They arose early, well before sunrise. Their destination this morning was twenty miles inland, a city set on fourteen hills. It would take them just thirty minutes to journey 4,000 years back in time.
"Whose idea was it to start before the sun?" Isaac tried not to laugh; his chest still hurt. But it had been his idea and everybody knew it.
"This better be worth it," Thor said, limping toward the van. "And before I forget to ask, since you’re driving, are you still seeing double?"
"No," Isaac said, looking at an imaginary Thor standing to the right of the real one. He pretended to walk into the side of the van. "Oops."
"I can’t vouch for your pal’s vision," Sarah chuckled, "but Jerusalem at sunrise? It’s like no other place in the world."
Aboard the Prime Minister’s van, they headed east. Purple and magenta rays chased the last of the evening’s stars. The soft underbellies of a dozen clouds began to glow. As the van climbed steadily up through a narrow pass, Team Bandage saw that the slopes on either side had been newly planted with Jerusalem pines. In thirty years, this would be a forest again.
Breaking the monotonous sounds of travel, Isaac played tour guide. "During our War of Independence these hills were crawling with armed Arabs. They were ruthless, and we were defenseless. Taking a convoy through this valley was a bloody affair."
"B-but it was either that or let our p-people starve." Moshe, ever the courageous one, knew the 4,000-year history of his nation. Every Israeli did. They reveled in it. They always had.
Shifting into a lower gear, the armored van labored to make the grade. With each turn the sky brightened, silhouetting the rolling hills and lacy pines. Then, there it was, their first glimpse, up through the valley. But as quickly as it had appeared, it was gone, swallowed by the curvature of the pass. Teased again with another brief look, they saw white stone buildings descending the western slopes ahead of them. Even draped in the dawn’s shadows, the city glowed.
Knowing what was to come, Isaac reached for the CD player. He cued up his favorite song. "O Jerusalem" burst forth. The words were uplifting. As the music reached its crescendo, so did the view. Reaching the final rise, they veered left. In front of them, bathed in the rosy light of the new day, lay the most coveted city in the world. The town that had known only war was named the city of peace; along with the music her very stones cried out - Jerusalem!
Even for those who had seen her a thousand times, the first glimpse was special. The city was spread out, undulating, clinging to the hills before them. At its heart was the most significant square mile in the world.
As the sun rose, Isaac sped eastward. "Mount Scopis or Mount of Olives? What do you think? One’s a little higher; the other’s closer."
"Mount of Olives," Sarah suggested. "It has more historical significance, both past and future. Imagine that," Sarah caught herself. "Future history. Only in Jerusalem."
The overlook was abandoned. There were no tourists here. It wasn’t just the early hour. There had been too much killing in the recent past. There was no place on earth where death was more poignant than standing upon the Mount of Olives.
Moshe and Joshua were loaded into their wheelchairs and rolled into position. With pierced feet and broken legs, they were a long way from being ambulatory. "You all know we’re in East Jerusalem, right?" Joshua asked. "This is an Arab sector. For example, see that hotel behind you?" he asked, turning round. Its arches loomed large on top of the ridge, just above them. "Now look down below you."
What they saw was an enormous cemetery, stretched out to the right and left. But unlike its counterparts in America, there was no grass, no trees. There were only white limestone tombs, set in tight rows one right after the other, descending all the way down to the valley floor.
"That hotel’s entry and façade were built from the tombstones of our forefathers. Muslims seem to relish defiling anything holy."
"That’s disgusting." The thought turned the Admiral’s stomach.
"Tell Thor why there are so many Jewish tombs here, Yacob," Sarah suggested, "and why so many of ’em are so old. And tell him why the Muslims have tombs on the other side of this valley."
"This is the favorite cemetery for Jews," Joshua said, "or at least it was before the Muslims sullied it. That’s because our scriptures say that the Messiah will descend from heaven right here, on the Mount of Olives, and then enter the city through the Eastern Gate. Those buried here think they’ll be the first to rise when he comes."
"Returns," Sarah whispered in Thor’s ear.
Yacob pointed to the blocked Eastern Gate. It was all so close, a matter of a few hundred yards. "The reason so many Muslims are buried on the rise leading to the old city, on the other side of the Kidron valley, is that they want to prevent the Messiah from entering Jerusalem. That’s also why they sealed the gate with stones centuries ago."
"You’re kidding, right?" The Admiral found himself staring at the gruesome scar Halam Ghumani’s nail had gouged into Yacob’s neck. "These guys are so stupid they think they can stand in the way of a divine being, one powerful enough to descend from heaven? ‘Gee, let’s fight God.’ That’s a swell idea." He was having trouble coping with the Muslims’ tendency to abandon reason, even in death.
"Those boys are a few bricks short of a full deck."
Adams rolled his eyes at Yacob’s disastrous vernacular. "That’s the Dome of the Rock over there, isn’t it?" It dominated the view.
"I think we should call it the Dome of the Hoofie Print," Sarah grinned.
"The what?" Josh asked, pretending to remove something from his ear.
"C’mon. We all know that the only reason it’s here is for naah-naah-na-naah-naah value. Why not call it what it really is?
"For w-what...?" Moshe stared at her like she was losing it.
"For gloating rights. You know, to taunt Jews. It’s there for the same reason they built that ugly hotel from your tombstones. It defiles your sacred site - your only sacred site."
"She’s right," Josh agreed, rolling his wheelchair a little closer. "It’s not only meaningless to their religion; it’s an embarrassment." He involuntarily scratched at the scab on his nose where Kahn had inserted the fishhook. "So from now on it’ll be ‘The Dome of the Hoofie Print’."
"Is somebody gonna tell me this story?" the Admiral whined. He was sitting on the rock ledge that separated the overlook from the cemetery below. The viewing area, while not large, was nice. Curving stone steps cascaded down, producing a theatrical effect.
"One night in Mecca," Isaac began, "Muhammad was snoozing when, he alleges, the angel Gabriel, the archangel of the Hebrew Bible, offered to take him on a wild ride."
"Right up," Yacob interrupted. "Muhammad says the two hopped on an imaginary beast called al-buraq and scampered northwest to Jerusalem. This al-buraq thing, a donkey or jackass, or whatever it was, was flat-out fast. According to Muhammad, each stride soared as far as the eye could see."
