks and an occasional Molotov cocktail (a bottle filled with a mix of gasoline and motor oil) perfectly invisible under jilbab - the traditional Arabic long loose-fitting garment. The Jews, not enjoying the Palestinian youngsters lobbing rocks and Molotov cocktails, responded with tanks and smoke grenades, which provided cover for the soldiers gradually inching in. Tanks moved at a snail's pace but aggressively, pushing, squeezing, and gaining ground bit by bit. They knew what to do. They had done it before and always successfully. Tanks and soldiers never shot at the children but they kept pressing in, tightening the circle. It was a classic operation with a chokehold in progress and Hamas started to shoot back with Russian-made shoulder held RPGs (Rocket Propelled Grenades) to smash the chokehold loose. The Hamas fighters felt their lives threatened and fought back as hard as cornered rats. One Israeli tank was hit. It did not explode and there was no smoke or fire, but it did not move any longer either. Two Israeli soldiers stayed behind with the tank and its crew waiting for technical assistance. Something was wrong with the tank tracks. To add to the chaos, a few Israeli soldiers were wounded and maybe one was dead. The Israeli tanks positioned themselves for a shot and started shelling the mosque shielding the terrorists. Soldiers replaced the rubber bullets used against the out of control protesters with the real ones; the steel jacketed ones meant for business. These bullets killed. Noise, smoke, destruction, blood and death started to fill the area. The shining day was turning into the ugliness of war and people were dying in the midst of it. The viciousness of war was spreading out rapidly like cancer cells not responding to treatment. What is the treatment for something like that? Have we discovered one? Have we given away enough Nobel prizes to politicians claiming that they had a solution and actually had done something good? Do we need a prescription for this treatment? Can we get one? From whom? Are we limited only to radical measures?
Blood had to be spilled before the war was over. That is the general rule of war and that was the only treatment for this kind of cancer at the moment. War was getting hungrier and hungrier and more blood had to be sacrificed to its god every time shots were fired. War did not care who started it and who awoke it first. It just wanted more blood to satisfy its hunger and the human's ambitions. The price of ambition in the Middle East was set quite high and the body count was its only measure and its only satisfaction. The price of life was equal to the smallest coin and that included a trip to Paradise. Paradise was for free. Allah, the god of war, was satisfied with blood and lives already. Why overcharge? Paradise and virgins were for free.
Talks of peace and collaboration became a dirty word. Palestinians did not want to mention it in order not to offend each other. They were a proud and sensitive people. The size of the body count was more important then ever. We died and they died and our red quickly-darkening blood leisurely snaked through the foul streets of Palestine and Israel, meeting in the middle and gathering in small rapidly-drying puddles. These dark red puddles of the essence of life could spark a new life, given a chance, but for now it only marked a spot where life was claimed by the essence of death. It mixed together well before being sucked in by the dry soil of the Middle East. Flies and other greedy insects feasted on it for as long as they could, stretching time of departure into infinity. There, in these bloody little pools, we all were equal; we all were brothers; we all were the one. Almost as in the Holy Books and almost as in a real life...
I had not seen that fight; I was too little playing with my cousins in my uncle's house five blocks over. What can I say? But I had seen some other fights, just like that one, time and time again. It's become common lately. We blow a bus in Haifa, Jerusalem, Nazareth, or anywhere else and Jews come with their tanks and helicopters destroying our mosques and killing many of our people. Usually they kill more of us than we killed of them. Often, they killed many militants in one blow and often they killed many civilians - owners of houses where the militants were hidden. It seems as if they knew where the fighters were. How could they know that? Could Muslims betray Muslims? Did Jews have spies among us as we have among them? Could Muslims sell Muslims? But surely not the true believers. No, not them.
The Muslim fighters ran out of the badly damaged mosque, leaving their wounded and dead behind, and went into hiding in the nearby houses. They tried to set up the defense perimeter spreading the forces around the area and using houses in key locations. A few of the escaped freedom fighters briskly scuttled into our house carrying a heavy machine gun, Kalashnikov's, ammunition and the RPGs. The house became a Palestinian stronghold in disarray with the cream of the Russian made weaponry on display and no chances for survival. My mother was crying and my father was trying to protect her and the children, begging the fighters to leave. He prayed asking Allah for mercy and Allah responded in a mysterious way. One of the fighters struck my father in the face with the sole of his shoe calling him a traitor, an infidel, a Jew lover and a pig. That is the biggest insult one Muslim could inflict on another short of raping your wife, daughter or you.
The Israeli helicopters swiftly flew in, shooting missiles in response to the RPGs and the machine gun fire. Israelis were fast to react knowing from previous incidents what they were dealing with. They did not negotiate any longer. They shot to kill as the only resolution of the conflict at hand. Nothing was friendly here anymore and there was no chance, even a slight one, left for a peaceful solution. Our house was hit, I don't know for how many times and with what, but my family died. All of them in one place, together.
Some of the Hamas, surviving, had to move the machine gun to another place, in another house. Seventeen Palestinians and two Israelis died that day and more the day after. Blood desecrated the Holy Mosque. It was the blood of believers spilled in the Mosque and the Jews did it. Jews desecrated the Mosque, the holiest place of all. Now our dead were martyrs and their dead were in hell. How many martyrs does one nation need? Jews have many millions and we keep adding to that number. We have many thousands and they keep adding to this number. I wanted to be a martyr back then and I was ready for this now. With a ratio like that we will have to devise a better way to die taking more Jews with us. Only we will go to Paradise while Jews will go to Hell. That's what the Mullah said time and time again. Jews belong in Hell. That's what they were chosen for. We were bombs, bombs with legs, bombs with brains, bombs in close quarters - in busses, trains, airplanes, businesses, public buildings, shopping malls and markets. This is what we should concentrate on was the message from Arafat. Mullah delivered the message sent to us by the Chairman himself. Could one doubt that? Could one doubt the local Mullah - the holy follower of the Messenger of God, Mohammad?
The teacher said that the great leader of Muslims in Iraq, our brother, Saddam Hussein, would give us chemicals to spread around in big cities in Western Europe and America. When our enemies inhale it, they will die in pain from a terrible sickness. I couldn't wait for that. I wished they would send me with the chemical to the biggest Jewish city of New York. Yes, forget the busses and only ten or fifteen Jews at the time. In New York they have subways. I saw it on TV. What a lovely sight - the conniving Jews and the sold-out stupid Christians together, in one pile, dead. When we blew apart their tall buildings that was a great victory. Praised be God, Allah the Merciful! Allahu Akbar! But they have more buildings like that. We can do it anywhere now, in any place where they expect us the least. I could be the most important Muslim martyr of them all spreading chemicals from Iraq and blowing buildings with explosives from Russia, France and Germany. Then, we'd change that ratio in the body count more in our favor. No more one dead Muslim for ten or fifteen dead Jews. Every Muslim could kill thousands of infidels with money, weapons and chemicals from our brothers in Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia. The American Muslims will help us too. They will hide us in America and give us all we need to achieve the holiest goal of all - killing the infidels. Oh, dear God, how much I want to do that. Please, give me a chance.
The teacher said that good Muslims in America sent us more money than even Saudi Arabia does. God praise the faithful even in America! We are always welcomed in America. Our brothers give us all we need to stay there. They have mosques to hide us and to recruit people to assist us. They take us around showing us to the liberals - as the Palestinians fighting for their rights. The liberals, in turn, even the Jews, press the government to change policies with regards to Israel. It works no matter how you turn it. We get publicity, recognition and money, and Jews get the evil eye from people around the world.
