"C’mon, Isaac, is all this necessary?" Thor was being made up, but this time it was to make him look bad, not good. Or more precisely, it was to make him look like a nobody, anybody other than who he really was.
"This has got to be the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard," the Major grumbled. "I think you’ve lost your marbles, pal." They were at Mossad headquarters, known as "the office" to insiders, trying to disguise Thor’s appearance.
"Maybe. But it’s something I’ve gotta do. I need to crawl into this enemy’s head. Figure out what makes ’em tick. How can I do that without talking to them?"
"Talking with terrorists. I don’t believe it. You’re supposed to kill ’em, remember? Now you want to chitchat." Isaac was struggling. "This makes what Danny Pearl did look like a walk in the park, and in case you’ve forgotten, they killed him. They invited him to lunch, then they cut off his head. Do you want to see the video?"
He continued to nag his friend. "Say you get into trouble, say they figure out who you really are; there’s nothing we can do to save you. You go in there, you’re on your own. We’re talking about Zone A. There are more terrorists per capita in there than any place on earth."
"I understand the risk. No guns, no wires, no cameras, no nothing. You drive me to the border and I walk across on my own."
"This is insanity. Why not meet with some more Shin Bet agents, IDF Intelligence, our Mossad guys, even with the PA, for cryin’ out loud. How much more do you need to know?"
"Plenty. Listen, Isaac, you’ve been great. I’ve learned more than I thought possible. But it’s not enough. Agents grow callous, military intelligence is an oxymoron, and politicians all have agendas."
"Sharon’s friend, the Director General, was plenty candid. He knew every Arab dictator personally. He laid it on the line, told you all you need to know about them. So did everybody else I introduced you to, including the Generals and Knesset Members. You don’t need to do this!"
"You sound like Sarah," Adams complained. "She’s already given me an earful. She’s starting to sound more like a wife than a girlfriend."
"What you need is a mother," Isaac moaned. He gave up, unable to dissuade his friend from going forward with his foolhardy adventure.
"I’ve been called to do this, Isaac. I’m following orders."
Makeup finished, an agent snapped a picture. Adams looked positively average. His hair was now black, not brown, streaked with gray, making him look ten or fifteen years older. He sported a wispy, graying goatee that he’d swear was real if he hadn’t seen it glued on. They’d given his skin a grayish pallor that made the older man’s hair believable. His eyes were hazel and somewhat hidden behind thick-rimmed glasses. He was considerably heavier, sporting love handles and a bit of a gut. His dress was sloppier too, wrinkled and uncoordinated, something totally incongruous for a military man, especially an officer. They even dirtied his nails. As Thor looked at himself in the mirror, he saw an author, a nobody.
Satisfied, he was led downstairs to a waiting cab. Isaac joined him in the back seat.
"The driver’s Shin Bet. They’re in charge, because technically you’re not leaving the country." The Shin Bet’s beat was domestic intelligence, not unlike America’s FBI. Isaac’s Mossad was strictly international.
"Technically is the operative word, sir," the driver said. "You’re entering the twilight zone. You’re headed to a place without laws. It’s the domain of terrorists, a place where they use Islam to justify murder."
"Forget the media’s pictures of us rolling tanks into defenseless civilian areas. These people are better armed than, well, you-know-who." New-comb explained, referring to their prior adventure.
"They’d kill you for a shekel." It was the driver again. "Be careful what you say. And for heaven’s sake, don’t provoke them."
"Whatever you do, don’t let them take you in too far. And make sure you’re out by sunset." Isaac had no idea how the Admiral was going to influence either of these requests. His hosts would be armed to the teeth. Adams was only carrying a pen. Mightier than the sword, perhaps, but no good at all for hostage extractions.
"Unless you’re on God’s errand, my friend, I’ll never see you again."
The driver took a deep breath and let it out loudly, expressing his frustration. "We’ll drop you off in no-man’s land and then we’ll have to turn around. You’ll need to walk a hundred yards west. On the left side of the street, the driver of a green minivan will flash his lights three times. When you acknowledge the signal, he’ll make a u-turn. You get in. The driver will ask if you’re a friend of Niam’s."
"Niam is the restaurant owner, right?" Thor asked.
"Yes, that’s right. He thinks you’re an author and that you’re writing a book on the Palestinians’ struggle for independence. Niam’s a Palestinian Christian, which puts him in a bad spot." Isaac explained.
"His people hate him because he’s not a Muslim. He thinks we hate him because he’s an Arab. He wants out but he’s got something we want."
"Niam bought into the PA rhetoric, Thor. The leadership said that they were fighting for all Palestinians, Muslims and Christians alike, and he believed them. So he signed up for Force 17," Isaac said, looking at his unfamiliar friend.
"That’s Yasman Alafat’s palace guard, his personal bodyguards. Kinda like your Secret Service except that they, like Fatah, are terrorists."
Adams shook his head. Getting an intelligence briefing from a cab driver was odd. He was beginning to feel like James Bond. "So what’s he have that you want so bad?" he asked. Adams was as out of character as the cab driver, not looking the least bit like the warrior he was.
Isaac answered, "To stay alive, Niam has had to befriend the crazies. That, shall we say, makes his Christmas card list real interesting. We told him that we’d scratch his back if he’d scratch ours. Give us his pals’ names and addresses and we’d let him and his family emigrate."
"He said no. Something about not wanting to be a traitor. So he’s stuck." Stopped at the light, the driver was even more pensive.
"I’m guessing that the folks on his Christmas card list don’t celebrate Christmas." The Admiral was sharp today.
"No," the cabbie snickered. "They’re all Muslim militants."
"And they’re in some rather interesting clubs." The whole world had come to know their names. "Islamic Jihad, Hamas, the PLO’s el-Fatah, Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, Hezbollah, and al-Qaeda. No Boy Scouts or Indian Guides."
"The Shin Bet called Niam a couple of days ago - after you got this wild idea of yours, and, well, we told him we’d appreciate some intros. No names, no addresses, no reprisals - just conversation. If it all works out, we’ll cut him a deal."
He’ll treat you right, but his ‘friends,’ that’s a different story. They’re heavily armed, and, well, let’s put it this way: they’re a few Black Hats shy of a minion." Isaac was worried, but he hadn’t lost his sense of humor.
"Niam will provide introductions and will be your translator. He’s well educated and speaks Arabic and English fluently."
"He thinks your name is Curt Smith."
"You’ll find a wallet and passport in your pants. We used your old address in Missouri so it would be easy to remember," the Shin Bet cab driver explained. "You’re married. Two daughters."
"This is it, pal, your last chance. The border is just over that rise. I’m begging you. Don’t do this," the Major pleaded. "This isn’t your war."
Adams slapped the top of Newcomb’s leg. "I’ll be fine. I’ve got way too much to live for to be yanking these guys’ chains. I’m just going to ask some questions. I’ll be nice, pretend I’m sympathetic, then bail."
Both men looked at Adams with pleading eyes, shaking their heads. They prayed he wouldn’t open the door. But the man-of-war turned man-of-faith followed his calling. He lifted the latch and strode bravely toward hell.
Thor did his best to conceal his limp as he made his way through no- man’s land. It was a foreboding world of desolate buildings, barbed wire, cement barriers, armed guards, and spindly olive trees struggling to grow through rubbish-laden piles of rock.
In the distance he spotted the green van. On cue it flashed its lights. Adams gave a coy wave, acknowledging the signal. The van turned around in front of him. A moment later he opened the door.
"Friend of Niam’s?" the driver asked as Thor climbed inside.
"Curt," he offered, holding out his hand. "Yeah, I am."
"We’re closer than brothers," the driver said, speeding off. That would be the extent of their conversation for a while.