"You flyboys would call it mach two," Joshua teased.
"They make it all the way from Mecca to the Temple that night, about nine hundred miles," Sarah shared, pointing. "But not to that bilious blue and gold number. To the Jewish Temple, although Muhammad called it a Mosque. That ugly thing was built to celebrate the Celestial Journey."
"Unfortunately for Muhammad, though, the story’s got a hitch or two in its get-along." Isaac had spent enough time in America to pick just the right phrase. "For starters, his favorite wife Aisha - we’ll talk about her later - claims the boy never so much as left his bed that night."
"And it gets worse." Sarah knew the story. "The Muslim revisionists, in trying to keep up with the Joneses, or the Jesuses as the case may be, felt the need to manufacture a miracle or two. They sort of embellished the nature of the mythical beast, right?"
"It’s true," Isaac laughed. "Al-buraq changed from being a cross between a donkey and a jackass to a hybrid winged steed, with the tail of a lion, the back end of a horse, and the torso and head of a woman."
"I knew Muslims thought women were horses’...well, you know," Sarah chuckled.
Isaac smiled but continued. "Muhammad claims that he meets with Abraham, Moses, and Jesus in the Temple/Mosque. ’Course, Abe would have been twenty-seven hundred years old, Moses, a couple thousand, and Jesus, six hundred. And there’s a slight problem with the building itself. As in, there wasn’t a Temple at the time. It had been torn down in 70 A.D. by the Romans."
"Mind you," Josh remarked, "we’re not making this story up. Muhammad’s own account of what happened is dutifully recorded in the Hadith, and in his own words."
"Yeah. So anyway, after chatting for a while, big Mo thinks it would be really cool to go up to heaven," Isaac told the assembled.
"That in itself is intriguing," Sarah turned to face her boyfriend. "Since he never made a heavenly voyage from Mecca, it proves what I’ve suspected for some time."
"What’s that?" the Admiral bit.
"You can’t get to heaven from Mecca."
Thor, recovering from his coughing fit, asked, "So what happened?"
"According to Muhammad, Abe, Jesus, and Moses are all real timid. They’ll go to heaven but not all the way up to the top floor," Josh said.
"Maybe that’s because Muhammad’s idea of paradise is drinking and great virginal sex," Sarah reported. "They may have stopped to shop for lingerie on the second floor to spice things up." While booze and sex with multiple virgins in paradise was orthodox Islam, her lingerie suggestion was merely the product of a fertile imagination.
Moshe carried on. "But our hero w-wants to meet the b-big guy."
"So Mo, confidently astride his mach-two buraq, gives him-her-it a kick in the side and bounds heavenward," Isaac said, waving his arms in the air. "The dome was built over the hoof print the magical beast is said to have left in the stone as it leapt skyward."
"The blessed hoofie print!" Thor exclaimed in mock wonderment.
"Oh, and don’t forget Gabe’s grip marks. They say you’ll see them on the rock too."
"Muslims claim Mo had a magnetic personality. The rock - which by the way isn’t a rock but simply the top of Mount Moriah - tried to follow the Prophet skyward. Gabriel had to hold it in place so it wouldn’t fly away, crash into heaven, and give Allah a black eye." Isaac shook his head. "If it weren’t so sad, it’d be funny."
"Funny?" Thor said. "This is hilarious. Where’d you get this stuff?"
"I’m afraid most of it’s right out of the Hadith of al-Bukhari, The True Traditions - Muhammad’s own words."
Joshua rolled back and forth next to the ledge. "Oh, and catch this," he said. "The Prophet finally makes his way to the seventh heaven and meets Allah for the first time. What do you think they talk about?"
Most shrugged. They were hoping for something profound, like "Why are we here?" But no.
"Muhammad asks the Big Guy about what kind of mindless ritual he likes best. You know, butt up or butt down when bowing, how many times a day he likes it, and what words he wants repeated so often they become irritating and can be muttered without thinking."
Moshe, trying to keep a straight face, said, "Muhammad says Allah wanted to see a b-billion butts raised to him in p-praise fifty times a day."
"Gives a whole new m-meaning to the term ‘moon god’," the Admiral joked.
"Yeah. It’s a complete sentence."
"Now settle down," Moshe protested. "That’s what Mo s-says Allah wants. So then on the way down from his chat with Allah, who was the moon god, by the way, he bumps into M-Moses - still in the lingerie department, I presume." He looked over at Sarah. "Moses t-tells Muhammad he’s been ripped off - that f-fifty butt-ups is way too offensive, I mean oppressive, too b-burdensome on his t-terrorists."
"You mean the Islamic faithful," Sarah suggested.
Moshe could see little difference. And, in his defense, it was hard to miss the humor.
"Moses sends M-Muhammad back to negotiate. Allah, overwhelmed by the Messenger Boy’s m-magnetic personality, changes his mind and cuts the number of butt-ups to forty. Back down in l-lingerie, Moses is not impressed. He shoos Mo off to do b-better."
Isaac took over. "They repeat this process until Allah’s head is spinning. He’s so impressed with the service Mo is providing his people, the Big Guy cuts the Prophet a deal he can’t refuse. He acquiesces to being mooned a paltry five times a day."
He paused to catch his breath. His lung was on the mend, but it was far from healed. "I know it sounds ridiculous, but really, from virgins in paradise to mooning a god so dumb he changes his mind willy-nilly - it’s what they believe." The Major had done nothing lately but study Islam. "Read al-Buhkari’s Hadith, Book of Merits, Chapter 42. Prophet-Boy’s got a vivid imagination. The story goes on for seven pages."
"And the other mosque? The even uglier one? Why is it there?" Thor had come wanting to learn. Yet this was not what he’d hoped to find. He was expecting a tragedy, not a comedy.
Isaac faced the black dome. "Aqsa Mosque is its name. Actually, the Dome of the Hoofie Print isn’t a mosque. It’s a shrine, like the Ka’aba in Mecca. The uglier one, the one under the black dome, is called the ‘furtherest’ place. Some Muslim conqueror was positively certain that as Muhammad stumbled around in the darkness that imaginary night, this was the ‘furtherest’ he ambled from Mecca. Naturally, they built a mosque over it."