"Don't worry," the teacher said. "We will kill them all, but Jews first. The others can wait for now. We may yet convert them to Islam. Some will do it because they are weak and scared, some will do it for profit (we give money already to converts), and the others will do it out of sheer ignorance." The teacher said that many of the black people in America converted to Islam because they believed that Christianity was the religion of the slave runners. Well, actually Islam was and still is the religion of the slave runners. The Sudanese, Egyptian and the Moroccan Arabs used to raid the villages of the black Africans kidnapping people and selling them to the Europeans and the Americans. And they still do that, only now they sell slaves to the Arabs in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Emirates. They do white slavery for the same market plus Asia. How do I know that? The teacher told me. We had slaves in Gaza. He had a Bulgarian woman and a Romanian child as slaves. Now he wanted a Russian woman as well. He'll get one though the Saudis or the Arabs from the Emirates. But why would we care? We can sort them all out after we kill all the Jews. Islam is for pure people and only the pure can go to Paradise and we, the martyrs, the guardians of Islam, would be at the gates. I heard this from the Imam himself. He was an important Imam visiting from Iran. He said we would do the selection. I could see that. The pure ones would go to the right and the infidels, together with the weak Muslims, would go to the left - to Hell. The Germans and Austrians did it right at the camps but we would kill them too unless they were German and Austrian Muslims."
We kill all the Jews and, if we kill Christians doing that, God will praise us for that and, if we kill Muslims by accident, God will forgive us and take the faithful ones to Paradise, to his bosom. And all Muslim co-operating with the infidels should die and go to Hell with the Jews. That's what Allah wants and that what Allah will get. Praised Be God! And that's what Mohammed and his true followers taught us. That's what my teacher, the Mullah, said and I remember it well. I think - no, I know - that my teacher is a holy man. He is so wise and so helpful. There is a feeling of cleanness around him. I don't think he had ever done anything wrong in his entire life. I think he is a saint and the words come directly from the Mohammed's mouth and right to his ears.
My family was buried as heroes fallen in the holy fight (Jihad) for freedom, and Jews were blamed for their deaths and for the deaths of many. The PLO swore to vengeance. The Hamas fighters swore to vengeance. The neighbors swore to vengeance. I swore to vengeance. Jews killed my family and I had to pay them back for that. A tooth for a tooth and an eye for an eye - these are the holy words. Even the Christian Bible and the holy Koran said so. The Torah? Who knows? I was ready to die and to take at least ten Jews with me. I would go to Paradise and many virgins would serve me and the hated Jews will go to hell and terrible monsters would boil them in hot oil for eternity.
My teacher was so clear on every subject we discussed, and I could easily follow his teachings. There was one thing I could not really understand but I was afraid to ask. It could be blasphemy for all I knew. Where would Allah get so many virgins for every faithful entering paradise? It's either we had too many dead virgins in Paradise or too few dying faithful on earth. Do they circulate the same dead virgins between all the martyrs and saints? No, it could not be. They get new fresh virgins for all new martyrs. I did not know that every time we get a new martyr, 75 virgins die as well. Dead virgins? This was hard for me to understand. But still, a harem of 75 virgins is a good reward!
My father was a street vendor selling falafel and pita bread sandwiches on a busy street. His business was good because he was always smiling, putting more falafel in than any other vendor did. Other vendors would put more of minced vegetables and just a few falafels but my father knew better. He wanted people to keep coming back for more. His pita was a little larger and deeper baked and that extra space was always filled with freshly made, golden-brown, deliciously smelling falafel. People used to line up in front of his cart early in the morning and in the afternoon waiting for the falafel to be ready. Our family was poor but not as poor as the others. We always had fresh falafel, if there was no money for anything else.
After my family was killed by the Jews, my uncle Omar took me in. Also he inherited our house and my father's business. Uncle Omar was a street vendor already but he did not sell food, soft drinks and cigarettes. Now he was selling all that in addition to inexpensive watches, lighters, wallets, audiocassettes and an occasional piece of jewelry. Between all the different goods my uncle always sold something, making enough to feed his large family and me. We did not starve and our clothes were in good shape. We all had sneakers, T-shirts and blue jeans. We looked like the American tourists in Israel and we were very proud of this fact. I had never seen the American tourists but I saw American movies, where beautiful women in bikinis kissed muscular men in T-shirts and blue jeans. This did not correspond with the modesty of the Muslim women but we enjoyed the movies anyway. America.
School was a different matter. There were a few government-run schools but they were small and far away. We could not go there and the government (PLO) would not build more schools claiming there was no money. I believed that. Why would Chairman Arafat lie? We needed money to buy weapons first and the rest of it was for chairman Arafat and his people to keep the Jews out. At least one quarter of our men was wearing a uniform of one type or another and everyone had a Kalashnikov and plenty of ammunition. I thing we had more ammunition than falafel on market day. A Hamas fighter - he was the local instruction on explosives - told me we could get good explosives just for the asking. It's true our leaders had huge houses and drove luxury American cars but I guess they needed luxury American cars more than we needed schools. If Chairman Arafat said that he had no money for schools, he had no money for schools. That's the truth. Muslims never lie to each other and Chairman Arafat was a true Muslim.
The teacher agreed to take food, soft drinks and Turkish cigarettes as a payment for my education and uncle was happy to hear that. That's what my uncle could afford. Also uncle Omar had to perform occasional errands for the teacher and his friends from the Hamas, PLO and some other very important organizations but I did not know much about it. That was strictly for adults. My business was to learn and be grateful to my uncle for arranging that. Once my uncle had to serve falafel to Chairman Arafat when there was a secret meeting at the teacher's house across the street from the mosque. My uncle was so proud of that that he told it to every neighbor and every neighbor listened with respect. They all promised to keep the secret and right away told it to their neighbors. Our family became very important overnight. With just one martyr the family could leap to the highest heights of recognition. The eyes of the family and the neighbors were turned on me. I had to learn fast and well and then, Inshallah - God Willing - become a martyr.
"Christ was not God, he was a prophet, Daud. Ha, ha... He was just as our beloved Mohammed was. He was a prophet and the Son of God. But Jews killed him because he was telling truth about them. Jesus was spreading the word about the true identity of Jews and their religion and they hated him for that. Jesus Christ exposed Jews for what they were, sneaky liars and infidels, and they blackmailed and bribed the Romans in to torturing and crucifying him. In the Koran, there are nineteen verses regarding the Jews and they speak for themselves. Jesus Christ. He was a Jew himself and he knew what he was talking about when it came to exposing the Jews. Even he could not take it any longer. What a death for the prophet and the Son of God. What a horrible deed. If Mohammed had not surrounded himself with the faithful, Jew would kill him too, but Mohammed knew better. Allah warned Mohammed about the Jews and the Christians and Mohammed was cautious all the time. Mohammed was wise. He was giving people of the desert the new religion, the only one true religion. Islam is the ultimate religion and the Koran is the ultimate holy book given to us by God. Allah is the God and Mohammed is his prophet on earth. Allahu Akbar! Do you understand me boy?" He drank some of American Coke and pulled on a smelly Turkish cigarette.
I started to smoke only because my teacher did it but the Turkish cigarettes were too expensive for me, so I smoked the Russian, Egyptian and the Iraqi cigarettes instead. It was not too bad if you had a strong body and a curious mind. These cigarettes were somewhat rough and made out of a crudely cut harsh tobacco but, nevertheless, smoking was considered cool. Alcohol was forbidden because the Koran said so but the Koran did not say anything about tobacco. Yes, I heard that argument that tobacco was not known when the Koran was written and, therefore, it was not mentioned there. Wrong. Mohammed was a prophet and he predicted many things. The Koran is full of predictions if you know how to look for them. If tobacco were really bad for you, Mohammed would have seen it and mentioned it in the book. But he did not. And, therefore, tobacco is allowed to the Muslims but alcohol is not. So, I smoked, as did the rest of the nation.
Teacher enjoyed American drinks and canned food. He said that almost all American food was Halal (kosher) because the American FDA and the other Government agencies inspect it and they don't take bribes as in many other countries. So, he had only one restriction - pork. He would read the label and, if there were no pork, he would eat it. Teacher liked everything American but the Americans. He thought they were weak, not very smart and very na´ve but they made so many goods of the highest quality. That's what everyone liked about Americans - goods of the highest quality. Teacher loved the Turkish cigarettes and the French sex shows on TV. He dutifully went to Moroccan prostitutes every Friday, after the last evening prayer. He was clearly an international, a cosmopolitan man and with a wide range of interests, but it was not wise to advertise all of them. Definitely not in our very conservative Muslim society. So, it was well known but not talked about. After all, he was a Muslim scholar and he taught the young people the Muslim way, God's way. One had to consider his position and to respect it.