Thor gasped as he got his first glimpse of the war-ravaged town. Buildings had been destroyed. The IDF, the Israeli Defense Forces, had done what armies do - kill people and break things.
The experience was surreal. Thor found himself flinching as children, some as young as seven or eight, darted out of boarded-up buildings into the street. Seeing Adams’ non-Arab features, they turned and pointed their guns at the speeding van. Are they toys? He couldn’t tell. They looked real, even to a trained eye. The youngsters, all boys, pulled back the actions on their weapons, giving the appearance they were chambering a round. All the while Thor wondered why they had been left unsupervised in the streets. Why aren’t these kids in school? There wasn’t an adult in sight. It seemed bizarre. Where are their mothers? Why so many guns?
As they turned the corner, the driver slammed on the brakes, bringing the car to a screeching halt. The Admiral flew forward against the dash. Face pressed up against the windshield, Adams saw why he’d braked so violently. Four boys, ten to twelve years old, were climbing out of a storm drain in the middle of the road. As they emerged, they rolled up their sleeves as if they wanted to pick a fight. With the van stopped, they walked menacingly toward it, shoulder to shoulder. They too were armed.
They may have been children, but Thor knew that the guns they were packing didn’t discriminate based upon the age of the finger pulling the trigger. It got worse. Two of the four boys unsheathed their pistols, raising them so that they were aimed directly at his head. He saw them smile, as if it were a game. Adams was too bewildered to duck. They just stared at each other, eyes and gun barrels.
The driver took his foot off the brake, accelerating ever so slowly. As he crept forward, the boys reluctantly moved aside. Two young gunmen were now standing within a meter of Adams. The business end of their pistols scraped the window. Thor turned, looking into their eyes, trying to read their thoughts. What on earth is happening here?
With the road clear ahead, the driver accelerated. But the landscape didn’t change. Block after block, it was the same eerie scene. They passed through a shopping district, but it was abandoned, locked up. Giant steel doors now barred what had once been a beehive of activity.
"Where are the adults? Why so many kids? Why are all the shops closed?" Adams asked. "Is it a holiday?"
"There is no business. No jobs. No money. Nobody works anymore." The driver said it matter-of-factly, like it shouldn’t have been a surprise.
"And those boys back there - were the guns real?"
"Yes, but they didn’t kill you."
Is that good news or bad? Adams wondered, thankful to be alive. This was unlike anyplace he had ever seen. Passing street after street of sealed doors gave the now-pudgy Admiral a sinking feeling. Poverty breeds nothing but trouble, he had come to learn.
The driver headed toward an open square. The buildings on all sides were blown apart. Once-proud signs now teetered in the breeze. Black smoke had stained their faces. Rubble covered the sidewalks; concrete and broken glass lay strewn everywhere. A desperate clash of cultures had turned this place into a war zone. And it was no distant memory, no haunting reminder of battles long past. These wounds were still open and raw; the injuries hadn’t had time to heal.
The damage had been left unrepaired. Each building told a story, not unlike the burned-out villages in Vietnam. They were silent spokesmen, screaming out, "You have an enemy."
They turned a corner and suddenly everything changed. The square was alive. While there were no cars, and certainly no tourists, it was now evident where all the adults had gone. With their shops closed they had acquired a new vocation. Like the children before them, they were playing army. But this time there was no question as to whether the guns were real.
It was a motley collection of souls. Some were dressed in army fatigues, while others had stepped right out of GQ. Many wore tattered civilian clothes. There were no flowing robes or turbans so reminiscent of the Arabs Thor had fought in other parts of the world.
The guns they played with were an eclectic mix as well. Russian Kalashnikovs, multi-national Galiels, Israeli Uzis, and American M-16s, all with clips inserted. This spelled trouble. The glares Adams received as he sped past the townsfolk needed no translation. He was an infidel, defiling their holy ground.
A few hundred meters past the town square, the van came to an abrupt stop. Without a word, the driver opened his door, stepped out, and walked away. As he did, another Arab man rose from behind a wall, walked around the van, and climbed into the driver seat. Without saying a word, he put the car in gear, turned right, and accelerated away from the square.
"Are you Niam?" Thor asked.
They drove on in silence. Thor was beginning to think that this might not have been his all-time brightest idea. The sporadic scenes of milling gunmen added to his consternation. He shot God a line. I’m doing this for you. Keep me safe.
After a ten-minute eternity, the van with the stoic at the wheel stopped suddenly in front of a three-story stone building. A large man, every bit of six foot five and three hundred pounds, opened the passenger door.
"I’m Niam." He reached out his bear-like paw, grinning.
"Follow me," His voice was reassuring. Niam wore a disarming smile.
They entered the large stone fortress of a building through a set of thick steel doors. At each turn they passed men who looked like bodyguards. Niam, with Thor a step or two behind, turned right, descended a narrow set of stairs, turned right again, and entered a large room in the basement. The scene was right out of the movies.
An eight-foot-long green Formica table occupied the center. Rugged and massive, the table was surrounded by eight utilitarian metal chairs, the kind one might expect to see in a prison. This was the only furniture in the room, giving it the appearance of an interrogation cell. The ceiling was uncomfortably low, barely six feet. The light fixtures were broken, with bulbs and wires exposed but operational. The floor was concrete, as were the walls. The only window was a small slit, up high, covered with iron bars. If the steel door was closed, no one would find him. Ever.
Maneuvering around the light fixtures, Adams plopped down, pulling out his pen and a small notepad. As he always did, he managed to find a seat facing the only exit. Men in high-risk professions never sit with their backs to trouble - or in this case, freedom.
Niam set the stage. "Your first interview will be with Fatah and their Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade. I’ve arranged for you to meet their Captain. He’s in charge of the military wing for this region, the second largest in the country. He said he was bringing his top lieutenants. You’ll have two hours to question them. After they leave, you’ll meet with Hamas, Hezbollah, called Islamic Jihad here in Palestine, and al-Qaeda."
It sounded like a terrorist delicatessen.
The first contestant entered the room hesitantly, checking the darkened corners of the basement. It was as if he were walking on eggs. He was clean shaven, with short, dark hair. His dress was a cross between military and business casual. As he cautiously made his way to the table he began barking commands into a small handheld radio. In Arabic, they made little sense to Adams, but his tone was one of authority.
By the time he had reached the table, he was joined by an officer, a diminutive man dressed in smart-looking military fatigues. Seconds later a third man, tall and rugged, also in a jungle-green uniform, slid in behind the other two. He was Hollywood handsome, with a strong chin, curly hair, broad shoulders, and a near-perfect smile. He canvassed the room like a professional.
It was obvious to Adams that the leader didn’t much like his strategic disadvantage, having his back to the door. Though they were in his territory, Fatah had enemies.
Niam introduced the leader by name, saying that he was a Captain. But he did so with a warning, a stipulation. He said that repeating his name would constrict the scope of the interview.
Adams acknowledged that he understood, making a pledge to keep all parties anonymous. Unlike Jews and Arabs, the Admiral had no use for reprisals; he simply wanted information - he wanted to learn.
With a nervous grin the diminutive leader reached out and accepted the Admiral’s extended hand. He had a surprisingly weak handshake. His hands were thin, even frail. There were no calluses.
Sitting with his back to the door, across the table and to Adams’ left, he said, "I am the most wanted man in this country." Bragging, he continued, "The Israelis’ Shin Bet has me at the top of their list."
"They think I’m responsible for the deaths of many Jews, including the most recent killings."
"Which killings?" Thor asked, wiping his right hand on his pant leg. It was as if the urge to kill was contagious.
"The settlers on the bus to Emmanuel." He smiled, turning to face his lieutenants. They seemed equally pleased.