"And it gave Muslims the opportunity to defile all of our Temple Mount rather than just some of it." Josh rubbed his bruised chest.
"But to add insult to industry," Yacob shared, "the Muslims are building another mosque in the southeast corner, over there," he said, pointing. "Not only are they obliterating great archeological sites that scream out not to be molested, but they are in danger of collapsing the southern wall of the old city. Right through three thousand years of our history." He looked over in disgust. "It really kisses me off."
"And for this elaborate t-tale alone, for this dream, they c-claim the right to p-possess Jerusalem. They call our Temple Mount their third holiest s-site, after Medina and the black p-pagan thing in Mecca." Moshe’s anger only made the stuttering worse.
"Oh, yeah," Josh said, looking wistfully westward with his back to the rising sun. "According to the Muslims who live here, this place is so darn holy that infidels - that would be us Jews and you Christians - can’t even set foot on our Temple Mount." Racism was alive and well.
"Y’know, I can almost guarantee that no Jew ever sold the Mount." Yacob had a point. "The last time ownership legally changed hands was when King David bought it from Araunah the Jebusite for six hundred shekels of gold. It belongs to Israel. The Muslims are trespassing. We bought it, we developed it, we own it.
"But not according to them," Isaac explained. "Arab textbooks claim that they built this city, not us. That lie is as obvious as Allah being called God or Muhammad a prophet. This is Moriah, Admiral, the very place where Abraham was asked to sacrifice Isaac. Our whole legacy is centered here. The Temple of Solomon was built here. This place is our heart and soul."
Now Yacob was mad. "Never mind that the only reason Muhammad even knew about Abraham in the first place was that we Jews were literate and we committed his story to writing - twenty centuries before the unProphetable Prophet was even born." Yacob hated seeing his heritage, his people’s history, butchered by an uneducated seventh-century Arab with an inferiority complex.
"Maybe he just spelled it wrong," Sarah suggested, trying to cool him down.
"Prophet. We know he was illiterate. And we know his new ‘religion’ faltered until he became a pirate, started robbing caravans, right?"
"Then he’s the ‘Profit’ Muhammad. Spelled P-R-O-F-I-T."
"That’s it. That’s the whole reason for this," Thor said just loudly enough to be heard. "Greed. They covet what you’ve built."
"That’s why we brought you here," Joshua shared. "It’s as obvious as that golden shrine."
Moshe got his licks in. "When Arabs learned th-that they, too, were descendants of Abraham, things got prickly, ’cause that made ’em bastard sons of a slave g-girl. In their quest for legitimacy, they lashed out at us."
"Muhammad found a void in Arab souls and filled it with hate." As he spoke, Yacob fingered the depression in his wrist left by Halam’s spike. "He took Jewish history and convoluted it, recasting our patriarchs and prophets as Muslims. Then he put himself in the starring role. It’s all revisionist history. And the fact we know better makes us the enemy."
"So you’re saying that the more we learn about Islam, the more ridiculous Islam looks. And that knowledge, in itself, will cause Muslims to hate us because they’ll know we know how foolish they are." The Admiral’s search for truth was becoming a pain in the butt, not unlike sitting on the cold, hard limestone wall.
A brilliant spring sun broke through the low scattered clouds. Long streaks sparkled against the white Jerusalem stone. The mixture of new and old never looked better than it did here.
"Islam isn’t alone, you know." Sarah sighed deeply. "All of the world’s great religions have a dark side. Evil, self-serving men eventually rise to power and enrich themselves at the expense of believers. Jewish High Priests, Muslim conquerors and clerics, the Catholic Church during the dark days of the Inquisition and Crusades - all used God’s name and authority to terrorize and plunder."
"And unfortunately, it’s not just a history lesson, is it Sarah?" Thor asked, wishing it were. "The world is still grappling with holy hell. The Muslims are still at it."
"Yep." Moshe bristled. "But unlike the other religions, Islam started off bad. It didn’t become corrupt - it b-began that way."
Adams raised an eyebrow and looked at Isaac.
"Yes, sir, it’s true. And we’ll prove it."
Joshua asked, "Do you know the story behind the Ka’aba, Admiral?"
"I know that it’s more revered than the Dome of the Hoofie Print."
"One plays to their ego - one-upmanship. The other betrays their soul," Newcomb said.
Yacob began, "Thanks mostly to Christianity, which arose out of Judaism, the enlightened world was principally monotheistic by the time of Muhammad’s birth. That is, with the exception of the nomadic Bedouins, the Arabs who roamed the Saudi Peninsula. In the center of their world was the backwater town of Mecca. And in the center of Mecca was the Ka’aba, one of the few remaining purely pagan shrines."
"The Ka’aba was just a small r-roofless building in a bad state of d-disrepair. It housed th-three hundred and s-sixty idols, mostly stones." Moshe sat in his wheelchair, squinting into the sun, his back to the old city. His friends occupied the stone steps or wheelchairs facing him.
"They worshiped these rock-gods," Isaac said. "Muhammad’s clan, the Quraysh, had the responsibility of caring for the rock garden. And like the High Priests who once ruled here in Judea, being in charge of the shrine had its rewards. Pilgrims were charged fees to put their god-rocks inside. They had to pay to have their holy stones fed, watered, and dusted. And then they were charged when they wanted to visit them."
"If I may," Joshua interjected. He wanted to make sure the Admiral grasped the significance of the relationship between Muhammad, Allah, the rocks, and the Ka’aba. "Muhammad’s father was the Ka’aba’s custodian. His name was abd-Allah. It meant ‘slave to Allah.’ You see, long before Muhammad was even born, Allah was a pagan god. In fact, he was the moon god. That’s why he lived in what some think is a meteorite - a rock that fell out of the sky. Allah’s black stone was, and is, the top rock in the Ka’aba - the most exalted of the idols."
"That’s right. Their moon god was believed to have lived in his own special stone, one that has quite a story."
"Wait a minute," Thor said. "You’re saying the God of Muhammad’s great monotheistic religion is a pagan moon rock, just one among hundreds of god-rocks? You’re not serious, are you?"
"’Fraid so. Between us we’ve read dozens of books on Islam, including the big three: Ibn Ishaq, al-Bukhari, and the Qur’an," Josh said.
