Friday, May 18, 2012
When the Jews Go Away
This is a short story from a close friend of mine. While it entirely fiction, I think it is very realistic in its portrayal of the intra-Arab antagonism between Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Arabs. While the Arab world portrays Israel as the stumbling block to peace, the truth is that the Arabs would immediately commence to bicker and fight amongst each other. When they did, I think it would be quite similar to what the story discribes. So, I give you "When the Jews Go Away."
It was the morning of Nakba Day.
Sami Haddad lay awake for several minutes. The hot summer sun streamed in through a crack in the drawn curtains. Outside the open window, down in the street, the bustle of daily life had already begun. Sami braced himself. This day was always difficult. As usual, he would meet up with Bilaal, his friend since childhood days, in the coffee shop downstairs and they would proceed to the rallying point, from which they would be divided into groups and driven to a drop-off site near the checkpoint. From there they would approach the Israeli fence and the organizers would make sure the rally became a mob. Someone would throw stones and as soon as that happened the Israelis would retaliate with tear gas, rubber bullets and the like. It would all end up a bloody mess. Sami, who had never had to go the hospital after a confrontation with the Zionist soldiers, knew his luck had to run out sooner or later. Still, despite the hesitation and the feeling of precariousness, Sami felt growing within him the resolve, the sense of national purpose, that always pushed him to go in the end.
After his prayers, Sami quickly dressed and went downstairs. The city street was bustling. People were holding signs and shouting slogans. Sami couldn't join them quite yet. Coffee first.
Sami entered the cafe. Bilaal had not yet arrived. There was a woman sitting alone at a table. There was nothing illegal about this, but if her man did not show up soon chances weren't bad the police would begin to harass her. As it turned out, her man had merely popped into the toilet and he was back within a moment's time. Sami took a seat and looked around. There was a commotion in the back of the cafe. Something was happening. Sami was not yet alert enough to care very much.
At that moment, Bilaal arrived. He looked as though he had been running. His breath was labored and his brow was wet.
“Sami, we're going now! Something has happened!”
From the back of the cafe, where the commotion was unfolding, a man noticed Bilaal's frantic state and piped in, “Is it true?!”
Bilaal replied, “Let's go, brothers! Let's see for ourselves!” He grabbed Sami by the wrist and pulled him outside. Within minutes, they were on the road, heading toward the checkpoint. Sami knew the road well. He knew how close cars with Palestinian license plates were allowed to proceed and he was very much aware when they drove past the spot. Bilaal, who hadn't said a word since the cafe, just turned to him and smiled a knowing smile.
The checkpoint was only a few hundred meters away. There were no soldiers in sight. The truck kept racing. Fear and excitement swelled in Sami's chest. He was utterly bewildered, but something told him that today – right now – he was on the brink of a historic moment.
The crossing was open. Without any ceremony, without any resistance, the truck sped through. Could it be? thought Sami. “Are we in Israel?” he asked.
“Look around,” said Bilaal. Do you see any soldiers? Do you see any Jews? Do you see any Israel?” And he was right. They drove and drove along the north-bound road. No one stopped them.
“But... how?” asked Sami. No one answered. The answer didn't seem very important at the moment.
After an hour, taking in the sights of his historic homeland, Sami thought to ask, “Where are we going?”
“Jaffa,” said Bilaal, gravely.
“Why Jaffa?” asked Sami.
Bilaal produced an ancient key from his pocket. “For my grandfather.”
The highway to Tel Aviv was completely deserted. The truck took the exit as they approached the southern neighborhoods of the metropolis and headed west, toward the sea. The streets were empty. IT was eerie, yet wonderful all the same. All the while Sami kept thinking he would soon wake up and he had to keep pinching himself to affirm the reality of the situation.
The slightly dilapidated neighborhoods of south-Tel Aviv made way and revealed the cream-colored stones of Jaffa. As they entered the ancient port city, the caravan was suddenly greeted by unexpected signs of life. The Arabs of Jaffa seemed just as shocked by the sight of the trucks. The members of the rally descended from their vehicles and tentatively approached the locals. They were in front of the Aboulafia bakery and they asked for a cool drink and some bread. Sami joined Bilaal as he approached the bakery's owner and patriarch. He invited them to sit with him over coffee.
“What happened here?” asked Sami.