"That was done with rifles." Adams had read the papers.
"Yes, we prefer not to use suicide bombers. We are soldiers."
"Were you responsible for killing those eleven people?"
The leader’s face erupted into another uncontrollable grin. He wiggled in his chair and tried to look away. "I will not tell you how many Jews I have killed." They had disabled the bus with explosives, then over the next few minutes had lobbed grenades at the passengers and shot them with assault rifles as they tried to escape.
"There have been many?"
He looked away again. He could not hold the Admiral’s gaze.
Niam translated, turning the rhetorical statement into a question. The Captain nodded.
"He says yes." Niam proclaimed, almost laughing at himself. A nodding head was universal. So was the delight that was written all over the "soldier’s" face.
The lieutenants shuffled in their chairs. They would have preferred to pace. They, like their leader, were very uncomfortable. Thor decided to change the subject. He already knew that terrorists killed civilians; the question was why.
"I noticed the uniforms. What organization are you part of, and why did you join?’" Niam translated seamlessly.
"Fatah. The majority of Palestinians belong, that’s why."
"What is Fatah, and who is its leader?" Adams asked.
"It’s a political party. We’re part of the military wing of the PA. Alafat is in charge. I report to him," the leader said in a manner that questioned "Curt’s" intelligence.
"I thought the PA had a police force, not an army."
The PA, or Palestinian Authority, was the sanitized and politically expedient new name for what had once been the world’s largest and most heinous terrorist network, the PLO. Another acronym, it stood for Palestine Liberation Organization. More correctly, it stood for murder, kidnapping, and mayhem. Its name betrayed its Communist roots, as did the one-party system that supported it. In fact, as in the Soviet Union, the party, Fatah, preceded and superceded the government.
"Think of the PA as the government and Fatah as the party. The party has a political wing and a military one." The Captain seemed surprised by "Curt’s" questions. Real journalists knew Fatah’s roots and purpose.
"These gentlemen are all from the military side. They are army men." Niam stated what was clearly obvious.
"But we are not killing now," the leader said in a disappointed tone.
"The bus shooting you said you are being sought for - it was just a few days ago, wasn’t it?"
"Yes. That was then. This is now. Alafat hadn’t asked for a cease-fire."
"Were you involved in planning the ambush and shooting?"
"Yes, but not alone. We worked with Hamas and Islamic Jihad."
"Hamas? I thought Alafat ordered you to put Hamas members in jail."
"Yes. That is why we are looking for them."
"Yesterday they were your partner, today they’re your enemy? Next week are you going to ask them to join the PA?"
"Sure. Why not?"
Following this line of reasoning, Thor asked, "If Yasman Alafat wakes up tomorrow and asks you to start killing again, will you?"
The Admiral was dumfounded. He had been told that Yasman Alafat was now a diplomat and that even if he had once been a terrorist, he had left that life behind. Now he was a peace-loving man, interested only in serving his people by negotiating a political settlement. He was the winner of a Nobel Peace Prize. His tools were words, not bullets. Or so the world had been led to believe.
"Why did you agree to meet with me?"
"Talking to writers is important. I did a TV interview before coming here. The world needs to understand our situation."
"What do you want us - Americans - to know?"
"That it’s your fault," the diminutive leader responded crisply. It would not be the last time Thor would hear this.
"Radical Islam is America’s fault - you and the Jews."
Why did he begin by pointing a finger at Islam? But this was the question, Adams knew, so he asked it: "Why?"
"First, you must know we are not like them. Fatah is not extreme. We do not want to push Jews into the sea. We only want them out of Palestine - out of our land." Although he didn’t say it, his superiors defined Palestine to be all of Israel. It’s what their maps showed. It’s what they taught their children in school. Even the logo of the PLO shows all of Israel. "I was raised in occupation." The Captain’s tone was defiant. "Our goals are reasonable; so are our methods. We only want what is rightfully ours. We want to occupy our land, to live in peace in our own state, with our own people, and our own passports. They are the crazy ones."
"They? You mean Hamas and Islamic Jihad?"
"Yes. They are still in the minority here, but their numbers are growing rapidly - very, very rapidly."
"Why is that?"
"You saw our town. No one is working. People are starving. And they, the leaders of Hamas and Jihad, have all the money."
"Before I answer, you need to know how we are suffering. No one has worked for almost sixteen months."
"Since the start of the last intifada, right?"
An intifada is a call to arms. Alafat had told his followers to terrorize the Israelis into submission. The blood bath that followed had left the parties deeply divided, each wary of the other. Barricades had replaced roads, rhetoric had replaced reason, and death had swallowed hope.
"Yes, intifada. Since that time we have suffered. The only way we can feed our families is with the help of other Arab nations. But their money comes with an agenda - one that causes our people to think bad thoughts - very bad thoughts."
"What do you mean?"
"They promote radical Islam. That leads to Hamas and Islamic Jihad."
"Islam? How does that lead to terrorist groups like these?"
"I am a Muslim. So are my men. We observe all of the holidays with our families. We adhere to many of the rituals. But they do not think like us. They are crazy, more violent."
When men crazy enough to gloat over killing a busload of innocent people call other people crazy, they must be, Thor reasoned. "Does this violent form of Islam focus on the Prophet’s speeches? Is it political?"
"Yes. It is not the same as what I believe."
"Is it popular?"
"Yes. It will soon be the majority. We have very little time."
Adams had found his answer, but switched gears as he saw Fatah grow uncomfortable with the previous line of questioning. They did not want to talk about the influence of Islam.
"If you could have one or two of the following things, but not all three, which would be your biggest priority: possession of this land, political autonomy, or a productive economy - an end to poverty?"
The Captain looked at his Lieutenants. They appeared to be having a heated conversation. It was as if they wanted to give the approved answer.
"They say they want this land." Niam translated. "It is where they were born. It is the most important thing to them. Autonomy is next, followed by the economy."
"Curt Smith" scribbled notes furiously as he talked. "If you could have your own state with a vibrant economy somewhere else nearby, you’d give that up to fight over this pile of rocks?"
"Yes." He had heard them right.
Israel was little more than a rock-strewn wasteland with a violent history. Much of the land was hostile and mountainous. It was dry, and rocky to a fault. While the Jews had transformed small sections of it into productive garden oases, there was better land almost everywhere.
"You said they - the Islamic groups, Hamas and Jihad - have the money. Is that why they are growing?"
The Captain and his lieutenants looked at Curt Smith like he was from another planet. "It’s the only reason the crazy groups are growing. Money is at the root of everything."
"But who wants groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad to grow? Where is the money coming from?"
The Fatah leader explained, "We get money, food, and supplies from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, the Emirates, Iraq, and Ir...." He stopped abruptly, mid-sentence.
It appeared that the Captain had started to say Iran but had caught himself. Niam’s translation had stopped at Iraq too, but the slip had not escaped Thor’s notice. The truth was as obvious as the fifty tons of bombs on the Karine A. Yet denying unpleasant realities had become part and parcel of everyday life in the twilight zone.
"These countries used to just give us money, but now it’s supplies and money."
"What kind of supplies do they send you?"
The Fatah Captain had to look away. As much as Adams wanted to know about the "supplies," the leader’s body language made two things clear: he knew, and he wasn’t going to say.
"What is the problem with giving you money?"
"With money there’s too much skimming."
"What do you mean ‘skimming’?" The Admiral knew the answer. He just wanted to see if the Palestinians would own up to their problem.
The combatants just stared at each other. Niam answered. "In every sector there is what you would call a mob boss. The most famous is Jube in Jericho, but they’re everywhere. In Bethlehem there are many ‘Jubes.’ They skim money off of the top and spread the remainder among those who are the most loyal." It was shades of Mogadishu. There, Muslim warlords had skimmed food, medicines, and supplies, causing hundreds of thousands to die needlessly.