My time had come. I have completed my education with the Mullah and I was ready to enter the world of the martyrs. I knew many passages from the Koran and I could quote whole pages. I could read and write but not as well as quoting Koran. Reading and writing was not important in Gaza but the Koran was and we all knew how to count money and give change for American dollars. We preferred the American dollars to the New Israeli Shekel or the Jordanian Dinar, but we had to learn not to discriminate and to accept all internationally recognized money. Our moneychangers on the street had to work with many currencies but they managed it somehow. That was the real life in the occupied territories. Life on the streets demanded that and many more. That was the business necessary to survive and we were survivors for thousands of years. Mullah guaranteed the ten thousand dollars reward to my family for my martyrdom and I was ready to leap the eternal gap separating me from beloved Allah, his prophet Mohammed and the virgins. God be praised!
I prayed the whole night before the mission. My uncle Omar, my teacher, two Hamas fighters, the local PLO leader and a few neighbors prayed with me. I prayed for forgiveness of my sins, for my family, for everyone I was leaving behind, and for a quick but honorable death. I even prayed for the Jews I was going to kill the next morning. The others prayed for me, for themselves, for each other, and for the tremendous hardship I had to suffer in the quest for entering paradise. If only I knew then what I know now, but I know it only now!
The Hamas fighters had brought over a bomb the night before. I had to be trained in safety and its usage. They told me that a bomb exactly as this one would be given to me the next morning in Jaffa by a French Muslim living in Israel. He would be waiting for me at the bus terminal from seven in the morning until eight. If I didn't show up within this time, he will leave assuming that something went wrong with me. It was a good idea not to try to cross the border of Israel with a bomb on yourself or in your luggage. That border was almost uncrossable for Palestinians to begin with and, if you had a bomb, there was a good chance that they would catch you. The soldiers on the border were many and well trained. And they had bomb-sniffing dogs. Punishment could be swift and heavy. The teacher said that he knew the Frenchman personally and trusted him completely.
The Frenchman and a few other sympathizers with the cause of Palestinians were making bombs right in Israel using materials smuggled in from Russia, France and Germany. They did it for years and never got caught because they were from Europe and pretended to be Christians or Jews. Who would suspect Christians in Israel making bombs to kill Jews and Christians? Even the notion of that sounded stupid. Chairman Arafat came up with this idea years ago when he was just one of fighters on the streets of Jerusalem killing religious Jews going to a synagogue or coming from the religious service. What could be easier and more productive than to catch an old Jewish couple or a teenager in the dark alley of Jerusalem or Haifa or any other respectable city and cut their throats when they least expected it? What a thrill! I could feel adrenaline pumping already. Chairman Arafat. My hero. He used to take their money and the jewelry too, not considering it a robbery but just a donation to the cause. His cause. He used suicide bombers in the 40's and the 50's and the 60's. He used bombs to hijack planes and ships. He used bombs to kill people of all nationalities in order to be heard by the UN. And, the UN heard him. After all, UN was an international organization and international participation was required. He used the scare of bombs so masterfully that he became the Chairman of the PLO and his name was permanently inscribed in history in never drying blood. The blood of his victims was always fresh and dripping because he never ceased murdering people, even from his grave. He was a true Muslim and a hero. But for now he gave us ten thousand American dollars for every suicide attack and later, just before his death, the price of martyrdom went up to twenty three thousand American dollars. It may still go further up yet if the number of targets increases and the number of the suicide bombers goes down because they are all martyrs already. We knew that this money was given to the Chairman by His Honor, Saddam Hussein of Iraq, and the Princes of Saudi Arabia. I think Iranians, Jordanians, Egyptians and the Syrians had something to do with it too. Allah be praised! Thanks to the Russians and the French for cheap and reliable weapons as well. What a great union of people! What an honor to be known by them and to die with their blessing.
The Hamas fighter instructed me in everything: how to become invisible; how to hide the bomb; how to look innocent and be trusted; how to identify the right time and place, and how to blow it all by pulling the cord. I could do it all in my dreams still rehearsing Salaats (prayers) from the Koran. We had a great feast that lasted all evening. My aunt, Fatima, spent almost the whole $500.00 she borrowed against the ten thousand dollars the day before on food and drinks. She was happy to do so. After all, one's nephew did not become a martyr every day. She bought all new clothes for her and some for my uncle, the kids and me. I also had twenty-five dollars to spend on anything I wanted. This time I too smoked Turkish cigarettes and drank American soft drinks. The house was somewhat repaired and I saw a few pieces of new furniture. I think my uncle purchased a car but I had not seen it. It was not delivered yet. Fatima, my aunt, wanted me to meet the maker and his faithful prophet dressed well and clean on the inside and out. But I had to wear my old jilbab in order not to stick out of the crowd of poor people going from Gaza to work in Israel. I did not mind it. It was my jilbab and I'd worn it for years. Why would I not like it now? It was such a happy occasion and I was the happiest one. I was the center of attention.
My aunt was so proud because her house was honored by so many important people. The teacher was there; members of the PLO, Hamas, Hisbulah and the Islamic Jihad came to wish me luck and to pray with me. Neighbors came in swarms to hug me and to bless our home and the whole family. Many had gifts of food and money for my family. I think the entire population of Gaza knew of my commitment and came to thank me for being so brave. I believe I was a martyr for them already and I had to act the part. They all condemned Jews, Americans, Christians and betraying Muslims - people weak in the heart. The teacher said on many occasions that Muslims cooperating with Jews and Christians were the worst enemies of all. They were difficult to spot but he kept his eyes open. The others - you can see them a mile away - but these could be living in your house, having treacherous thoughts, and you would never find it out. He warned us to be rather overcautious than to miss one traitor. He often quoted one of leading Russian communist revolutionaries, who said that it is much better to punish a hundred innocent than to miss one guilty. I could understand that, Praised be Allah the Merciful and his Prophet Mohammed. That was so close to the Koran and to my heart. I was ready to meet the maker and I knew that my maker was ready for me.
At the beginning everything went in accordance with the plan. The freedom fighters knew exactly what they were talking about. They never failed and I could not fail either. I was trained by the best. It was a great day. The air was pleasantly warm and the sun was shining. That was Allah smiling at us all and telling us how much he loved his faithful sons and daughters. Glory and immortality were in the air and it was for me. It was mine. This was my day of happiness and I was destined to meet Allah, Mohammed and all the faithful, who lived before me, today. What else could one desire? And, at my age? I was going to meet Allah and my parents today, just in a few hours, while I am still so young. The anticipation was taking my breath away and I could hardly wait.
I came to Jaffa on time and with no problems. No one stopped me and no one followed me. I checked and checked again. The training worked. My contact was standing in the shade by the wall not too far from the entrance to the public restroom. I saw him right away. He was smoking a cigarette casually looking around. The bus station in Jaffa was not a huge place where people could lose each other for hours, if not forever. He was tall, somewhat dark and wearing designer's sunglasses, a white cotton shirt, white trousers and dark brown sandals on bare feet. His muscular neck was proudly decorated with a massive golden chain ending up with an impressive large and heavy Magen David (the six-end star of David) complimented by the Christian Crucifix. I knew it was a sign for Jews for Jesus - one of the craziest but widely accepted religious ideas. I don't know about the other countries, but one could see many of them in Israel. We Muslims think they are crazy. How can one believe in not one but two false religions at the same time? Jews just laughed at them.
My contact looked Jewish all right. He was a perfect Jew. In one hand he held an old beaten up pouch-like leather briefcase and in another three red roses. The pouch was my bomb and the roses were my signal. He looked like any Israeli waiting for a wife or a girlfriend to arrive in Jaffa on the bus from anywhere in the world. Nothing in him could betray a Muslim terrorist going about his personal business of terror. He was so perfect that I would rather suspect him as an Israeli secret service man than a covert man from the dark side of the Jihad revolution. I liked him. As our American brothers say, he was cool.