"Remember in the hospital aboard the Ronald Reagan? You asked to come here so you could learn why they kill, why they celebrate death," Yacob explained. "We decided the least we could do is figure it out. I mean, you did save our lives and all."
"You’re not going to believe what we found," Isaac said.
Time was in short supply, so Josh jumped ahead. "The rock in which Allah, the moon god, lived had three daughters. The pebbles were named al-Uzza, al-Lat, and Manat. Ever hear of Salman Rushdie, Admiral?"
"The British novelist?"
"Yeah. The Ayatollah Khomeini put a fatwa on him for writing Satanic Verses, a novel about these goddesses. Rushdie retold the account, the Muslim account, mind you, of how the Prophet felt so dejected, so tired of constantly being harassed by the pagan rock worshipers of Mecca, that he had a brain fart. One day, he tells the Meccans that it’s okay to worship the pagan goddesses in addition to the moon god, Allah. He even does so himself, setting a fine example. It’s all chronicled in Tabari."
"Peace and harmony follow," Isaac continued, "because his tribe, the Quraysh, no longer see Mo’s religion as a threat to their golden goose, the Ka’aba."
Adams scratched his head. "There’s only one problem. If there are now four pagan gods, how’s Islam monotheistic?"
Isaac burst out laughing. "Muhammad finally admits he screwed up. He claims Satan got to him, calling his earlier pronouncements ‘Satanic Verses.’ Rushdie didn’t make this stuff up. If the Ayatollah had studied religion rather than revolution, he might have known better."
"So what happened?"
"He had these verses expunged from his Qur’an. Abrogated, in Muslim parlance. It means revoked and replaced by a newer, more rational explanation. There are a dozen direct or sideways references - excuses, really - for the Satanic Verses buried in the Qur’an.
Yacob explained, "According to Tabari, the angel Gabriel took big Mo to the woodshed. ‘But when he longed [not to be harassed] Satan cast suggestions into his longing. But Allah will annul what Satan has suggested. Then Allah will establish his verses, Allah being knowing and wise.’ Muhammad annulled his claim that Allah’s daughters were goddesses with these words from Qur’an 53:18. Yacob pulled out a copy and read. ‘Indeed, he saw some of the greatest signs of his Lord. Have you considered al-Lat, al-Uzza, and Manat, the pagan deities? How can there be sons for you and only daughters for Him? These are nothing but names which your fathers gave them.’"
"Great," Thor said. "He went from being a pagan to being a sexist. How can a prophet be so stupid?" He shook his head. "I dunno. Stupid’s not a crime. Maybe we should cut Muhammad a little slack here."
"Why?" Sarah asked. "He wasn’t a miracle worker. There were no ten plagues against Egypt, no parting of the sea, no tablets from God, no virgin birth, no healing lepers or giving sight to the blind, no raising folks from the dead, and certainly no beating death himself. According to Muhammad, he never performed a single miracle other than deciphering the Qur'an. No prophecies, no cures, no signs, no wonders."
Thor scratched his head. "Let me see if I’ve got this right. Muhammad tells the Arabs around him that the Jews got their history mixed up, and so did the Christians who followed them. The guys that actually lived the events, did the miracles, and proclaimed the prophecies got it all wrong, and the guy who did none of the above got it right. What kind of a fool would believe such drivel?"
"Muslims. Considering one point four billion people say they believe this malarkey, it ranks up there with the biggest hoaxes in history." Yacob had said a mouthful. "But to be fair, I wonder how many Muslims are just pretending, going through the motions. It’s like living in a Communist country. If you don’t play along, somebody kills you. I wonder how many Muslims actually know what we’ve learned?"
"Admiral, we have just begun to pull back the layers of this onion," the Major revealed. "It’s one wild tale, and rest assured, the terrorists all know it. But I think we have just enough time to finish the holy moon-rock story before your first interview. Who wants to go next?"
Moshe rolled forward. "Elevating the m-moon god, calling the pagan Ka’aba a monotheistic shrine, and his screw up with the S-Satanic Verses weren’t Muhammad’s biggest goofs."
"No." Josh agreed. " There’s more to the special black stone - Allah’s moon-rock. According to Tabari’s Book of Creation, ‘Adam brought the Black Stone down with him from heaven. It was originally whiter than snow.’"
"From heaven?" the Admiral repeated. "Why Adam? I thought Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, in Mesopotamia. They’re part of the Hebrew Bible, right?"
"Right. And wrong," Isaac laughed. "According to Allah’s Messenger, Adam was ninety feet tall when he was expelled from heaven. He had been created from ‘dust,’ ‘fermented clay tingling hard,’ ‘spurting water,’ ‘contemptible water,’ ‘a drop of semen,’ ‘an embryo,’ ‘a single sperm,’ ‘a single cell,’ a ‘chewed up lump of flesh,’ ‘extract of base fluid,’ or simply ‘weakness,’ depending on where you look. There are thirty creation accounts and twenty-two variations in the Qur’an. ’Course, this must all make sense, because Allah insisted there are no contradictions."
"Was that before or after they dusted him?"
Isaac struggled to regain control. "Seriously, folks, Adam found himself not at the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates but in Ceylon. Missing heaven, the tall guy stood on a mountain so he could hear the angels sing. But he frightened them, so Allah shrunk him and shooed him away."
"If shrinking him eighty feet or so made a difference, their heaven must not be very high." Adams observed with a wry smile.
"You’re right, but they changed that, too."
"They changed heaven?"
"Yep. Their new rendition of heaven is great sex. Depending on whether you die a martyr by killing infidels or just barely make it in by saying the magic words, you get anywhere from two to seventy-two virgins. Non-stop whoopee."
"And what about the women? What do they get?" Sarah asked.
"Bad news, I’m afraid. Quoting from the Book of Belief, Chapter 17, verse 27, ‘The Prophet said: I was shown the Hell Fire and the majority of its dwellers are women who are disbelievers or ungrateful.’"
"Sounds like you can get to Hell from Mecca." Adams quipped.
"Ungrateful for what?" Sarah asked.
"I figured you’d want to know, considering how dismally Muslim women are treated today. You’re about to learn how they keep them from complaining. I quote again from the same verse: ‘It was asked, "Do they disbelieve in Allah or are they ungrateful?" He replied: "They are ungrateful to their husbands for the favors and charitable deeds they have done for them."’ Their Prophet said that Hell is filled with Muslim women that complain. So today they’re quiet, and live in hell as a result."