"Are supplies and money coming from the ruling families and the governments, or are they coming from more secret sources?"
"Both. The Saudi Royal family provides hundreds of millions." In truth, Saudi was the PA’s single biggest supporter, to the tune of $400 million dollars a year.
"I have heard that these governments reward the families of the suicide bombers. Is that true?"
"Yes, of course."
"How much, and who pays?"
"We do not like to use suicide bombers."
"Yes, I know. You use rifles. You are soldiers." Targeting civilians, he thought, but didn’t say. "But do you know how much is paid to the families of suicide bombers? Do you know who pays it?"
"The government of Iraq pays fifteen thousand, the Syrians, ten thousand. Iran also pays ten thousand. The Saudis have no set price, but they pay the most."
"Dollars? Shekels? What?"
"Dollars. They have lots of dollars. Your dollars."
"But there is more," the diminutive Lieutenant added. "The families are taken care of for the rest of their lives. They are given the best housing, all the best things. Other sons are even offered the most beautiful women. The rest of their children get free university educations." He sounded jealous. His people had been taught to hate, and they were being rewarded for it. The Palestinians had become mercenaries.
"Sometimes they get even more," the tall Lieutenant said. "You know the story of the Palestinian girl and mother who were shot by the Israeli soldier?"
Thor nodded. He had seen the film on CNN five or six years before. It was a haunting example of what fear can do to a man’s judgment in the stress of combat. To their credit, Adams recalled, the Israelis had put the soldier in jail and apologized to the world for his behavior.
"The woman’s husband received over one million dollars from Saudi’s King Fahd, King Hussein, and the Sultan of Brunei. It was a reward for the good it had done our cause."
"The money from Iran and Syria goes to Hezbollah mostly, then Hamas," he claimed, supporting the party line. "The Syrians and the Iranians do not care so much about the Palestinian people. But it is good for them to have agents here who will follow their orders."
"You Americans are often fooled by the Iranians, I think. You did not know why they offered to support the U.S. in Afghanistan."
"Why did they?"
He smiled. "They knew that as soon as you were gone, they would step in and control the government. Last time the Pakistanis financed the Taliban. Now it is the Iranians’ turn to control Afghanistan. They are all neighbors, you know."
The moment the Americans had lost interest, that very thing had happened. Warlords had crawled out of the ruins and swarmed down upon the people, all too eager to use their Iranian weapons to kill their brothers.
"Is there a relationship between Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad? Are these the favorites of the Iranians?"
"They are the same, really. Yes. You should know the Syrians and the Iranians are very close. They do many things together."
"You said earlier that these groups were growing very fast - Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad. When did they start growing, and will they become the majority?"
"Radical Islam started to grow with the first intifada in ’88. It took off following the Oslo accords. It became much worse after the failed Camp David meetings with Clinton. That’s when Sharon came to power. Now it is all about the money. You buy support here with dollars."
"Everyone is out of work. There is no economy. Would you let your children starve, or would you accept their money?" the Captain asked rhetorically. "Do you think they just give it away out of kindness?"
Niam talked with them in Arabic and summarized in English. "If you accept their money and their food, you must accept their authority and their way of thinking - their form of Islam. They all have people. They assign someone to every family that accepts their money. Soon everybody is thinking the same way."
"You go along or starve," one of the Lieutenants added.
"You get what you pay for," the Fatah Captain interjected. "If you had money, you could buy loyalty too," he said with a devilish grin. "Support comes from dollars. Sometimes it’s even your dollars."
"What do you mean?"
"Your government gives the Egyptian government two point seven billion dollars a year. Some of that money comes right here, through tunnels into Gaza. The Egyptians don’t like the Palestinian people either. Their money goes to Hamas and Islamic Jihad."
What he had said was true. The Israelis had offered to give the Gaza Strip back to the Egyptians, but they wouldn’t take it. What wasn’t true was Egypt’s promise. Israel had returned the Sinai in exchange for peace. Yet the Egyptians were among the largest suppliers of war materials to the Islamic militants, including Russian-made SAM missiles. Worse, their schools, mullahs, and media were the most vitriolic - openly preaching and teaching that Jews and Americans should die. A dollar doesn’t buy what it used to.
"What about the Oslo accords caused militant Islam to grow?"
"The Israelis cheated. Their government was taken over by the radical parties, the Shas and the Likud. They built more settlements on our land."
"Did you know that we were trained by the Americans?" the most handsome of the terrorists asked.
"We not only pay you to kill Jews, we train you too?" Adams asked.
"Yes," the Lieutenant replied brightly. "My friend and I were trained in the United States, in Virginia, by the CIA."
"We were there forty days. There were nineteen of us," the other said.
"As we got ready to land, they made us put our window screens down. We were blindfolded during the drive, too." The first Lieutenant smiled.
"You said it was in Virginia. What part?"
"It was a base of some kind. There were many trees, giant trees, and a big body of water, a sea or a bay."
"Fatah gets help from America. We are good friends," the terrorist said. "You pay us about a hundred million dollars a year."
Adams lifted his mock glasses to rub his eyes. He was trying to comprehend what he had heard. How could America be so stupid? Who was making these decisions? "What does Fatah want?"
"We want pre-1967 borders. UN Resolutions 181 and 242."
Thor scribbled down another note. He was thinking. If all they wanted was pre-’67 borders, why did they attack in ’67? This made no sense. Not only was the West Bank part of Jordan at the time, and Gaza part of Egypt, Alafat’s PLO was at war with Jordan. I just don’t get it. The fact that Nasser had said the object of the ’67 War was to destroy Israel might have been a clue.
But the Admiral knew that line of questioning would lead to trouble, so he tried a different approach. The angels were already working overtime. "Back at the end of the Clinton administration in 2000, the Palestinians were offered most everything they wanted. Why did your Chairman turn it down?"
"Not everything," the Captain said. "We were not given Jerusalem."
"You were offered east Jerusalem, including the Jewish Temple Mount. The agreement would have given you ninety-five percent of the West Bank and all of Gaza. Statehood. This land we’re in right now."
They conferred among themselves in Arabic. "The refugee problem. That’s why we turned it down."
Alafat wanted Arabs to flood back into what he called Palestine. The more the merrier. While those who were here were breeding like rabbits, with an average of seven children to a family, they were still outnumbered by Jews two to one. But if the immigration floodgates were opened and another five million Arabs were allowed to enter, they would instantly be in the majority. Mind you, Alafat’s PA couldn’t take care of those who lived under its domination, so wanting more was clearly political. And there was one other little detail Alafat failed to mention when he cried for the "right of return for Palestinian refugees." Any of the few hundred thousand adults at the time of "exile" would be seventy-five today.
"Those claiming to be Palestinians already have a state in which you are the majority. You represent seventy percent of Jordan, and thanks to the Syrian invasion, you control Lebanon as well. Why aren’t those Palestinian states? Or why not go to Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia? They have plenty of land. And they all say they love you - the Prince, the Ayatollah, the King, Emir."
"Don’t go there," Niam suggested. "I don’t think it is wise."
Thor sighed. He knew the real answer anyway. There really was no such thing as the "Palestinian People." It was a myth, a marketing ploy. They were just Arabs with an attitude. The chip on their shoulder was the only thing that made them different from the other hundreds of millions of Arabs surrounding Israel. And it was why no one wanted them.
The land had originally been called Canaan, named after Abraham’s uncle twice removed. When Abe had settled there, about 2000 B.C., the Canaanites, Perizzites, and a few other tribes inhabited the land. By the time of the Exodus, in the mid-1400s, they had been joined by the Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites. Between Joshua’s conquest, begun in 1406, and Israel’s golden age under David, about 1000 B.C., these peoples had all but disappeared.