One look in my direction and he nodded recognizing me from the picture sent to him a few days ago. As instructed, I went into the public restroom on the other side of the building and took the corner stall. It was too early in the morning and the restroom was still empty. A few seconds later, someone entered the restroom and took the stall neighboring to mine. That someone placed in the opening on the bottom of the wall separating two stalls the leather brief case I saw with my contact. The briefcase was open lying on its side facing my side of the wall. I stretched the hand out, just a few inches, and took from it the belt with explosives. The briefcase was shot close right away and hurriedly picked up. I heard that man leaving the restroom firmly closing the door. I put the belt on making certain that the ignition cord was right where the hole in my old jilbab gave me an easy access to it. That too was a part of my instruction. All I had to do now was to pull the cord hard when I thought the time was right, and the explosion, God Willing, would open for me the doors of Paradise. Smiling, I recited a few verses from the Koran. I left the stall and went to the mirror conveniently located on the opposite wall. Taking my time, I looked at myself in that mirror, straightened the ancient jilbab out, combed my hair, went out and boarded the first bus in line leaving for Haifa in twenty minutes. So, Haifa was God's will. Haifa was fine with me. I would go in any direction God points me to and I will do anything God tells me to do.
The bus was only a few minutes away from the terminal in Haifa. I was ready but somehow sweat was pouring from every pore of my body and my legs felt a little weak and somewhat numb. I got up from my seat and started to move up front pretending that I was getting ready to disembark from the bus as soon as it arrived. It was normal, just impatience and a lot of that were going around in the Middle East. Our blood was boiling and we were impatient people. What I really wanted was to be in the middle of the bus when I pulled the cord. I wanted the damage to be as wide and as powerful as was only possible, considering the bus size and configuration, with the sharp shards of the heavy bus window glass and pieces of metal hitting and wounding people waiting at the terminal. I wanted damage to be as extensive as a much larger bomb would create. The teacher said time and time again that this is how I wanted to do it. I had to remember the ratio between the dead Jews and Muslim martyrs. I had to remember the body count of my enemies. Therefore, I had to pull the cord at the last moment, right before the door of the bus was opened. That would be the best position of the bus and many people would surround it trying to disembark and to load. This much I knew and was ready for it.
I screamed, "Allahu Akbar" and pulled the cord. Quiet. Nothing. I am still there with the Jews, Christians and the Arabs working for them. Where were Allah and his beloved prophet Mohammed? I pulled the cord again. A fat Palestinian wearing a light brown suit and a silk tie jumped over, wrestling me down and twisting my hands to my back. Oh, I remember him. He was sitting right next to me, smiling all the time and asking my name and where I was from. Son of a pig. I lied to him. Everything I said, I lied. Allah will forgive me this lie. I did not want to talk to him. Then I saw the soldier's boots. Black. Regular army. The teacher said to avoid soldiers wearing the brown boots. They were the Special Forces and, therefore, trained better. They could spot you and they could kill you. I had to stay away from them. The soldier took the straps from the American M-16 he was carrying and tied my hands behind my back. The driver let all the people out yelling to them to run as far and as fast as was possible. He called the police. The soldier and the Palestinian cautiously lifted up my jilbab, ya khawal (Arabic for faggots) and removed the belt with explosives hidden there. I could not really tell what happened next. I was so confused by the noise and people and someone hitting me in the face and in the ribs, and questions. Questions in Hebrew, Arabic, English... Questions, words... I could not understand what they were asking and, if I could, I had no answers. Allah the Merciful and Mohammed were not there and I needed them so badly. I knew the Jews would kill me. They would torture me to death using everything they knew to inflict the most terrible pain. They would force me to break the most secret of the Sharia Laws and that will ruin me as a faithful. They would force me to eat pork and other unclean food, and drink alcohol. They would keep me naked and exposed, and show my body to women. They would deny me the Paradise because I would not be whole after that.
"What is your name, boy?" There was an Israeli Major standing by the wall, smoking a cigarette and steadily looking at me. I was seated at the green metal table and there was no shackles or handcuffs. I was dressed in my own clothes. The Major looked somewhat different from the Jews I met before. All these Jews were angry and screaming. They all had guns and this Major did not. He had a friendly face but his eyes told the different story. These were the eyes of the man who had suffered a lot and maybe is still suffering. I saw a man who was under a tremendous pressure, which was still building up inside him. I saw the eyes of the man, who had the power of life and death but who was honest and straightforward. I was certain that he used this power only when he had no other choice. I did not know whether it was good or bad for me. Would he use it now? Is that why he was here? Somehow, he was leaving an impression of a good person; a person one can trust. He did not look like an average Jew and I hope I did not look like an average Palestinian boy. We were enemies with a lot of respect for each other.
"I am not a boy, Sir. Major. I passed the age of maturity - sin al-bulugh. I am a man. Give me a cigarette, please." My hands were shaking. I was so afraid but I had to hide it somehow. Cigarettes were the best way I knew how. I still had to play the role of a poor, innocent Palestinian boy. It could save my life. I could not die just now. I would not become a martyr until I do something righteous, heroic. I had to live and wait.
"I am fourteen and I am an adult." My knees were shaking much worse than my hands and my heart was racing as a good Arabian horse in the wild. I was terrified.
This room was painted in very irritating reddish color and it had no windows. An extremely bright and annoying light was shining directly into my eyes. The total silence from the outside of the room was interrupted only by the total silence inside the room and the beats of my own frighten heart. I was ready to do anything to get out of this room, and the interrogation had not even started. If I were feeling like that already, what would I do when the beating and the torture commenced? I was not afraid of death but torture and the unknown made my blood cold and sickly thick. What will they do to me? I was the only suicide bomber I knew of they ever caught alive. Yes, they will torture me and under torture I would break the Muslim laws and I will not become a martyr. No Paradise for me. No future for me. There would be only eternal shame for my family and me. I wished they started already. I could not just sit there and wait. Wait for what? That was driving me crazy but I had to keep my wits together. What time was it now? Is it day or is it night already? For how long have I been here? Does my family know? Does the teacher know? How would they torture me? Pain? Electricity? Beating? Drugs? I cannot take drugs. Sharia. Would they force me to eat pork or drink alcohol? No, I rather take pain. Physical pain is much easier to deal with than mental torture. I've been told that before. What do they want to know? What can I tell? I don't know much, only what the teacher told me. I think I can tell that. Everyone must know the Koran and that's all I know. Would this man torture me personally?
"I am sorry, young man. I did not know that. Please forgive me. Here, you can have a cigarette and I have a bottle of cold Coca-Cola for you too, if you like it. You see the simple logic now, don't you? We don't know anything about you unless you tell us. Are you hungry by any chance?" He was friendly. Or was it a trick? Is this how it works with the Jews? They start soft and then they break you using hardness. I smoked the cigarette given and lighted by the Jewish Major. No, this Jew was somewhat different from what I was told about the Jews by the teacher and the Hamas fighters. This cigarette was good, expensive, with a filter, an American. A Winston. I could see the pack. Cold Coca-Cola, food... What is this? Why is it? When would the pain come? The Mullah said that Jews would torture me to death but a very slow and particularly painful one. He said that Jews were not humans, had no human feelings and that they were enemies of Allah. Maybe they would not... No, the teacher from the mosque told him time and time again that Jews always tortured and that torture, if he had not told anything, would take him to Jannah - paradise. But, if one co-operated with the Jews with anything, there would be no Jannah. There would be Jahannam - hell. Only Allah and the faithful shell know the Haqq - truth. Well, the truth of what? I did not know anything secret or anything important, and this Major asked only for my name and where I was from. What was the point in not telling him that?
"Thank you, Major. My name is Daud."
"Thank you, Daud. Now, what happened? Why did you have explosives wrapped around your body, Daud? Why did you want to kill yourself and people around you?" I took another pull on my cigarette and drank some more of the Coke. It was delicious. American. For a very brief moment I felt like I was in Paradise.