With broken ribs, Isaac struggled to join his friend on the wall. "According to Muhammad, Allah told Adam to search for the ‘Divine Throne.’ Adam, so his story goes, followed God’s mandate and journeyed to the Mount of Olives - the place we’re standing right now. Then, like Moses, he wandered in the Sinai. There he found mountains with ‘shiny black pyramids of rock.’ Eureka, he must have said, or some such thing. Adam then claimed that the Sinai was the ‘navel of the earth, round which it had spun as it came into being.’"
"Adam knew what a navel was? And I thought he was the only guy in creation without one." Sarah found that particularly humorous.
"So why don’t they covet the Sinai instead of this place?" Thor asked.
Newcomb knew. "There’s nothing there to covet," he said before returning to the story. "According to the Muslim account, one stone shone so brightly it illuminated all else - a perfectly white stone. Adam, of course, circumambulated it, in keeping with Islamic tradition."
"I thought the stone was black." Adams said.
"They have an explanation for that too, but first I need to relate the alternate version. See, Muslims have a second account of how they came into possession of the great Allah moon rock. This version starts the same way, but Adam brings the stone with him from Paradise. According to Tabari, he also brought the staff of Moses. The fact that Moses wouldn’t be born for thousands of years didn’t seem to matter. Tabari claims that the stone was the jewel of paradise upon which Adam wiped his tears - Eve wouldn’t let him play with the virgins, I suppose. Adam put the stone on a mountain near Mecca, where it lit up the sky like the moon."
"But there’s even m-more to this pet rock story. And m-mind you, we’re not just poking fun," Moshe was deadly serious. "Every Muslim is required to make a p-pilgrimage to the Ka’aba, to honor the sacred stone. They even make a big deal about kissing it. If we w-want to know why, understand their religion, this is important." Moshe shifted in his wheelchair. "According to M-Muslim tradition, Noah, another character out of our Bible, saw Adam’s body f-floating on top of the magical stone. Being a good M-Muslim, Noah sailed his ark around it seven times." Keceph circled his splinted and bandaged hand in the air. It still hurt.
Josh chuckled. "That would be circumnavigating, not circumambulating. Does he still get points for that?"
Thor ignored him. "Why did it turn black?"
Josh read the passage from Sufi ibn al-Arabi. "‘The Black Stone signifies the spirit... Its turning black is from the touching of menstruating women and signifies its becoming troubled and angry.’ Some today say it became like Jesus and took on the sins of the world."
The Admiral couldn’t believe what he was hearing. "Who’d kill for a religion as silly as this?"
"Oh yeah, and here’s the good part. After a long absence, Muhammad returned to Mecca to perform his last Hajj. According to ibn Abbas in the Hadith, the Prophet ordered his followers to do as he did. He first kissed the Black Stone. Then he pranced around it and the Ka’aba three times. His followers proceeded to walk the remaining four circumambulations."
"Kissed it..." Thor just shook his head. "And then pranced?"
"Yeah. According to Abdullah bin Umar, he always pranced. And every time he passed the stone he pointed to it and exclaimed ‘Allah is the greatest.’ He worshiped Allah, the pagan moon god, and his special rock. This is the foundation upon which Islam is based. It’s no wonder their behavior seems so irrational. Their religion is...is...."
"It’s ‘The Three Stooges do Divine Revelation,’" Sarah moaned.
"And catch this." Isaac put his hand on his comrade’s leg. "Umar bin al-Khattab was Islam’s second caliph. According to an account in the Hadith, even he knew better. Umar was troubled by Muhammad’s touching and kissing the black stone. It looked to him like pagan idolatry. So, Umar said, ‘No doubt, I know that you are a stone and can neither benefit anyone nor harm anyone. Had not I seen Allah’s Apostle kissing you, I would not have kissed you myself.’ Mind you, he’s talking to a rock. Muhammad evidently had that effect on people."
Yacob Seraph got up and marched - hobbled, really - around Moshe’s wheelchair. "You see, Admiral, every Muslim is required to make at least one pilgrimage, or Hajj, to Mecca and circum...whatever they call it...prance around the Ka’aba, and pay homage to the rock in which Allah, the moon god, was once thought to have lived."
"You are Allah, and upon this rock I will build my mosque," Sarah paraphrased Jesus’ remark to Peter. No one got it.
Looking at Adams, Isaac said, "I know, Thor. Promoting the pagan moon god doesn’t make much sense to me either."
"But I know what will. Back in Afghanistan," Yacob reminded the Admiral, "you thought Isaiah 21 was an apt depiction of our plight."
"Yeah. It seemed to depict our mission and our enemy."
"Y’know, that wasn’t all the prophet had to say about guys like this or about our situation. After the 21st chapter, Isaiah picks up our tale of woe with this verse: ‘terror, the pit, and the snare await you.’ Now think back to those boys singing praises to Allah while they’re torturing us, as I read from Isaiah 57. ‘Whom are you mocking; at whom are you sneering and sticking out your tongue? You brood of rebels, you children of deceit. You burn with lust...you sacrifice your children in the ravine and under the crags. The idols among you are smooth stones."
"With intel like that, who needs the Mossad?" Thor quipped.
"Sad but true. Now listen to this from Isaiah 59. ‘Your hands are stained with blood, you have spoken lies and given empty arguments. You conceive trouble and give birth to evil. Your deeds are violent, your feet rush to sin; you are swift to shed innocent blood. Your evil thoughts create ruin and destruction. No one who walks with you will know peace.... Truth is nowhere to be found for whoever shuns this evil becomes their prey.’
"And finally from Isaiah 42 and 44. ‘Do not tremble and be afraid. I will foretell what is to come. There is no God beside Me. There is no other Rock. All who make such idols and speak up for them are blind, ignorant in their shame. They will all come together and take their stand...but be brought down in terror and infamy."
Isaac pushed himself off the rock wall. Their discussion this brilliant morning had been like throwing a stone into a still pond. They had made an impression. "Gentlemen, we have told the Admiral the real reason for the Dome of the Hoofie Print and the sordid history of Allah, his Rock, and the Ka’aba. But I don’t think he believes us."