But as the Jews had risen in numbers and power, two coastal nations had reigned in small niches in the north and south of the Promised Land. The Philistines were located near today’s Gaza, and the Phoenicians, in today’s Lebanon. The Assyrian conquest in the seventh century B.C., followed by the Babylonian invasion in the sixth, had not spared these seafaring peoples. They, like the Canaanites before them, had vanished without a trace.
Unlike the now-extinct Philistines, the Jews returned to Judea after seventy years of Babylonian captivity, only to witness successive waves of conquest. In 70 A.D., however, the Jews were once again exiled from their ancestral homeland. Finally, in a desperate attempt to sever the Jews’ emotional attachment to Judea, the Romans invented the name "Palestinia" in 135 A.D. However, Israel’s national memory was not so easily obliterated. They never forgot that this rocky piece of ground between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea was their homeland, no matter what their overlords insisted on calling it.
After the fall of Rome, the moniker Palestinia was largely forgotten, a mere historical footnote. That is, until the end of World War I. Following the defeat of the Turks, the British dusted off the old Roman epithet, incorrectly referring to Judea as "Palestine." The indigenous Arabs, who until that time had called the place Syria, took the name upon themselves, though they were genetically unrelated to the Philistines of old. But by calling themselves Palestinians and the land Palestine it caused the world to think it was theirs and that the Jews were trespassing. However, there have been no "Palestinian" people for the last 2,600 years. And there has never been a Palestinian state outside of Gaza.
Niam was getting progressively more nervous, constantly looking at his watch. The second set of terrorists had called him repeatedly on his cell phone, asking if the coast was clear. The first meeting had run a little long, and thanks to recent events, there was discord growing among the Muslim militants. The PLO’s Fatah was now hunting Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The first group had to leave before the second could arrive.
Adams knew that it was all a charade. In previous days he had talked to enough Arabs to understand the game they were playing. Alafat had come under pressure from America and Europe to diminish terrorist killings. Reining in terror was his sole responsibility. His promise at Oslo to do this very thing is why the Israelis gave Alafat what neighboring Arabs would not - territory and autonomy. But as time would prove, his promise was worthless. With Jews out of his autonomous regions, terror increased rapidly. And rather than admit that his own party, Fatah, had been responsible, Yasman blamed the atrocities on Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad - and even on the Jews. He had promised the West that he would put the offending parties in jail.
In actuality Fatah jailed but a handful of foot soldiers. They were taken from their homes with a promise of good food, a comfortable stay, and a quick release. According to Thor’s Palestinian sources, the terrorists were even told that the only reason they were being jailed was to appease the gullible Americans. This reality became painfully obvious moments later. When Niam told Fatah that they had to go so the meetings with Hamas and Jihad could begin, they laughed.
And so it was. Within seconds of Fatah saying goodbye, Thor found himself shaking hands with an entirely different breed of terror. These fine folks were introduced as Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and al-Qaeda. Unlike their predecessors, their uniforms were not coordinated. They had evidently not been trained by the CIA, nor were they supported by the U.S. Government or the European Union, the PA’s most vocal benefactor.
The Hamas representative was a tall, lean young man. Clean shaven and soft spoken, he carried an assault rifle, clip inserted and safety off. He proceeded to place the weapon on the table before him.
"How did you get your M-16?" was Adams’ first question. Although he was intimately familiar with the gun, it looked different, somehow larger and more deadly, from this vantage point.
The M-16 was America’s rifle. Born in the Vietnam conflict, it was considerably more sophisticated than the venerable Russian Kalashnikov, the AK-47, of which 50 million were in circulation worldwide. While Thor had fired both, he preferred the M-16. With its tighter tolerances, it was lighter and more accurate. But its precision was also its downfall. The heavier Kalashnikov required little or no care while the American gun was temperamental and required careful maintenance. An AK-47 could be buried in a swamp, dug up, and fired without missing a beat.
"I can’t buy an M-16 and I’m an American," the "author" exclaimed.
"Made in America," the Hamas member said proudly, patting the menacing rifle. "Would you like one? I sold my land to buy this gun."
Although the line, "I sold my land to buy this gun," betrayed an incredible lack of devotion to this land they were willing to kill for, Thor, for safety’s sake, ignored the relevance.
"Sure, I’d like one. How much?"
"I paid twenty-five hundred dollars for mine," he said. "But since the last intifada, the price has gone up. Now they’re seven thousand dollars. The Jews sell them to us - black market."
Adams knew that M-16s were manufactured in Israel, under license. They cost but a few hundred dollars to make. "Why do you need an assault rifle?"
"To protect myself from Israelis."
"But I don’t see any Israelis here, not on this side of the border. So why are you armed?"
"I must be ready to protect myself. The Qur’an says that we have to fight. But we should prepare ourselves first, and not hurry into battle."
"I have read the Qur’an. I don’t recall that verse."
Surprised that an American had read the Qur’an, he admitted, "Although the Qur’an says something similar, my quote is from one of the Prophet’s, peace be onto him, speeches."
"I see. Is it from one recorded by Ibn Ishaq, his earliest biographer, or is it in the Hadith, Al-Bukhari’s True Traditions perhaps?"
"No. It’s from a much newer source. But it’s proven to be accurate. Hamas maintains a large library of Islamic books, and they are used to compile and prove the newer ones."
"Ah! What is the most popular of these ‘newer ones?’" Adams inquired.
"Ryad Elsalehin," he said. "It has many of the Prophet’s speeches."
Thor asked Niam for the spelling to make sure he had written it down correctly. The Hamas member, attired in his finest bluish-green quasi-military jumpsuit, replied, "I’ll buy one and send it to you."
"Thank you. You’re most kind."
"You know killing is not a hobby for us." The smaller of the two Islamic Jihad members spoke. Both looked rather scraggily, sporting rough, short-cropped beards and curly, ill-mannered hair. If you called central casting asking for terrorists, these boys would fit the bill.
"Then why do you do it? I assume you do. I mean, after all," the "writer" said, pointing to the M-16, "those things have been know to hurt people."
They all nodded, sporting menacing grins. "They have killed far more of us than we have them. The Jews have murdered sixty-eight Palestinians in Bethlehem alone, many of them young."
Maybe they’re better shots, Adams thought but said, "They’ve got bigger guns."
"They fight with your guns," the al-Qaeda member finally spoke. He had been quiet, surveying the situation. He was an unattractive man, older than the others, with a pitted face, crooked teeth, and thinning hair. "They kill us with your tanks and Apache Gunships."
The tanks the Israelis made themselves. They would have made their own aircraft as well, but the U.S. insisted they buy American.
The more aggressive of the Islamic Jihad members said, "You Americans need to learn how to hold the bat."
"Hold the bat?" Adams had no idea what he was talking about.
"Yes. Rather than beat us with it, you need to learn how to hold it in the middle. You need to understand our problems."
"Why is that? Why are the problems of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and al-Qaeda America’s problems? Why should we care?"
"We all have many members in America. Abu Marzook is the head of Hamas. He lives in America."
"Why doesn’t America support our people, understand our problems?" the al-Qaeda terrorist asked. "You only support Israel."
Adams couldn’t resist the urge to teach - to see if truth would find fertile ground. Besides, he figured answering a question or two might take the conversation in interesting new directions. So he replied, "It’s because Israel is the only democracy in the region. Every Arab nation is a dictatorship. America sides with freedom, with democracies. We were against Russia when they were Communists, but supportive when they became a democracy. We share common values with Israel - freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press." Rational behavior, he thought but didn’t say. "There are no such freedoms in any Arab nation. That’s why we Americans support Israel."