"I am a soldier - ghazi. Jews took our land. Jews killed my family. Jews are everything evil on this earth. I hate Jews. After we kill all the Jews, we will kill all the Americans. I hate them too. They support Jews and they hate Islam. We will kill all infidels. I hate them all. May I have another coke, please, and one more cigarette?" The Major gave me more soda and left the pack of cigarettes on the table. Maybe he was a good Jew. I heard from my uncle that it was rare but possible. Maybe we do not have to kill all Jews. Maybe we can leave the good ones alive so they can give us more coke and cigarettes. This was achievable. They could work in our factories and on our land and they could teach our children to read and to write. This was something to think about. I wish I could discuss this with the teacher but probably I would never see him again. Would I see Gaza and my uncle's family again?
"Where was your family from, Daud?" Now the Major called out for some food. I have not eaten since last night and was getting weak from hunger. Teacher advised not to eat before the explosion. He said it would keep me angry and alert so I would do the job right. I think it was a good advise if you die at the end but I did not. Now I was dying from hunger and that was not exactly the way to Paradise.
"My family was from Gaza. We always lived there. Are you going to torture and then kill me?" I had to ask it. This friendly tone and the food and the cigarettes and the coke were designed to trick me, to mislead me and to make me talk. I was a soldier and I deserved to know my destiny. It was my right and the other soldier's obligation to tell me that. I had to ask the question.
"No, Daud. We are not going to torture or to kill you. We are just going to talk to you for a while and then we will send you to jail where you will spend many years, maybe your life. The Court will decide, but that would still depend on you. This jail is full of terrorists who failed and were captured. They all talked and probably do not want to go back home because they are afraid of being punished by the Mullahs and the PLO. You will feel right at home there. They are always friendly with young boys like you. You see, they have nothing to lose but paradise, and paradise is gone already. Some like to start a new life and asked us for help and we help, if we can. Do you want us to help you, Daud? Think about it. You have time. Time in jail moves very slowly and even small problems could grow in to the huge tribulations with time. Let me know when you are ready. I'll be around when you need me and we will talk." I was very quiet. I was listening and thinking. I knew that the Jewish Major did not lie. Things he said were known on the Gaza streets. Everything was known on the Gaza streets but not everything was discussed. Now that I'd lived through the failed explosion, I wanted to live. He said "a new life." Was it possible? What did I have to do for that?
So, I told him my story. I told him everything I knew and that was not much. Who was I and what did I know? Gaza, the death of my parents, uncle and his family, the teacher, the PLO, Hamas, and now I was here. I told him how hard my uncle had to work just to give me an education. The Jewish Major understood me. I could see it in his eyes. Yes. His name was David Stern. He told me that. Interesting: David - Daud. Our names meant the same thing. Was there some kind of a relation between us? Was it meant for us to meet? Was it written in the skies?
For the first six months of my imprisonment I was in the high security school for young Palestinians and Arabs arrested for different crimes but believed to be capable of being rehabilitated by proper education and responsible care. The Jews thought we had a future. I was surprised to find many teachers were Arabs and Palestinians and the Koran was not the main subject of discussions. True, not all teachers were Muslims. We had Jews, Muslims, Christians and atheists too. Our teachers never spoke of religion during the general classes but we had religious classes after school for the ones who wanted to study religion. Let me tell you, not too many of us went to those classes and that was news to me as well.
We all tried to do our homework really fast. Then, we could watch TV and movies on tapes. Also, we had millions of books to read, and we had talks. Three times a week some of the teaches would stay late and, after dinner, we had "free talks". That mean - no specific subject. We could ask a question and teachers would answer and all of us would discuss and debate the answers, and the teachers were debating with us. There was no aggravation. Never. From no one. It was immense. We learned so much and not from the Koran. I have to be honest - many questions we asked were related to the Koran or to what we learned in our previous lives from the Mullahs. The Koran and the Mullahs did not mean much any longer. We questioned them. We were able to leave them behind in the scary past and they made it scary most of all. We all, little by little, were becoming different people.
After the six months of the high security school many of us went for another year or so to a minimum-security facility. There, we continued schooling and learned a trade. A few hours a week we would work in a factory located not too far from the school and earn some money. It was a privately owned apparel-manufacturing factory but the Palestinian owner of it had a contract with the state allowing us to work there and to learn a trade. I was trained as a presser - the person who irons (presses) jackets and pants using a steam press. It was a hard work but we were actually paid for our labor. Unbelievable. That I did not mind at all. Once a month we would go to town in small groups and do whatever we liked to do, but within the reason. Of course, at the beginning, each group had a teacher assigned to it. As we progressed, teachers were replaced with graduating seniors and then with no one. At the end of the year we could go out to the town every weekend and just by ourselves. I guess we earned the trust of the Jews. That's what the money was for. Some spent it on movies, candies, cigarettes, ice cream, and other fun but unnecessary things. Some sent it home to wherever home was. But, the majority of us spent a little and sent home a little and we all asked for more work. We wanted to earn more money, as that would solve our problems.
David, I called him David by then, visited me almost every week. I think he did not come only when he was far away. It happened often enough. After all he was an intelligence officer and that job was quite demanding on him and his family. He had to work very long and odd hours and in many unpredictable places. Quickly we became the best of friends. I think I saw a father figure in him and he may have seen a son in me. He showed me the picture of his late son and there was an unmistakable resemblance between us. I mean between Boruch and me. I knew that his son, Boruch, was killed by a suicide bomber some time ago. I knew that and I thought that David would hate me for being one. But, contrary to my thoughts, David treated me with all respect and the friendliness of a person who cared. Did he care about his son, Boruch, or me when I thought he cared about me? What a stupid question. Boruch was his son and I was just a lousy Palestinian terrorist, who luckily failed to do his mission. Did he want me to replace Boruch and to be what he could not be? Maybe. In his thoughts. Did he want me to repay the Muslim debt to the Jewish society or personally to him, David Stern? I don't know if he wanted anything at all but he was so good to me, better than my own uncle. He was genuine. I knew it. I could feel it all the time. I could not really answer any of my questions but I wanted to be with David. I felt very secure and clean inside and out when I was with him. I never felt like that with anyone, even the teacher, around me. He was the only friend I wanted and the only father I needed. I thought this was my destiny, to be with him.
I graduated from the school with honors and I was so proud of it. Me, the boy from Gaza and a school graduation with honors. People were shaking my hand and patting me on the shoulder in acknowledgment of my accomplishments. I was in the heavens with happiness and delight. It was not that difficult. First of all I liked it and second I thought that, if I had to be there for twenty-four hours a day, I might as well study. Some of us studied the school program, some of us studied Islam more and more, trying to find the hateful passages the Mullahs told us about and some played cards and backgammon day in and day out. That was the part of democracy applied to our schooling. We were free to study what we wanted providing that we did reasonably well with our general studies. I studied the school program and Islam. We had a Mullah visiting us four times a week for two hours each time. He taught us Islam but it was different Islam from what I knew before.
This old Palestinian was talking about God, and his love for all. He never used the word "infidel". He said that there was no such thing as an infidel. Everyone had the right to serve God in many different ways and each way was correct. He said that, if one plants a tree, he serves God. And, if one creates something good for people, he serves God, as well. But, if one kills people, creating misery and terror, he serves the Devil. He said that even well-known religious leaders preaching hate for other religions and calling for bloodshed, in reality, were the Devil's worshipers and we should avoid them at every opportunity. He said that people have to learn tolerance and how to live in peace never resorting to violence against the innocent. He said that that's what the Koran and Islam were all about. We listened to him and liked it. We could not understand how the same passages coming from different Mullahs could sound so differently. This man was so full of love, finding it in everything and everywhere. And, the Mullahs from back home were so full of hate dealing it in large portions to everyone who was not with them. How was it possible? What was the real Allah's way? I think love was more fitting for a good God. There was the same book and the same religion, but results were the complete opposite. Hate versus love, death versus life, never versus the future. It was so clear now and I almost committed the mortal sin of murder. No, I did not like religion any longer. I did not think it was coming from God. At least not the religion from back home. It did not sound right any longer and it was so perfect just a short time ago. I wondered more and more. I think that good people invented it and the evil people exploited it for their own profits. How could I be so stupid and not see it? How could I follow so proudly the evil ways of the wrong people, the wrong Islam? Were there right and wrong religions at all?