"Oh, I believe you. I just don’t believe it."
Yasman Alafat wasn’t very cheery these days. He had come so close, only to be thwarted by his own people. While the crucifixions had been great for Arab morale, their brutality had become an impediment to infidel capitulation.
Both America and the United Nations had offered to fulfill Yasman’s dream of a Palestinian state, one cut out of the heart of Israel. They had been willing to throw in East Jerusalem, including the Old City and the Jewish Temple Mount. What’s more, they had been within days of taking the rest of the city away from the Jews, making it an international place of prayer under the benevolent auspices of the secularists at the UN.
But now the dream was teetering. A new plan had to be devised to turn the tide, regain the upper hand. They had spewed lies and sacrificed children, but now they were desperate.
Chairman Alafat knew the answer. The very thought brought a devilish grin to his aging face. His plan was so diabolical it caused his pulse to race, caused his Parkinson’s-tormented face to stop quivering, if only for a moment.
The garbage business was proceeding apace. Anwar and Aymen had completed work on twenty of the twenty-four machines, transforming them from collecting trash to dispensing it. They were confident Allah would be pleased. At long last, the boys had assured themselves a brothel in Muhammad’s Paradise.
In many ways this project exceeded the planning that had been required to orchestrate the suicide bombings of the Twin Towers in New York City. Rather than stealing planes, they had to buy trucks and then re-equip them to perform a function opposite of that for which they had been designed. Rather than using existing jet fuel to obliterate structures, the disease they would be carrying had to be manufactured, smuggled through customs, and properly loaded into the machines. Instead of eight pilots, there would be twenty drivers. And the machines themselves were plenty hard to handle. In addition, someone had to deliver the powder to just the right place, at just the right time, in cities spread across America.
No one was more full of himself this day than Omen Quagmer. He had arranged it all. While Haqqani’s crucifixion spectacle had received mixed reviews, even among the Islamic faithful, there would be no such consternation when his plan, his leadership, his genius was revealed.
He had selected ten cities. Starting in the east, he would "condition" Miami, Atlanta, Washington, Philadelphia, and Boston. He had decided to spare New York, not out of sympathy but because his mob was afraid of their mob. The trash biz in the Big Apple was a dirty affair.
Moving west, he would roll trucks into Dallas and Chicago. The last cities to be conditioned would be San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego. He had decided to skip Seattle. He had too many friends there. While he would have liked to condition a dozen cities, he would have to settle for less. It wasn’t so much a problem of buying newer trash trucks to replace those that were too worn out to accept the blowers; it was the blowers themselves. The Feds were hot on their trail.
The newly formed Department of Homeland Security had identified several of the HVAC drivers from surveillance tapes. Both buildings in Washington had installed video surveillance cameras shortly after the Twin Towers were bombed. New Yorkers had purchased their systems within weeks of the first time Muslims had tried to blow up the World Trade Center - by detonating a truck bomb in the basement. One of the Islamic terrorists responsible for the initial attack had actually warned them of what was to come. Arrested in Pakistan and flown back to New York for trial, the terrorist had been all too eager to brag. When the helicopter carrying him to the court’s jail facility flew past the Twin Towers his guards removed his blindfold, and said, "You failed. They still stand." To which he had responded, "Not for long."
After searching their files, the FBI had found that the HVAC crewmembers names weren’t Carlos and Miguel. They were Mohamar and Assad. They had also discovered that they had no prior HVAC training, big surprise, and that they had spent time in Muslim hot spots around the globe.
Like the Twin Tower Twenty, these terrorists had been coddled by the German people, courtesy of their liberal student visa program. The World Trade Center bombing scheme had been hatched in Hamburg, planned and staffed there - not in Afghanistan, as so many had been led to believe.
The Feds claimed that these terrorists, like those before them, had also passed through London’s most infamous mosque - the very same mosque whose clerics had insisted, while being interviewed on the network news, that ‘Islam is a peace-loving religion.’ It was eloquently spoken and so reassuring. Of course, during the interviews, news anchors always failed to ask the Islamic clergy why the preponderance of terrorists were young Muslim men. Or why the most bloodthirsty came from their mosque and from the al-Kod mosque in Hamburg. Must have been just a coincidence.
On top of their game, the Feds had determined that some of the anthrax had been manufactured in Iraq and was of extraordinary quality - similar to that which had been mailed in previous years. It shouldn’t have been a surprise. With large and outspoken Muslim factions in their midst, Europe had become an impediment to America’s "supervision" of Saddam Hussein’s biological weapons facilities. And now, as so many times before, America was paying the price for Europe’s blindness.
And then there were the blowers. As Aymen had feared they might, the FBI had traced the equipment back through the distribution channel to a facility in Research Triangle Park. It wouldn’t be long before they came knocking.
Omen wasn’t ready, but he had to pull the trigger. If he hesitated, the whole affair would be a dud. The confetti would be confiscated, the trucks dismantled, and worst of all, the Americans would gloat at his expense.
"What are we going to do, Suzzi? Our approval numbers are in the crapper. Hell, anthrax is more popular than we are." The President was feeling blue. Feet up on her desk, Madam President was back in the Oval Office. Ditroe was sitting across the desk in a companion chair.
"Stay the course. Pull out of Saudi Arabia and give the Palestinians what they want. We won the election by promising to do just that."
"Yeah, but that was then and this is now. Sure, our Peace-In-Our-Time Resolution has the votes in the United Nations, but what about the sheeple? They want blood."
"You know our history. Americans never stay mad for long. Remember the Bushes? They both had approval ratings in the eighties when they were pummeling the bad guys, but they fell back to earth when the shooting stopped. The sheeple, as you call them, have a short attention span."
"So how do we regain the momentum we need to ram this thing through?" She took a drag on her oversized cigar.
Secretary Ditroe tried not to breathe. "Don’t you know those things’ll kill ya?"
The President took another puff. Taunting her Secretary of Defense, she blew the smoke in her face.
Thinking of killing, taunting, and smokescreens, Susan came up with a plan. "I’ve got an idea." She stood up and began pacing the elegantly paneled oval room.
The President put her feet back down on the floor. She leaned forward and placed her cigar in an ashtray, snuffing it out.