The assembled had no pre-set response to Adams’ explanation. The Jihad members were silent, arms crossed. Al-Qaeda glared. The Hamas gunman began reciting Muhammad’s speeches in Arabic again.
Niam told "Smith" that his guests were growing progressively more irritated. "Considering who is holding the guns, that isn’t good."
"If you want us to hold the bat in the middle and support your cause, why kill Americans? Tell me, why did Muslim militants fly those planes into the World Trade Center?" It probably wasn’t the best question Thor could have asked under the circumstances.
"You deserved it," the al-Qaeda member shot back defiantly, displaying his hostility. His eyes narrowed. His face tensed. His hand moved ever so slightly toward the nine-millimeter bulge in his coat.
"Your government’s policies caused it to happen." The Jihad members agreed. It hadn’t been their doing.
"We have no quarrel with the American people, only the government," Mr. Hamas said, stroking his rifle.
Thor’s blood was boiling. He wasn’t much of a poker player and didn’t know if he could hide his emotions. "There were no government officials in those buildings - just innocent people. Why did you kill them?"
"You allowed it to happen. Al-Qaeda was used by the Americans and the Jews," the Hamas terrorist explained as al-Queda snickered.
"Yes. The Mossad used the attack like a man uses a hammer."
"The Mossad? What evidence do you have of any of this?"
"It is common knowledge here. We see such things on the TV."
"Al Jazeera?" the Admiral asked.
"Yes. But on all the other Arabic stations too." The Jihad members took turns answering.
"How do you explain the fact that five thousand Jews who worked in the World Trade Center were told to stay home the day of the attack?"
Adams was stunned. "I’ll tell you what. If you believe that bull, then you need to produce some evidence to prove it. Saying that the Jews were responsible for using al-Qaeda to kill Americans has got to be the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard." Next to Islam, he thought.
Although Adams couldn’t be sure, he guessed Niam’s Arabic version of his inflammatory statement lost something in the translation.
Welcome to the twilight zone. Reason was dead. Long live rage. Arabs were as willing to be duped today as they were during the days of Muhammad.
"The Jews started Hamas, you know," the slender fellow in the blue jumpsuit said, turning the tables on the Admiral.
It was true. They had done so to control the PLO by providing them with an antagonist. But it hadn’t worked out exactly as they’d planned.
In an earlier discussion with a former Force 17 member, Thor had learned that Alafat had formed alliances between his Fatah, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad. The informant reported being present when Alafat planned joint operations to terrorize Israelis. According to the Force 17 member, they all accepted Yasman’s orders without complaint. Alafat’s signature on orders to kill Jews and reward their murderers had been made available to the Admiral, confirming this. It was hardly a secret.
"And the Americans started al-Qaeda," one of its members said, now trying to rub it in.
That wasn’t true, even though it was interesting that he had said it. America had used the Mujahadin to fight the Russians. Al-Qaeda also supported the Mujahadin, which made the U.S. a brief ally. And it had served America’s and humanity’s interests. Seeing thousands of Russian boys come home in body bags had jolted Russian mothers, causing them to rebel against the war. This contributed to freeing them, hundreds of millions of people, from the shackles of Communism. In reality, a Palestinian had started al-Qaeda.
"I still don’t understand," Thor said. "Why did Muslim militants, mostly from Saudi Arabia, fly those planes into our buildings?"
"We did it to lash out at your government for its policies." They were unable to see the conflict between accepting credit and blaming the Jews. They wanted it both ways.
"Then why attack commercial buildings?"
"Because they are an economic symbol. We wanted to hurt America’s economy," the al-Qaeda terrorist snarled.
"The economy pays for the military, and your military is killing our children."
"Killing your children? Where?"
"America is killing babies in Afghanistan, in Somalia, and in Iraq. The American government wants to kill our children. That is why we had to take revenge. We had to make America pay."
"America went to Somalia to stop the warlords from killing children! We brought food to feed starving Muslims. What on earth are you talking about? We did the same thing in Lebanon and in Afghanistan. How can you say that America wants to kill innocent children?"
"Because it is true. We have all seen it on TV," one of the Jihad members insisted.
"But I have seen the baby killing with my own eyes. I was trained by al-Qaeda in the Sudan. I served in Somalia. I was headed to Afghanistan before the bombings. They sent me here, to Palestine, instead."
Maintaining his composure was the battle of his life. Adams would have liked to have ripped these deceptions from their minds. The hateful lies they had been fed would surely fester and grow until they resulted in the deaths of more innocent people. But the battle could not be won in this room.
The delusion would have been bad enough if it had been limited to this one absurdity, or just to terrorists. But sadly, the insanity was contagious. It had infected the masses. Millions had swallowed the lie. It had been broadcast by the Arab media, preached by the Islamic clerics, taught in Muslim schools, and reinforced by their dictators. They had been conditioned to hate and to blame their violent acts on their victims.
During an earlier interview with a Palestinian businessman, Adams had been told - with a straight face - that terrorist suicide bombings were all directed by the Shin Bet. Dumfounded, he had laughed out loud at the absurdity. But now these Palestinian terrorists sat before him justifying their outlandish claims by saying that they were not alone in their belief. It was as if a lie had become true simply because it was seductive enough to fool so many. "All Palestinians believe the same thing," they said. "So it must be true."
Arabs, apparently, were responsible for nothing, including the suicide bombings they were celebrating. Their rationale was that their attacks ultimately hurt the Palestinians more than the Jews. Therefore, it must have been the Jews that arranged them. They said that when Israel’s Prime Minister needed an excuse to roll tanks into Palestinian areas, he simply told the Shin Bet to direct Hamas to send out another bomber. Thor couldn’t believe his ears. Nobody was this dumb.
"Can you boys handle the truth?" Thor asked four blank faces. "When I landed here in Israel, I was greeted by a nation in mourning. The Shin Bet had sent a missile into a car, killing a Hamas leader, a murderer, but also killing a small child riding with him. This brought everyone I met to their knees, nearly to tears. What you’ve told me couldn’t be farther from the truth."
"It is what we see. It is what we hear, what we read. It is what happens here. It is what we believe." Goebbels would have been proud.
"In Gaza, Israelis targeted a group of little girls on their way to school. They murdered them," the murderer said.
"You’re saying that Israeli soldiers specifically sought out little girls and shot them in cold blood?"
"What I’ve seen here is just the opposite. I see Americans and Jews saddened when innocents are injured, while I see your people celebrate in the streets. The coffins of suicide bombers responsible for killing Jewish children are carried in great celebrations. You call the murderers martyrs." Thor was not making friends. He was putting himself in harm’s way. He was making Niam very nervous.
"Well, if America’s goal is not to kill children, then it is to test their newest weapons. You are using the World Trade Center as an excuse to test your weaponry on our people," the al-Qaeda operative said.
"And it is good for American arms sales too. That is another reason."
"You think Americans purposely look for reasons to kill Muslim babies so that we can test and sell our weapons? Did I hear you correctly?"
"Yes. That is common knowledge here. We all know it." They were nodding their heads in unison. Their eyes cried out, "I hate you!"
"America needs to prove that it is the most powerful nation. You Americans want to conquer and dominate the world," Hamas said.
Clearly uncomfortable with the direction the discussion had gone, Niam suggested they all have a cup of tea. The idea somehow seemed totally out of character coming from this huge man.
The scene was surreal. An elegant flowered china tea set with matching cups was brought down to the basement by a bodyguard. Looking at the elegant tray, Thor continued to ask questions, but Niam simply ignored him, focusing on serving the tea instead. He knew the conversation had gotten out of hand, too heated for anyone’s good.