“Have you been north to Tel Aviv?” asked Aboulafia.
“No,” answered Bilaal.
“A ghost town.” Aboulafia did not betray any emotion. He might have been happy or extremely depressed. His expression revealed nothing. “They simply vanished.”
“So what does this mean?” asked Bilaal. “What does this mean for Palestine?”
From Jaffa they group pressed east, into the hills, up to Jerusalem. The western, Jewish neighborhoods were beautiful in their stillness. It wasn't like a traumatic, conquered city in the wake of a war. There were no bullet-riddled and pockmarked walls. There were no bodies strewn about. Only the birds sand and the tree branches rustled as they swayed in the hot, summer breeze.
The Old City was an entirely different matter. The streets were full of gaiety and deafening proclamations of joy and victory. Banners were strewn. The residents had wasted no time. Here, the Gazans encountered their Jerusalemite brothers, as well as their fellow refugees from Ramallah and Nablus. A sea of humanity was proceeding, as though carried by a tide, to the Dome of the Rock. Sami feared that he might be trampled, but by the time they reached Al Aqsa, it appeared his luck was still holding. As they made their ascent, Sami looked down at the Western Wall Plaza. The residents of Jerusalem (or perhaps it had been the young men from the West Bank) had wasted no time in marking up the wall with graffiti. From atop the Temple Mount, individuals threw rubbish into the Jewish Quarter... the former Jewish Quarter. This left a strange taste in Sami's mouth. He could hardly have been accused of caring for the well being of the Zionist oppressors, yet he felt that this was, nonetheless, undignified behavior on a day that ought to have represented the redemption of a nation.
Sami's thought quickly shifted elsewhere. The crowd atop the Temple Mount began praising Allah and the furor of it all swept Sami into a euphoric state of ecstasy. There would never be a better day in all his life.
* * *
It was the week after Nakba Day.
Sami was dead, so was Bilaal.
On the first day, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank took pause to figure out exactly what had happened. Hamas, taking advantage of the PA's hesitation, threw all of its militant might into a race to secure as much territory in the west and south of what had been Israel as possible. This had stretched its limited forces into an incredibly thin line. The PA, caught off guard, began a large-scale assault into the Galilee and west. Hamas had advanced as far north as Ashdod. The PA made a mad dash for Tel Aviv-Yafo. They had greater numbers and American-trained soldiers. In the south, West Bank soldiers confronted Gazans at Beersheba as both sides struggled to gain control over Dimona. Jerusalem had been quickly and easily swallowed up by the PA, which wasted no time in proclaiming an indivisible capital. In the meantime, the Arabs of Jaffa, Haifa, Acre and other Israeli cities petitioned the UN and other international agencies to intervene, lest they come under the control of the PA – or worse yet, Hamas.
On the second day, Hezbollah poured over the northern border into Galilee, to the international community's resounding silence. Syrian troops took back the Golan Heights and raped over one hundred Druze women. Iran proclaimed the greatness of Allah, who had mysteriously and gloriously saved the Near East from the Zionist cancer. The CIA informed the President that Iran and Hezbollah were already discussing a shared condominium in the Galilee. The White House quickly informed the Kings of Jordan and Saudi Arabia, who signed a hasty alliance and began to secretly mobilize.
On the third day, the PA and Hamas, in an act of superficial pragmatism, told their troops to hold fire and to respect their Palestinian brethren. They preached the message of unity and national liberation for all Palestinians. However, behind the scenes, the struggle over the reactor in Dimona continued, with the very real encouragement of both governments. Hamas took advantage of the official truce to demand access to Jerusalem. The PA failed to reply immediately. In Amman, the national liberation of the Palestinian people created a maelstrom of political activity, as disenfranchised Palestinians took to the streets of Amman, defying the bone crushing tactics of the King's Bedouin army, to demand their rights in Jordan. The death toll was incredibly high, prompting a condemnation by the UN, the EU, the United States and other international organizations.
On the fourth day, the death toll rose in Jordan, as the previous day's disaster had only spurred wider protests. Hamas declared that, unlike the hesitant PA, it would take “all necessary measures” to liberate the Palestinians of Jordan and any neighboring states where they might be persecuted. Although the King of Jordan would normally have ignored such threats, Hamas simultaneously announced with suggestive language that it had just secured a strategic goal in the Negev desert. This statement was untrue and the neighboring Arab states knew it to be untrue, but the pronouncement only encouraged them to make sure that Dimona would NEVER enter Palestinian hands. The Jordan-Saudi alliance made contact with Egypt, promising it vast territory in the Negev in return for military assistance in Gaza. Hezbollah came into conflict with the PA in Galilee, prompting incendiary words from the Iranian President.