"Let’s start a war."
The President didn’t even move.
"Not a real war, you understand. Just threaten to start a war. We order the planes, the men, the ships to the Eastern Mediterranean, to the Persian Gulf. The anthrax dusters all hailed from there, right?"
"Yeah. Right-wing religious whackos. What’s your point?"
"We tell people the truth. We tell them that even if we’re not at war with the whackos, they’re at war with us."
"Tell the truth? Why? We’ve worked so hard saying just the opposite. So did our predecessor. In case you’ve forgotten, we’ve insisted that the war isn’t against Islam or Arabs - they’ve got the oil...remember? Besides, what makes you think people will accept the truth - or even that our friends in the press will report it?"
"Right now, they’ll eat it up. War causes ratings to soar. That idiot Admiral of yours and his long-legged bimbo have them all stirred up. Let’s give ’em what they want. Let’s start a war."
"I understand it’ll make us popular, at least for a little while. But how, pray tell, does it fulfill my campaign promise to bring peace?"
"Now you’re getting sentimental on me? All of a sudden you think it’s important to honor some old campaign slogan? Are you feeling alright? Last time I checked, you sold your husband out for a handful of votes."
"That’s not fair. By dumping his sorry carcass, I got a lot more votes than that. He was yesterday’s news."
"Right. So let’s make today’s news. Call up the troops. Send ’em off. Give the people what they want - patriotic we’re-not-going-to-take-it-anymore speeches. You can do it!"
"Without throwing up?"
"Puke your brains out afterwards, if you want. Just do it. You’re a politician. It should come naturally."
The President was starting to see the possibilities. "Okay, Suzzi, but what did you mean by, ‘threaten’ to start a war?"
"Just that. Send the troops, the planes, the boats, but don’t let them fire a shot. Just rattle the saber."
"And then when everyone says were overreacting, that America is just a big bully, that we should give peace a chance - we do. Get up there on your soapbox and tell the world that life is precious and that you can’t bear to have a single American boy shed his blood over the misguided adventures of others. As our Commander-in-Chief it is your sacred duty to protect our fighting men and keep them out of harm’s way. Tell them that rather than following the failures of the past, ours is a more enlightened generation, one that has learned how to resolve conflict. Say international disputes can’t be settled with violence."
"The media will love it. So will every leader in Europe. In fact, there probably isn’t one nation in a hundred that wouldn’t praise such a solution if it meant pulling our troops back." The President eyed her Secretary.
"Threaten war, give ’em peace. The whole trick is in the delivery. Your hawk charade has to be believable. You can do it!" the head of the Defense Department encouraged her Commander-in-Chief.
Thor’s first interview was held in the courtyard of the American Colony Hotel, a charming old structure with a history worth remembering. Back in the late nineteenth century, a Christian man had planned a move to the Holy Land in hopes of serving God. He sent his wife and four daughters on ahead, but in a great storm, their ship went down. Though his wife’s life was spared, his daughters perished.
Rather than giving in to despair and growing bitter, this man of faith sailed over the place where his children had died. There he wrote one of Christendom’s great hymns. Arriving in Jerusalem days later, he comforted his wife, and together they formed a colony of Christians devoted to serving others. Out of great tragedy, hope had been born.
"Hope. It is all I cling to these days," the former minister in the Palestinian Authority said. He was sitting with Thor and Sarah in a sunny courtyard. A lemon tree, a date palm, an olive tree, and a Lebanese cypress surrounded them. A cascading wall of dangling geraniums added fragrance and color.
"Why are you no longer with the Authority?" Adams asked. The man was so articulate, so well groomed, so presentable, it didn’t seem reasonable that he would be a former member of anything.
"We didn’t concur. I saw things one way; they saw them another."
"With whom was your disagreement?"
"It wasn’t just with Chairman Alafat. It was with all his advisors." The dashing gentleman in his black suit, black crew-neck shirt, and charcoal-gray overcoat paused. "You see, they aren’t very good at governing. Actually, that’s not right," he corrected himself. "They have no interest in governing."
"Are you inferring that they prefer being revolutionaries?"
"Are you willing to keep what I say anonymous?" he asked, sitting uncomfortably in a black wire-mesh chair.
"Yes, we’re here to learn, not to get anybody into trouble."
"Then let me tell you my history. I was educated in London. I have a Ph.D. I’ve lived around the world, including the States and throughout the Persian Gulf region. I came here because I’m an Arab, and because I hoped I could help."
"And hope is all I have left. Now there is only despair and poverty. Worse even than that, there is no plan for change."
"No plan?" Thor asked. As an interviewer, Barbara Walters he was not.
"In all the time I served, no one ever developed a plan to govern, a plan to build our economy, a plan to create the necessary infrastructure. They didn’t even try. They knew nothing of such things. They were all ‘freedom fighters’."
"That’s shocking!" Thor replied. "Those are baseline requirements. At one time, not so long ago, the Palestinians were considered the most free, prosperous, and best-educated Arabs in the world. There was plenty of talent. What happened, and when?"
"Oslo is the answer to both questions."
"Oslo? The European solution to the Palestinian problem? You got what you wanted - autonomy. The Europeans pressured the Israelis to give your people control over the Gaza Strip and some large metro areas like Ramallah, Bethlehem, and Jericho in return for a promise to squelch terrorism."
"That’s right. We got to form our own government - the Palestinian Authority. We established our own police force and a source of funding for these things. It should have been our greatest victory. It turned out to be our biggest defeat."
Considering the ignominious defeats the Arabs had suffered at the hands of the Jews in 1948, ’67, and ’73, that was saying something.
"We have lost a quarter million jobs here in Israel and another hundred and fifty thousand on our side. No one is working."
"Walk me through the math, doctor," Thor said. "Back in 1948 there were a few hundred thousand Arab refugees. Today there are what, maybe three million Arabs living in Israel. Is that right?"
"Yes, but nearly a million of those are Israeli citizens and have not been affected. They’re doing fine. The largest concentration of non-Israeli Arabs live in the Gaza Strip. About a million."
"The average family size is enormous, isn’t it? Six or seven children per household."
"That’s right," the doctor replied.
"And in the Muslim world, most women are prevented from working outside of the home, correct?" He nodded.