Israel, David and all around were good to me and this was the best time of my life. I felt that I belonged and that was coming from the depth of my heart. I felt that people cared about me and I cared about them. I was really alive. I was alive and in a country that was so alive and with a pulse beating loud and healthy. No wonder this was called God's place. God was an essence of this place. Energy was in the air and I was positively charged by it, and every morning I would get up smiling, ready to join the rhythm of life. I was in love with life, people and this land, our land. There was nothing I would not do for the common good of all of us. Life was great! God was great!
I was accepted by the university! Actually two universities (one in Haifa and one in Jerusalem) were ready to give me a chance to learn and I wanted to take it. Yes, I wanted to learn everything the university could offer. I thought I could be and engineer, a doctor and a teacher at the same time. That's what Palestine and Israel needed. I believed then that Israel and Palestine should be a one country with no partitions and with one government working for all of us equally. After all, we, Jews and Palestinians, were cousins if not more than that. We could live and work together. We had the same interests, so why not. All we had to do was to kick out the religious leaders and maybe on both sides. If both sides took a hard position on religion and that was allowed to influence opinions on many other issues, we would never live in peace. But we want peace, don't we? We need peace. If we keep going with the same high rate of disagreements, murdering each other at every opportunity, we will destroy ourselves and we will destroy the country we all love so much. Jews have no place to go to and we have no place to go to. There is no option. We have to stay together and to survive. That's our destiny. Oh, I loved that logic and I saw myself leading the two people on the path of peace. I'll be the one.
At that time I was living with David already. On the beginning I could stay with David on weekends and holydays. David arranged for that using his position and contacts. He became my guarantor and the parole officer. Good contacts may work in mysterious ways. I don't think it was easy to arrange, but he did it anyway, and I appreciated it very much. After all, he had done it for me, no for both of us. When I graduated from school, David gave me the big news. Now I could stay in his house with his family. I too had a family now.
For the first time in my life I had my own room with good furniture, various books and great pictures. It used to be Boruch's room and there were many things that belonged to him. With my own money I purchased an enlarged photograph of the Mosque of Omar in Jerusalem and placed it on the wall. Naturally, I asked David first but he said that it was my room and I could do there what I liked. Somehow that picture did not fit right in that room and in that house, but I kept it for the time being. I think almost everything in that room belonged to Boruch. The study desk, the bed, the bookcase, the Hebrew and English books - I decided to cherish them all in memory of Boruch and out of respect to his parents. One always had to be respectful to others if one wanted to command respect. I learned this from the Koran and I knew it was true in the Torah and the Bible. No matter what differences these books had, there was a lot in common and those were the best parts of all of them. The more I lived in Israel and the more I learned from the teachers and David, this statement was becoming clearer and clearer.
"Daud! Telephone. I think this is from Gaza." David was holding the receiver, smiling. He wanted me to keep in touch with my other - my blood - family. He thought it was important if I wanted to succeed in life and I agreed with him. It was only right. Blood was blood and we had to cherish it more than anything in the world. I wrote letters to them as often as once a week. Sometimes I called them. One of our Gaza neighbors could read Hebrew and that was the only language I knew how to write in. David wanted me to learn how to write in Arabic but I had no time. I had to learn so many things. So, my writing skills in Arabic were not that great. I will learn it though, I promised, but later when I have more time. But why should I know Arabic better then Hebrew? I am not an Arab. I am a Palestinian and we don't have our own language. All we have is slang and an accent. We are cousins to Arabs, Turks and we are cousins to the Jews. We do not have our own culture and their culture is somewhat denied us, as well. Maybe I am a closer cousin to Jews than to Arabs? Maybe Turks bypassed my family a and I am not their cousin? In that case, I can select Hebrew as my language. Am I right? What about religion? Oh, I rather not to go there. Not now. In any case, I feel much better now about my Jewish cousins than about my Arab cousins and I have no feeling at all toward my Turkish cousins. There was a huge difference in relations, obligations and the level of respect between us. Is that a sin? If not, leave me be. I like it. I happened to like Jews. All right? Maybe I am a Palestinian Jew or a Jewish Palestinian. Whatever you call it, I'll accept.
There was only one telephone on our street in Gaza. It was located in a small teahouse by the large mosque on the square. Sometimes I would call there in the late afternoon and ask for my uncle, Omar. I knew that he went there on the late afternoons quite often. If he were not there when I called, I would tell the owner of the teahouse that I would call back in thirty minutes. They would send a boy for my uncle and he would come over to the teahouse so we could talk. The owner of the teahouse did not mind. He was an old friend of my uncle and he remembered my father as well. When uncle wanted to call me, he asked someone in the teahouse, who spoke a little Hebrew, to call David and ask very politely for me. If I were not home, they would ask when should they call back, and call then. This worked very well for all of us and we did it at least once a month.
Uncle Omar was dead. Aunt Fatima told me that last night he went to the teahouse and did not come back and this morning someone found his body, and he was dead. His throat was cut from ear to ear. There was a six-end star cut on his chest and a handwritten sign was pinned with a knife right in the middle of this bloody star. The sign said in his own blood: "Death to Palestinian traitors". It was written in Arabic by a steady hand in his own blood and probably by the tip of the knife that killed him. The Palestinian police said that he was probably killed by a Jewish agent because of the knife. The knife was of the military type and made in Israel with a six-end star on the handle. Everyone was angry and they thought I should come home, if the Jews will let me do it. Maybe this man, David, could help me to do so. Also Fatima needed me because she had no money and it was my responsibility to feed the family, her and the children. It was my obligation and a family duty.
David offered me some money but I took only what I really needed for the trip and for a few days until I find a job. Two days later I went to Gaza with a heavy heart and a load on my mind. David helped me using all his influence and calling in favors. I was not a martyr and I was going home alive.
Gaza did not change much but it looked somewhat poorer, smaller, and dirtier then I remembered it. Was it the tragic reality or my memory played tricks with me? After living in Israel, not a rich country by any measure, Gaza looked like the center of the slums. Of course, some slums looked better than the others but they were still slums. After the somewhat clean and comfortable streets and apartments of Israel, this dirty, smelly and always somewhat rundown area of Palestine was not welcoming and very disappointing. Why was it like that? I knew that the Israelis invested heavily in schools, hospitals and the living conditions of the people populating the country and, on the other hand, Palestinians invested in mosques, weapons and explosives. Was that the problem? I know that some of religious Jews spent almost all their time praying but it was a very small and not very admired part of the population. Muslims, on the other hand, spent more time praying and that went for the whole Muslim population. It was forced upon the people and one was punished heavily if he did not comply. Was that a part of it too? Did we need to change anything? Could we change anything? Should we keep demanding from the world to give us everything we need, want, or should we try getting it through hard labor and innovations? Do we have time between the crying, praying, demands, protests and the terrorist training to sweat for the fruits of our labor? Why do we think that world owes us anything? Have we ever repaid kindness? Have we ever acknowledged kindness? Have we ever done anything by ourselves? Had we accomplished anything but complaints? How difficult would it be to build a park, just a little one, right here, right in this square full of garbage and the debris of the burnt car used by the terrorists trying to escape punishment? If people living on these streets skipped only one prayer a day for a couple of days, they would be able to built a small park right here. How difficult was it? I could see children playing here not imitating a terrorist attack but building something in the sand box. It could be a sand village and a pebble road. I could feel the coolness from the shade of the trees that would be grown there, and I could envision the old people slowly discussing the family affairs and playing backgammon there while the young ones enjoyed the precious moments of love. I also could see the falafel stand right there in the corner. Pita bread and the fresh, soft falafel made by my father. How difficult would that all be?