"He’s ignoring me," Thor said to the terrorists. "I don’t think our friend Niam can do more than one thing at a time." They laughed, understanding everything Adams had said.
Mr. Hamas was in a zone all his own. He busied himself reciting scripture, thumbing something that looked like prayer beads while stroking his M-16. This one image was worth a thousand words.
"Would you like one lump or two?" the taller of the Islamic Jihad members asked "Curt Smith" as he held the silver sugar spoon above the ceramic bowl.
"None, thank you." Adams had already received enough lumps.
As Niam had hoped, the tea had a quieting effect on the room. It’s harder to say hateful things while holding a delicate porcelain teacup with your pinky out.
Sipping his tea, the Admiral asked a more genteel question, the same thing he had asked Fatah. "If you could have this land, a vibrant economy, or your own independent state, which would you prefer?"
Once again this question stirred a lively debate.
"We want our land." They all nodded.
"What makes this your land?" Good question, Thor.
"Because it is mentioned seven times in the Qur’an." Not surprisingly, this response came from the most religious terrorist, Mr. Hamas.
"Jerusalem alone is mentioned hundreds of, maybe a thousand, times in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles. So why isn’t it our land?"
"I won’t translate that statement." Niam said. "Why don’t you have some more tea?"
"This is our holy land. The Prophet, peace be onto him, flew here on his Night’s Journey. Therefore, it belongs to us."
By that logic, the Admiral thought, Paris should belong to Lindbergh.
Quoting from speeches again, the Hamas member said, "Muhammad told us that it was our duty to own a piece of Jerusalem. According to our religion, any land that we have occupied is our land. We must fight for our land. We must do as he instructed. Palestine is part of dar al-Islam."
"I understand that he said these things, but why fight with suicide bombers?" He looked directly at the man in the blue jumpsuit.
"There are seventy virgins waiting for me in Paradise as my reward."
The "me" and "my" were of concern to Adams, as was the smoldering twinkle in the terrorist’s eye. But nothing was as chilling as the man’s smile - a serene, thin smile, between a smirk and a sneer. It screamed that he was ready, even eager, to die. For Mr. Hamas, paradise was calling; the virgin whores were whispering his name, motioning for him to slip into their lair. It was all so real to him. He faded inward, seeing himself in their midst. His eyes glazed over. The conversation stalled. The room grew still, cold, deathly silent. The only things growing were the size of his grin, a gloating attitude, and his arousal. The martyr-in-waiting reached down into his pocket and adjusted his gun. Thor closed his eyes and prayed, Oh God, no!
Paradise for these disturbed souls was nothing more than a place of sexual exploitation, a fleshy world of exotic fantasies. Adams had heard about such things, but seeing and hearing them from one on the cusp of the illusion was mortifying.
More chilling still was that this bizarre promise of virgins was universally known, pervasive in this culture. Islam’s leading Egyptian cleric had proclaimed that men would have everlasting erections in Paradise. Suicide bombers, captured when their devices had failed to explode, had revealed that they were doing it for the promise of incredible sex. Most had even wrapped their privates with considerable care so as to protect them from the blast of the bombs they were carrying on their bodies.
Sadly, the promises that had driven so many young men to madness, the promises that had killed thousands of Americans and Jews, had come from the Islamic clerics themselves, from the imams, from the mosques, from the Islamic scriptures.
"It is our reward for fighting the infidels, for martyrdom." The more diminutive member of Islamic Jihad revealed. As a leader, he had most certainly gotten his fill of sexual pleasure from prostitutes here on earth and was therefore less attracted by the lure of otherworldly desire. He knew, of course, that Allah condoned such behavior in the 70th surah. Islam indeed, had something to offer everyone. The media had even studied such things and discovered that the most frequent users of prostitutes in the Promised Land were ultra-orthodox Jews and devout Muslims.
"Those who fight should receive a great reward; for we are suffering," The al-Qaeda member snarled vengefully. He resented, envied, and hated America and Americans all at the same time. Thor’s very presence disgusted him. The only reason he had agreed to come was the prospect of getting his views published in the Western media.
"Our Prophet has promised paradise to every martyr."
"You cannot blame him for being hostile, for feeling as he does," Niam said of the Hamas member. "The Israelis beat his brother. He is angry and seeks revenge. In Islam it is part of his religion." Niam pointed to the terrorist seated to the Admiral’s right. "His father was also beaten. He too is seeking revenge. It will burn inside until it is satisfied."
"So Islam requires them to kill - a life for a life. As I understand it, the Israelis say the same thing. But who shot first? Does anyone remember?" Thor asked Niam as he canvassed the faces of the assembled mob.
Again Adams knew the answer. Again the terrorists were silent. They knew as well. In 1948, the moment the UN resolution had passed, awarding the Jews two tenths of one percent as much land they had given the Arabs, the Arabs had attacked, wanting it all. 99.8 percent had not been enough. They began an unprovoked massacre of Jews. On May 15th Azzam Pasha, the Secretary General of the Arab League, predicted, "A war of annihilation, a colossal massacre that will be remembered alongside the Crusades." They had drawn first blood.
So as not to spill any of his own on the ugly green table, "Curt Smith" shifted gears. "Before the Oslo accords, the Palestinians were the freest and most prosperous Arabs in the world. I am having trouble understanding why you’d prefer this land and statehood over returning to a decent way of life for your people."
Niam wrung his giant hands nervously, but he translated the question.
"The Qur’an says...." The Hamas terrorist stopped, recognizing his error. "Muhammad, peace be onto him, taught us that he has no use for a nation that eats the bread of another."
"If we have our own land and our own state, we will make our own economy," one of the Islamic Jihad members agreed with him.
"Your position is not consistent with the facts. At Oslo you were given autonomy over cities like Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jericho, and Gaza in return for ending terrorism. The Israelis removed their police protection, and the PA was put in charge. But autonomy has brought poverty, anarchy, and violence to your people. Do you want more of these things?"
"I do not wish to translate this," Niam said.
"I want you to. Please...." Adams motioned in the direction of the al-Qaeda member. Niam refused.
"We are suffering because the Israelis have cheated on the Oslo Accords," one of the terrorists blurted out, absolving himself and his people of responsibility. It was one of only two things they seemed to be good at. Their latest deception in this regard was the politicizing of suicide bombers. If they were a political response, and not inspired by Islam, then someone else was responsible - the Jews, perhaps.
"How has their cheating hurt your economy?"
"They built tunnels under Jerusalem when they weren’t supposed to. They built new settlements on our land, and did not expand our borders."
"I can understand how these things might make you angry, sir, but how do they impact your economy?"
That stumped the killers. Following an Arabic discussion, they tried a different tack. "The reason is because they have blockaded our borders. There are no tourists."
"I don’t understand. I was not questioned as I came through the checkpoint. Tourists are free to come here. There are no tourists here because there are no tourists anywhere in Israel. Your intifada caused that. You have to be crazy to come here. Besides, you have bombed our buildings, poisoned our people with anthrax, and killed Jews and Americans with suicide bombers. That tends to discourage tourists."
"We had to call intifada."
"Why? And is its purpose to kill Jews?"
"Yes, they occupy our land. We had no choice. Sharon marched into al Aqsa mosque with ten thousand troops. Our leaders called for intifada the next day. The Likud party and the Shas, the black hats, are radical...."
"He marched into your mosque, you say? Why would he go into al-Aqsa? It is of no significance to the Jews."
"He went into the Dome of the Rock." The terrorists were obviously making this up as they went along.
"Are you sure?"
"It was the Temple Mount. He went there to prove that Muslims were under his control."