On the fifth day, Jordan invaded Palestine with two armies. The northern army entered the West Bank via the Allenby crossing; the southern army invaded just south of the Dead Sea and set a course for Dimona. A Saudi division invaded the Galilee from Jordanian territory. Egypt began moving greater numbers of troops into the Sinai and began an aerial bombardment of Gaza. The Rafah crossing was shut and the tunnels into Egypt were blown up. Hamas initiated a reign of terror within Gaza and its holdings along the coastal strip of what had been Israel. It conscripted men and boys of all ages into the Holy War against the aggressors. Sami and Bilaal were among them. Syria remained neutral, having won its prize in the Golan – although pressure from Iran to join in on the side of Hezbollah against the Jordan-Saudi alliance was great. The UN demanded a ceasefire from all sides which was ignored. Then the UN declared a humanitarian crisis. Palestinian activist groups on American college campuses held demonstrations blaming Israel for the mounting death toll.
On the sixth day, Sami and Bilaal, who through it all had somehow remained together, found themselves surrendering to a Jordanian division. They removed their keffiyehs and waved them in the air to signify their lack of resistance. They hadn't even been given weapons with which to fight. The Jordanians tied them up and were about to take them as prisoners behind the front line, when a massive militant attack caught the division unaware. The Jordanians moved out with haste, abandoning Sami and Bilaal. When the Hamas militants found the two, they beheaded them for treachery. An hour later, the Jordanians retook the position.
At this point, the PA petitioned the United States for assistance. Jordan and Saudi Arabia had already demanded American neutrality. Both the White House and Congress made a great deal of noise over the “situation” in the Middle East, but stayed their hand when it came to taking action. The President knew, however, that the current developments were untenable and that sooner than later he would have to make a decision.
However, that was not to be. On the seventh day, as quite often happens in Near Eastern history, the people were granted a rest. Jordan held a jagged line, extending from the southern end of the Dead Sea, between Oron and Dimona, south of Beersheba, up to the Gaza Strip. Egypt held the Gaza Strip and the Negev, south of Jordan's line. In the north, Jordan held an arched line which hugged the south-western coast of the Sea of Galilee, encompassed Tiberias and met the Mediterranean Sea at Haifa. Most of the Galilee was held by Hezbollah, which in coming years would try to establish itself as a respectable, sovereign country between Jordan and Lebanon, but this would ultimately lead to a conflict with Iran, which did not want any pretense of Hezbollah autonomy. Jordan and Egypt would scuffle about who deserved to hold Dimona. Ultimately, both caved to international (American) pressure to internationalize (Americanize) a corridor, beginning at the port of Gaza and running through Beersheba, ending at Dimona.
The issue of water for the surviving residents of Palestine became contentious. Egypt and Jordan became too preoccupied with their border dispute on the Gulf of Aqaba to cooperate on desalination and other purification schemes. Life in Palestine became quite backward and disorganized. Aside from Jerusalem, in which the Jordanians took special pride, the development of the land became a distant after thought. The port cities along the coast were of some tourist value, but tourism waned in the wake of the war and in lieu of any credible infrastructure. The economy tumbled and many residents began to leave for other parts of Egypt and Jordan. Roaming Bedouin tribes spread into the dangerous passes of the Negev and eastern Sinai.
On the whole, the Arabs of Palestine were contented to accept Jordanian citizenship when it was finally offered them on the condition that they recognize no sovereign or autonomous Palestinian authority.
Syria, from its position on the Golan Heights, began shelling Tiberias and creating a general nuisance in the region. This, coupled with the persistent launch of missiles into Haifa from the Hezbollah/Iran-dominated Galilee, led to numerous wars. Some of these wars demanded American involvement. As a result of these wars the cost of oil continued to rise. All the while, the land that was once Israel continued to become more and more bare, emptying of its inhabitants.
A century later, when the land had only a few hundred thousand people living in it, something happened. One day, as mysteriously as they had vanished, the Jews suddenly reappeared.