How many Russian made AK-47s and plastic explosives should we not buy in order to build a proper school? I hear here, in the Middle East and in Africa, they cost less than twenty American dollars each. Russians made it quite easy for anyone in need of killing equipment to buy one of their killing tools. Russians do not discriminate between the killers and the killed. They will sell anything to anyone if that anyone has money or something valuable to trade. Weapons, nuclear materials, biological and chemical agents, white slavery, women, children, contract killing and the votes in any international or national political or economic body are up for sale. The price is always good - anything - for as long as you can pay it. If we add to that the cost of the terrorist training camps, the payments to the families of the dead terrorists, martyrs, cars for the car bombs, international plane tickets, apartments all over the world, the cost of the luxury life for the future dead, unlimited expense accounts for the recruiters and the actioneers, the cost of training professionals and etc., we could build a few hospitals for certain. This square was large enough for all of that. One school, one hospital, one park and one falafel stand. How difficult would that be? I did not have answers for any of these questions but I knew that weapons were more expensive than any of these things we could build on this square. But my voice did not count yet. I had to earn the respect of the people with power first. After all, who was I but a young Palestinian who, at one time, wanted to be a martyr.
Martyrdom - what a beautiful thing wasted on the dead people. Why in the great kingdom of Islam does one have to die a horrible death in order to be counted? I read that Christians used to do the same thing creating martyrs or saints by the thousands but then they stopped. Now one really has to do something important, something for people in order to join the sainthood. Why is it? Did they all the sudden run out of virgins to reward the saints? It is entirely possible. I hear virgins are precious and rare. Christians used to keep all virgins for themselves and now they have to share them with us Muslims. Interesting that Jews and the Buddhists do not really care. Maybe they don't care about the virgins? Maybe they know something we don't? Maybe we should spread the word and share the rewards? No, it would not work. There are not too many virgins around to be shared with everyone and what if they have something to say on the subject.
I found a job in two days. I could read, write and speak Hebrew, Arabic and some English. Also, I was somewhat famous. In other words, I was known as the man who almost became a martyr. Many people wanted to hire me and I've got a good, well paying job. The family could survive for now and in the nearest future. I decided to teach my young cousins to read and to write so in a couple of years they could get some decent jobs and I would be able to go back to Israel, to the university. It was still possible. In the meantime I could ask David to send me a few books on the college level so I would be ready when the time was right. I was certain that David would do that for me. He had done so much already. He would do almost anything for me and I for him. David would not forget me in a couple of years and I will remember him forever. I will keep in touch with him, always. David deserved that.
Time, as everything else in Gaza, was passing by too slowly. Boring work, a not very pleasant home, a snail's pace teaching my cousins, my own hard-to-understand books and studies, restless sleep and the sameness, from the very beginning of the day to the end of the day, with almost no variation or deviation the next day and the day after, and the day after that. Once a week, on payday, I went to the local teahouse, the one my uncle used to go to. I did not do it for tea or the water pipe or the people. I did it just for a little change in my life routine. Routine was swallowing me like quick sand, chocking and sucking the living juices out. I was bored down to my bones and that boredom kept piling up higher and higher. I was too busy and too tired sometimes to notice it and to realize the problem but I was bored out of my mind. So, I went to the teahouse as my father did and my uncle did and the other fathers and uncles did after they became adults and earned their own money. What else did we have there in Gaza? I just followed traditions trying to enjoy whatever was in store for me. Sometimes it was not easy.
"So, you are finally back. I heard it. I heard it. People are talking about it. You have done an honorable thing. You came back to help your relatives when they were down on luck. This is very noble of you. You command respect for your actions. I am proud to be your teacher and mentor. Do you know that your uncle still owes me some money? Well, come to think about it, he owed money almost to everyone around. This business was a bad thing. Bad thing. You see he borrowed money against the reward he was going to get for your heroic act. Well, you did not become a martyr and your uncle was not given the reward money. Now he owes to everyone. How are you going to pay it? This is your responsibility now. This is the way of honor." That was the voice of the Mullah who was my teacher and the mentor before I almost became a martyr. He looked like nothing had changed and we were still in the middle of the lesson. He was still smoking Turkish cigarettes and looked better then ever. He was fit, good looking and definitely in love with himself.
"I did not know that, teacher." I was shocked with the news. "How much did he borrow?"
"Oh, I don't know the exact amount. I say, it was something around $10,000 and because he did not pay it on time and a long time passed after that, the debt should be around $20,000 by now. That could have been the reason for his death. Only Allah knows the truth. If he borrowed money from the Jews too and did not repay it, they could have killed him for certain and covered it up as if we Muslims had done it. Jews are known for lying and covering it up." He spoke with a sad voice of someone being sorry for the news he delivered.
The true Muslim will not make money with money. There is no such thing as an interest rate in the true Muslim world. If one Muslim wants to purchase something from another Muslim, he is presented with two prices. One price, the lower one, is if you have now the whole amount of payment. The second price, the higher one, is if you don't have now the whole amount of payment and promise to pay it later at the specific predetermined day. If you did not make your payment in time, you could negotiate another term and pay more money then. This was an option granted to you by the seller. If you didn't pay at all or you were not given another term for payment, you are considered to be a thief and often a "pound of flash" was charged in a form of a cut off limb. The Muslim world is full of the limbless people and they are limbless not because of wars and accidents but as a result of the Sharia Laws.
Once David took me to the theater in Tel-Aviv and we saw "The Merchant of Venice" by an Englishman, William Shakespeare. After the show, I told David that neither Shylock nor Shakespeare invented the "pound of flash" and it came from Islam. Muslims will charge you that if you forfeit your financial obligations. Why was it attributed to the Jews? I have not seen the limbless Jews because of money but I saw many of them limbless because of wars and the suicide bombers. Almost all Muslim countries would cut off your limbs for the lesser crimes, as payment for your debts, and your head for something heavier - rape, murder, drugs and other crimes against Sharia, Islamic law. Whatever you did, there was a pound of flash to be collected and it was collected no matter what. I still didn't know what exactly happened to my uncle. Maybe it was a robbery. Maybe it was a religious fanatic. Or, maybe someone collected his "pound of flesh" when my uncle could not pay back whatever he borrowed. I don't think I'll ever know.
"You could ask your Jewish friends to help you out. They could and they would." My teacher was persistent, smiling and, as always, deeply enjoying his Arabic coffee and the Turkish cigarette. He had a feel of a very happy man about himself and religion was at the base of this happiness. Was religion making him happy and so confident? Was there something else at the core of this man? Was there?
"I have to think about it, teacher. I cannot ask my Jewish friends but I want to pay my uncle's debt. If I had enough of time to do that, lets say a couple of years, I would gladly do it." If I didn't spend anything on myself but the essentials, I could put aside about $100 a month. If I cut down on my rest, I could get a second job and put aside maybe another $500 a month. That would be about $5,000 to $6,000 a year. Then I can pay it in five or so years. But, if I pay in five years, they will ask for more money. It would become $40,000 or $50,000, or so. I will have to ask David for a lot of money and I didn't want to that. I could not ask David for anything. It was not his debt. "I have to think about it, teacher. Can you give me a few days?"
I asked my aunt, Fatima, but she did not know anything about the money her husband borrowed. She neither knew how much it was and from whom but she did confirm that there was some money in the house at that time. She said that Omar purchased a few things including a used car that had to be delivered soon but he died and the car never showed up. Fatima did not know whom Omar purchased this car from. She wanted a car and the kids dreamed about it.
"Yes, of course, take your time, my boy. Give me an answer before the end of this week. People worry and I have to calm them down. That's all." He smiled. "Have another cup of tea. My treat."
