A Funeral in Jerusalem
by Mark L. Glosser
part 1 of 2
On November 4, 1995, Israeli security personnel foiled an attempt by Yigal Amir, a religious zealot, to assassinate the Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin. Public revulsion at the assassination attempt enabled Rabin to negotiate a land for peace agreement with the Palestinians.
Orthodox Israelis vehemently opposed the peace agreement because, in their view, it committed a sacrilege by giving land to the Palestinians (the West Bank) that God had given the Jews some three thousand years earlier.
It is now 2033 and the radical, ultra-religious Haredi controls one of the political parties comprising the far right coalition government ruling Israel. The Haredi, like the IRA and Hezbollah before them, consists of two arms: a political arm operating in public view and a semi-independent terrorist arm operating in the shadows.
When the religious parties gained control of the government in 2030, they declared Jewish religious law (Halachic law) to be the supreme law of the land. The economic downturn and societal upheavals Israel underwent, as it moved from a western democracy to a theocracy masquerading as a democracy, have been rapid and dramatic.
1. An Explosive Meeting
The nondescript panel truck parked near the Qnai safe house in the Mea Shearim section of Jerusalem was easy to overlook. This was intentional; it was one of the mobile command units used by the Investigation and Command Division of the Israeli National Police. Inspector Ari Rosen, a thick slab of a man, monitored the audio and video feeds in the truck while the rest of his men were concealed in the evening darkness. They were waiting for another conspirator to arrive.
So were the men inside the run-down stone house. Hidden cameras showed three bearded Haredi in dark suits and hats seated at a round wooden table. These men were the anonymous leaders of the Qnai, a notorious Haredi terrorist organization. The tallest conspirator looked at his watch, shrugged, stood up, as did the others, and headed toward the door.
Ari’s earphone buzzed. A voice rasped in his ear. “Now what? Should we cancel the raid and follow them?”
“They’d spot us. We’ll grab them now, learn their identities and shove them into a class-four interrogation cycle.”
Silent shadows positioned themselves in strategic positions around the house. Ari gave the “go” order, climbed out of the command vehicle and lumbered up the porch steps, as the armored SWAT team crashed through the door.
An explosion reverberated down the narrow street. A tongue of orange flame flickered out the open door followed by a shock wave. As in his dreams, Ari sensed himself floating in the air. After an indeterminable period of time, the back of his head slammed into the sidewalk; there was nothing dreamlike about the pain, it hurt like hell.
The fire extinguished, Ari and his soot-blackened men sifted through the smoldering rubble inside the stone house. Puffs of acrid smoke stung their eyes; the sizzle and pop of the wet debris reminded Ari of the sound of popcorn. Outside, floodlights cast a harsh, blue-white circle of light around the house and the crowd of curious onlookers congregated behind the yellow crime-scene tape.
As he searched through the rubble, Ari tried to make sense out of the terrorists’ self-destruction. It was unlikely they were concerned about prison. It was common knowledge the Israeli government quietly released after a short term of imprisonment the few ultra-orthodox terrorists it accidentally managed to capture.
Ari considered other reasons for their deaths, such as an accident or a bomb hidden by a third party, but rejected them. No, the most plausible explanation for their suicide was the simplest; these men possessed a secret, a secret so important they were willing to die to protect it.
A shout interrupted Ari’s musings. “This man is still alive!” Ari navigated around the jagged hole blasted in the wooden floor, and knelt beside the surviving terrorist. One thing was obvious; the charred piece of human flesh would soon be dead.
The gentle twitch of blackened lips caught Ari’s attention. Motioning with his arm Ari yelled, “Quiet,” and lowered his ear to the man’s mouth.
The charred right eye socket and the odor of burnt meat nauseated Ari.
Ari whispered, “Don’t worry. Everything will go off as planned.”
There was a definite nod of the head.
“Do you remember everything?“
“Tell me. I forgot.”
“The... night of...”
Silence, then more gasping whispers.
Ari tried again. “Who will be killed?”
“God willing, take back the promise....” The man stopped talking. Forever.
2. The Detective
Ari spent the night at the crime scene; he was tired and irritable. On the way to headquarters Ari encountered an ugly event typical of life under the rule of Israel’s strident, orthodox government. One of Jerusalem’s self-appointed modesty patrols was beating a teenage girl for wearing a skirt that exposed the calves of her legs.
Ari yanked the three young Haredi thugs off the bloody girl. There was no point in arresting them; they’d be back on the street before Ari finished preparing his arrest report. One of them spit on the girl and smirked at Ari.
Ari paused for a moment, decided the hell with it, and slammed the Haredi’s face into a telephone pole; two teeth fell to the ground. The others started to protest, but fell silent at the look on Ari’s face.