"So with the loss of four hundred thousand jobs, that means some ninety percent of your families have no income."
Again he nodded sadly. "Extreme poverty."
"Why is Oslo responsible for this?"
Thor shook his head. "I thought that was the very thing your people were fighting for - independence, separation from Israel." The Admiral was confused.
"My people are wrong," the doctor shrugged. "So are the politicians - and the media." He drew a long breath. "An independent Palestinian state is the worst thing that could possibly happen."
Adams’ prodigious jaw fell so low, it almost dislocated.
"I’ll bet this isn’t what you expected to hear from someone in the PA."
"No, sir. But in truth, very little of what I have learned so far squares with what I expected."
"Admiral, let me explain why separation from Israel hurt my people. Perhaps that will help. In the world there is one economic bus. The driver is an American. The front seats are occupied by the G-8. There are lots of passengers in the back; others are hanging on the side. Israel is on the bus. We are not. We jumped out the window."
"Oslo and intifada. Not knowing how to govern, the leadership in the PA focused on the one thing they knew how to do. Call it terrorism; call it freedom fighting. I don’t care. Whatever name you give it, there is nothing about it that helps build a desirable economy or a nation."
"Is there anyone working?"
"Only those paid by the Authority to do public jobs."
Public jobs? Thor thought. Does that include killing Jews? But instead he asked, "Where does that money come from?"
"The VAT and import duties. The Israelis pass on about sixty-five million shekels a month to the PA. They have started to withhold some recently because they claim Alafat and his ministers are skimming."
"Yes, but the Israelis have known that all along. They keep their money in Israeli banks, after all. There are no Palestinian banks or currency," the gentleman explained.
All the while, Thor wondered why the Israelis would pass on the revenues they collected, knowing that much of it would be used to kill them. He also wondered why the Europeans and the United Nations encouraged such behavior by making the PA their favorite charity.
"A recent poll showed that eighty-seven percent of my people think that their leaders are corrupt. Alafat has a thirty-percent approval rating. Yet the vast majority, seventy-five percent, favor giving his party, Fatah, more power by making Palestine an independent state. Doesn’t make sense, does it?"
"No, but neither does intifada. From what you’ve shared, killing Jews makes even less sense than separating from them."
"The killing has taken on a life of its own. The intifada was supposed to be against the Israeli army and the settlers."
Yeah, but they can shoot back so where’s the fun in that? Adams mused.
"My people have lost hope. The radicals are in charge now."
"And whose fault is that?"
"Oslo was oversold. It was a bad idea, and even more poorly executed."
No one ever blames themselves, the Admiral thought. Accepting responsibility and working to build things rather than coveting the possessions of others were attributes of another, more noble time and place.
"Would you characterize your people as being young and rebellious?"
"Seventy percent are under the age of twenty-five. They are half-educated, impressionable, and out of work. They have nothing but time on their hands. Time to hate. The situation is incendiary."
"The Jews have done what they had to do to protect themselves, it seems," Adams said. "They put up fences and barricaded the roads."
Before Oslo, there were no fences. Israelis had been responsible for policing the areas now under Palestinian control. With them gone, trouble was brewing. The PA police were fanning the flames of racial hatred rather than extinguishing them.
"Without access to the Israeli economy, there are no more jobs," the PA minister replied somberly. "My people have turned to violence."
The truth was a bit more complicated. When Alafat called for the first intifada against the Jews, the Palestinians had simply stayed home. It wasn’t because they couldn’t get to work; they just chose not to go. The barricades came much later, in response to a sharp escalation in terrorist activities. Jews didn’t like being killed. Even crazier, when the Israelis went in to defend themselves and stop the attacks, their defense was called an "offensive" by those responsible for reporting truth.
The sun was growing warm. The doctor removed his coat. "We needed the Israelis to invest in our territories by improving roads and delivering more water and electricity. Instead they built settlements. Seeing the roads and power lines go around my people made them resentful. And after Oslo, there was diminished access to Israeli jobs."
Adams wanted to ask why an educated man would expect the Jews to invest in his autonomous region rather than their own, especially following a decree from Alafat to slaughter them - intifada. He bit his lip instead.
"The only solution for my people is for us to be integrated back into the Israeli economy, to be back on the bus, if only hanging on by our fingernails."
The Admiral raised his eyebrows. "This is the antithesis of what the Palestinian leadership has been clamoring for, the opposite of what the Western world has been demanding. Under former President Bush’s direction, the UN called for Palestinian statehood. That would have made a bad situation intolerable. If I’m following you correctly, the Israeli-Palestinian meetings at Camp David in 2000 were a rotten idea. If the deal had been consummated, the Palestinian people themselves would have been worse off - far worse off - than they are now."
"It seems that rather than insisting that the Israelis trade land for peace, the world should be begging them to go in the opposite direction - to dissolve the boundaries and integrate the Arabs into Israel. That’s what’s in the best interest of the Palestinians, isn’t it?"
"The Palestinian people, yes, clearly, but not their leaders. That’s why you’ll never hear anyone ask for such a thing. You know, the PA publicly hangs people who advocate peaceful solutions."
"I will honor my pledge not to reveal your name." Adams comforted a nervous minister, although he was troubled. He, too, had seen the public lynching of Palestinians courageous enough to speak out against Alafat’s barbarism. "Can you tell me why your people don’t find new leadership?"
The handsome engineer just smiled. You could see it written all over his face: Americans are so naïve. Arabs may be blowing themselves up for virgins in paradise, but that doesn’t mean they’re suicidal. "Oslo was like a test, a transition...call it an engagement period. It did not go well. Nothing worked as it should have."
"If the engagement is rocky, it’s foolish to consummate the marriage."
Sitting up straighter, the good doctor looked directly at Adams. "This is my dream: I want statehood for my people, but a state without boundaries - a free exchange of capital, people, and ideas."
Imagine that. All the world together as one, without warring armies, living in peace as brothers. Each colorless and borderless realm unselfishly working to ensure that the fruits of their labors are shared with those in need. An unpolluted planet whose swords are turned into plowshares, making butter instead of bullets, where unambitious and virtuous leaders abstain from treachery, from coveting power, and from greed. A world where leaders are altruistic servants of their people. No problemo!
"You want what?"