I took my time thinking about it, playing different scenarios. Nothing I devised would work out right. I asked my teacher for another week to think it over and to work out the details. He smiled and gave me the week. Even more, he said that he could get for me a second job that took only four hours a day six days a week and paid $650 a month. That was a job working for the religious council as a clerk doing some paperwork. Naturally, as a good Muslim, I would have to donate $50 a month to the local mosque, his mosque. This was fine with me. Mosque and the Mullah had to live on something. There were expenses to consider. Now I would have more than $700 a month put aside. It would give me about $8,400 a year. I could pay the $50,000 in five years. I may need to borrow some money but not much. I prayed that teacher agreed to that and talked to the other people my uncle had borrowed money from. This time I went to the teahouse proudly with my head up. I had a proposition for my teacher.
"This is good. This is very good. I like it." The teacher was smiling and shaking my hand. "I will do it for you, my boy. You owe me only $500. In five years pay me $1,000 and everything will be fine. The other's, I don't know. I'll talk to them. We'll see. Inshallah." He lighted another smelly cigarette. "I tell you this. If someone does not like it, I'll lend you more money to pay him off. I can give you $1,000, maybe more. You pay someone off and repay me $2,000 in five years. Give me a few days to straight it out for you." He laughed, drank coffee, smoked and I was feeling great. Only five years and I am free.
In two days I went to see the Mullah again and he gave me the news. Only some people agreed to wait and I still had to pay almost $20,000 within six months. Six months was all the teacher could negotiate. I could not pay it and there was no place and no one to borrow it from. Who would give me so much money? I had no collateral and I was nobody. I was in a tunnel with no light at the end.
"Daud, I tried. God is my witness. Allahu Akbar. God be merciful. If you don't pay, you may get killed. They will kill you and ask your aunt for money and when she does not pay, they will take the children. The girls will be sold to harems and the boys will become slaves in Saudi Arabia. Who can help you, boy? What can save you and your family?" He looked sad and old. He looked as it was his personal trauma and he, the Mullah, was desperately searching for an exit from all this.
"What can I do, teacher? I have to repay my uncle's obligations but I have no money and they don't give me time to raise it. You are wise and you know many people. Can I borrow this money from someone else and repay him or her later? Can I work it out somehow? Please help me for the sake of my father and my uncle. You knew them both. You were friends. You are my teacher." I did not cry when I begged him but tears slowly rolled down from my eyes. I was young, strong and free but I was not in control of my life or my destiny.
"Yes, I think I can help you. There should be a solution. I can go back to the people that sent you on the mission the first time and see if they are interested in sending you back. If you go on the mission and complete it, they will pay off your debts. I am certain of that. If you fail and work with the Jews again, they may kill your family and later on you and the Jews helping you. I mean this Jew, David, and his wife." He was grim and very serious. His voice was thunderous and he did not smoke the Turkish cigarette or drink his coffee. He just looked at me with these penetrating eyes. Could I lie to him?
I was hurriedly trying to device some kind of a scam where they would pay the money but I contact David and he arranges for the phony explosion or something like that. I saw things like that in the movies. Maybe he can smuggle my aunt and the kids to Israel? Maybe he could protect all of us? Maybe, maybe, maybe... Maybe he could not do any of that or maybe he would just say no. I have to consider the worst-case scenario and protect my family. That came first. I have to do what I have to do and the Jews have to what they have to do. I could blow myself up in a place with the least exposure. I could make sure that no one or only a few people die as a result of my action. Should I talk to David? Can I talk to David? Can I betray the teacher and the Muslim freedom fighters? I am a Muslim. I am a part of the Muslim world and every Muslim is my brother. Can I betray my brothers even for the sake of the best human being I ever knew - a Jew?
The teacher went to talk to the Hamas or the PLO or to all of them. They remembered me and were willing to work with me again. They actually preferred to work with me because I knew what to do and I would be the best messenger ever. They believed that I would deliver the message this time. I knew they would like to get me back in to the martyr business. They wanted me badly. I've been to Israel, I failed the mission, I was arrested and I was "reformed", but Islam and the righteous prevailed. They would claim and very loudly that I was always destined to become a martyr. It was written in the stars and nothing, not even Jewish propaganda, could change it. They were excited. They were salivating. The teacher was excited so much that he was almost shaking with anticipation. It could have been the best blow they ever delivered to the Jews. Was that my only option? Was there? Did I have another choice? What choice? Should I try something else and, therefore, gamble with the lives of my family and friends. The freedom fighters would kill me anyway. I knew too much and I was connected to Jews. For how long would they let me walk around risking that I might talk to the Jews? I could understand the whole arrangement now. My uncle was not killed randomly, either by a Jew or a Muslim. His death was a part of the plan to lure me back in and to send me to my death but with the loudest bang. It worked so far. I was trapped and even David could not help me now. They wanted me to kill David and nothing else mattered. That was the mission. It was either David or Fatima with the kids. What could I chose?
Mullah insisted that I call David and tell him that I was coming over for a little vacation. He believed that all calls from Gaza to Israel were listened to. Connection between David and I will be recognized and I would cross the border easily using my Israeli ID. This time I had to carry explosive on my body because the previous contact was killed during the arrest. Was this arrest a result of my interrogation or maybe the old terrorist had just used up all his nine lives? I did not want anyone to die because of me but what was I doing now? If Jews had to die, the Muslims too had to die. That was called war. This man had supplied many bombs, only Allah knows how many, and many Jews were killed by them. Now it was his time to die. It was only fair and all agreed that operations had become much more difficult for the freedom fighters. They had to carry bombs on themselves until the PLO would plant another helpful asset inside of Israel. That could take time and many of the terrorists would get arrested or bombs would explode prematurely killing them for nothing. Targets would remain undamaged but expensive explosives were wasted and trained terrorists were dead. PLO was working overtime trying to solve this problem and recruiting more and more young people willing to die for Allah instead of going to school.
I was disillusioned. I was angry. I was bitter. I was resigned. I was proud. Arafat had believed that the Palestinian state had to be built by martyrs rather than by scientists. A skilled shooter was more valuable than a skilled doctor or an experienced engineer. Who needed doctors if you were not sick, and, if you were sick or weak, take a bomb and die as a martyr. That's what Yasser Arafat taught us. He was our leader for generations. And we believed in him. And, at the end we found out he liked boys and possibly died from AIDS. What a shock for Islam and the memory of its "purest" defender. Are they all like that? After a while I just stopped thinking. Praised be Allah and his faithful prophet Mohammed! Allahu Akbar!
I called David with the news. He was so happy, laughing and I was holding my heart in the fist and the tears back. My throat and the lungs were burning ready to explode but I could not show it. I was betraying people I loved exchanging them for the other people I loved. My eyes were full of tears and my heart was bleeding but my head was cool and strong. I needed that so badly. I had to choose and I chose blood over love and decency.
I was first to come out the bus. That was another perfect day in the land of paradise. The temperature was a little high but the light breeze kept it pleasant. David was right there smoking a cigarette and waiting for a bus from Gaza and for me. I knew he was not feeling well. Frida, his wife, and the doctor told me that it was his heart. He had to quit smoking. This was a serious decision to make. He'd smoked all his life and there he was smoking again. I had to talk to him. He had to quit smoking now before it was too late if he wanted to see my children and my children's children. The bus stopped. It was only ten minutes late. It was like one of these miracles our land is so full of. A Middle Eastern bus and almost on time? This was a minor miracle, I say.
We hugged right there, right in front of the bus and that was holding the disembarking people back for a few seconds.
"I love you, Daud," David was holding the boy close to his heart.
"And I love you, David, but god is great. Allahu Akbar" Tears were streaming from my eyes when I pulled the cord protruding from the jilbab.
A powerful explosion shook the square incinerating all hopes of survival for humans and animals alike. "Allahu Akbar" kept ricocheting from wall to wall and from body to a body for several seconds leaving all witnesses deaf and blind - stunned.
Boris Zubry is a mechanical engineer. He was born in the Soviet Union and now lives in the United State. Mr. Zubry is also author of "Chess Master," a political thriller; "Miles of Experience," a collection of short stories and "Arrogance of Truth," a collection of satiric short stories and poetry. Contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at his website, http://www.boriszubry.us
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