"Isn’t the Temple Mount the holiest of all places for Jews? After all, it’s called the Temple Mount, not the Mosque Mount."
"Tea! We need more tea," Niam pleaded. "Please, Mr. Smith," he said, "do not go there. They have guns."
"By calling the intifada you ended any chance for a peaceful settlement. Both sides have become hardened by the killing." Thor demonstrated his point visually by pounding his closed fists together. "Now what?"
"More killing, if that is what it takes. We will never give up. We will always fight for our land."
"Tell me, you are constantly quoting from the speeches of Muhammad, yet he was not a Palestinian. Most Muslims don’t even like the Palestinians. So what’s more important to you, following Islam or fighting for this land?"
"Islam is more important, much more important than anything else." They all nodded in unison. "We are dar al-Islam - the Nation of Islam."
"Then why do you kill? I was told Islam is a peaceful religion."
"The Prophet, peace be onto him, commanded us to kill."
"Do you fight in the name of Allah?"
As they spoke Adams studied their body language, he gazed into their eyes. He could see that they were restless, troubled. They seemed out of touch, detached from reality.
"Yes. Jihad is fighting in Allah’s Cause."
Thor had just confirmed why Muslim terrorize and kill. But he knew that showing his disgust, his righteous indignation, would be lethal. And he needed to live long enough to report what he had learned to the world. So Adams returned to a previous line of questioning. "How else did the Jews hurt the Palestinian economy?"
The taller of the two Islamic Jihad members offered to pour him another cup of tea. Once again he asked, "Sugar? One lump or two?"
Thor just shook his head.
"They slowed the flow of European money to our people."
So much for the Prophet’s admonition not to eat the bread of another nation, Adams thought. Now they want charity.
In reality, the reason for the brief suspension of European charity had been their frustration with graft. Thor had met with regional development leaders who told horror stories of French, British, and German officials giving money, only to have a PA warlord confiscate it.
"They also ended our jobs. Two hundred and fifty thousand Palestinian jobs were taken away."
"Imagine that," the admiral/writer said. "You kill their women and children with suicide bombers, and all of a sudden they don’t want you to work for them any more."
Niam didn’t bother translating.
"They need us and we need them. We need their jobs and they need us to do their work."
"Based upon what has happened after Oslo, returning to an economic interdependence is impossible. In fact, if you are given statehood, the roadblocks will turn into massive gates; gates that will never open. The fences will become enormous walls. There will be less freedom of movement when you are left to police yourselves, not more. In fact, there will be none. I don’t know if the Jews will put the walls around you or around themselves, but there will be walls, I can assure you of that. Giant, impenetrable walls. Walls that will make the Iron Curtain look like a curb."
The truth was clear. Autonomy was not in the Arab peoples’ interest. All things Israeli were better than the best of Arab thuggery. The Palestinians had become murdering parasites, killers who needed to be contained.
"They have hurt us in more ways than taking away all of our jobs. They do not give us the chemical fertilizers we need for the land."
And I thought there was enough mental manure here to go around. "Curt Smith" scribbled down another note. "How do you survive with no one working?" the pretend writer posed.
"We get money from the Syrians and the Iranians. We also get some from Iraq, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia."
"Money buys loyalty here. We get money from America, too, from charities, tax free," they smiled. "But not enough."
"They have cut down our olive trees, you know." Actually they were Israeli olive trees, and they were only cut down alongside the roads because Fatah snipers were hiding behind them shooting Israeli citizens. But it made the Jews sound mean spirited, and that was the point.
"They have not paid their taxes to us. They have withheld over two hundred million shekels."
"Sorry," Thor answered. "The Israelis have paid the lion’s share of the import duties they collected. Your own PA Ministers have told me this. They also acknowledge that PA officials got their hands caught in the cookie jar, skimming." Alafat himself had skimmed over five hundred million.
The terrorists ignored the affront to their collective character. They simply plowed ahead with their grievances. "They have stolen our water."
"The majority of the water Israelis use comes from the watershed around the Sea of Galilee. How is this yours?"
They just stared at him. This wasn’t as much fun as they’d expected. They had become accustomed to the press letting them bellyache. They didn’t like being challenged.
"They have expanded their settlements!"
"I’ll grant you this. Building settlements in Gaza is brain dead. But I have seen those in the West Bank. They are built on the top of rocky hills - a security measure - not on fertile land. How does this hurt your economy?" There was no answer, only animosity, so the Admiral continued. "Who provides you with electricity, fresh water, roads, the gas you put in your cars? Whose currency are you using?" The Israelis provided all these things.
"When we are independent, we will do it all ourselves."
"If you can do these things, why haven’t you?" Adams asked four blank stares.
The Palestinians simply returned to their tale of woe. "They have bombed and ransacked our hotels. All for what?" the al-Qaeda member asked. "Just because we shot our M-16s and Kalashnikovs into some of their homes. They were very far away. How much damage can be done by an M-16 at the range of five hundred meters?"
"Who lives in those houses you were shooting at?" Adams asked.
"Do they have children?"
"When you aim at their windows, don’t you think you might kill them?"
"Very few. Less than six have died from this shooting. It is not an excuse to roll tanks into our cities."
"I thought you said you bought these rifles to protect yourselves. Isn’t that what they are doing?"
They didn’t answer, so Adams posed another question. "Will you accept responsibility for any of your problems? Or is everything the fault of the Jews and the Americans?"
Niam let out a heavy sigh.
"Yes, I know, my friend. You wish I would shut up and have some more tea." The Admiral had done enough damage for one afternoon. "No, actually it’s late," he said. "The sun has gone down. I must be going."
With that everyone stood. They collected their weapons and escorted Adams out the door. As they did there was a considerable amount of Arabic chatter in the background.
"We have trouble," Niam whispered in Thor’s ear. "They don’t think you’re a writer. They think you are with the CIA."
The Admiral tried his best to hide his fear. "Tell them...."
"I already have." Niam interrupted. "We must get you out of here. I have called for the car." An uneasy quiet followed as al-Qaeda, Islamic Jihad, Hamas, a former member of Force 17, and an American hero disguised as a pudgy author milled about in the darkness.
The van provided little relief. The taller of the two Jihad terrorists jumped into the seat behind Adams. The other three Muslim brothers, guns bristling, hopped into a chase car. Together, they sped off into the night. The Admiral looked up at the reddish crescent moon hanging low in the sky. How appropriate.
The silence was deafening as both vans sped through the deserted and potholed streets of Bethlehem. In a confusing series of right and left turns, they made their way up and down the hilly roads, past cratered and barricaded buildings.
The lead van, the one carrying the Admiral, stopped abruptly. The driver got out, as did the accompanying member of Islamic Jihad. A new driver emerged, said nothing as he got behind the wheel, and drove away. Adams looked back. Thankfully, the chase car was gone. He knew from familiar landmarks that he was close to the border. It was the longest drive of his life. His heart pounded; his pulse raced.
Then he saw, off in the distance, the lights of Jerusalem. The border was less than two minutes away. The street was torn up where tanks had recently passed. Power lines were down. This was clearly a war zone, one in which the Admiral was ill prepared to fight.
Speeding along the rim of an exposed canyon, the van made a series of abrupt turns. Finally he saw it: no-man’s land was less than half a mile ahead. The driver eased forward, then stopped suddenly. He looked panicked, motioning for "Curt" to get out.
Fearing that he would be shot in the back before reaching the relative safety of Israel, the would-be author hurried as fast as his wounded body would carry him. He thought of Sarah and Mary, of his Jewish comrades, of his nation, of the world. In a moment he would be back in the land of reason, but Thor Adams was a different man from the one who had crossed this barren divide five hours earlier. He now carried a burden heavier than he could have imagined.