“Idiots,” muttered Ari.
The girl lay unconscious. By the looks of her pupils she had a concussion at the very least. Ari called an ambulance.
Ari ‘s foul mood didn’t improve when he arrived at police headquarters. The elevators and air conditioning weren’t working again. Ari wasn’t surprised; the department’s steadily shrinking budget could barely pay salaries, never mind pay for major repairs.
The morning news was more depressing than usual. The only remaining Reform Synagogue in Jerusalem had been bombed. A prominent Israeli who publicly criticized Haredi excesses had died in a suspicious car accident. A Haredi rabbi instructed the faithful to seek out and to “correct” the protestor who had burned a Torah scroll as part of a demonstration against the government’s religious policies. Ari suspected the correction would leave the protester dead or crippled.
Ari gave a derisive snort, took four aspirins, and spent the rest of the morning setting police investigative machinery in motion. He had a theory about the events of the preceding evening, but needed more information before he kicked his idea up the chain of command. Shortly before lunch, Ari’s computer beeped. The information he’d been waiting for appeared on the screen.
As he finished preparing his report Ari’s assistant, David, walked into his office. Underarm sweat stains blemished David’s white shirt. The shirt, along with a dark suit and hat, were mandatory items of dress for all on-duty male officers. There was no dress code for female police officers because Israel had none.
“Can I help?” asked David as he eyed the stacks of papers on Ari’s battered metal desk.
Ari shrugged and pushed back his sweat-soaked hair and asked, “What happened yesterday at the trial of the woman who refused to ride in the back of the bus?”
David looked at his feet. “The Judge said her refusal to sit in the back of the bus was an incitement to riot. She was sentenced to three months in prison. The charges of assault and battery against the Haredi who spit on her when she refused to move to the back were dropped.”
Ari slammed his fist down on his desk. “Damn it. She owns a software design company in Tel Aviv. After she gets out of prison, I bet she emigrates, like so many other of our best and brightest have already done. No wonder the economy’s going down the tubes. If those idiots hadn’t imposed Halachic Law the country wouldn’t be going bankrupt.”
Pausing, Ari pulled out of his pocket one of the washcloths he always carried with him and wiped his sweat-drenched face. “Who’d want to live in this theocratic hellhole if they could live in a democracy abroad?”
David slammed the door close. “Shut up. If the wrong person overhears, you’ll be neck-deep in damn.”
Ari glared at David, took the four steps needed to reach the door and bellowed into the hall, “The idiots in charge wonder why morale is low, why our major crimes arrest statistics keep declining and why so many experienced officers have resigned.”
David unsuccessfully tried to yank the bigger man back into the office. It was like a minnow trying to land a whale.
“I’ll tell you why. The Haredi are ruining the country.” Ari stomped back to his desk.
“Can I ask you a personal question?”
Ari looked at David in surprise and nodded. “Go ahead.”
“If you hate it here so much, why don’t you emigrate?”
Ari pointed at a picture yellowed with age; it showed a couple cutting their wedding cake. Both were dressed in old-fashioned clothing; the raised dental pattern on their wedding rings was eye-catching.
“That’s a picture of my grandparents. A guard at Auschwitz ordered my grandfather to kill another inmate or be shot on the spot. He chose to die.”
Ari motioned toward another picture. “That’s my father, an Auschwitz survivor. He spent his life on the police force right here in Israel. And he was happy to serve. He believed Israel was the greatest country in the world. He died rescuing hostages held by Palestinian terrorists.”
Leaning forward Ari put his heavy arms on the desk. “I guess what I’m saying is I’m not going to give up on my country. Not as long as there is anything left to save.”
3. A Theory of the Case
David cleared off the stack of papers piled on the one chair in Ari’s office and sat down. “Do you have any ideas about last night?”
“I do. Listen. The first thing I asked the dying terrorist was if he remembered the plan. He began to tell me, but died before he could finish.”
Ari grabbed a grease pencil and scribbled a few words on the battered white board. “These are the eleven words the terrorist spoke before dying: ‘God willing... the... night of... traitor... killed... take back the promise’.”
David nodded and waited for Ari to continue.
Ari gave David a questioning look. “Do the words, taken as whole, make any sense to you?”
David shrugged. “No. “
Ari held his arm out in a gesture inviting a response. “Think about it. What’s the one big fat political thing virtually all orthodox Israelis agree on?”
Like a student who hadn’t done his homework, David hesitantly answered, “They all opposed the 1996 Land for Peace Treaty with the Palestinians.”
“Right. And why did they oppose it?” Without waiting for an answer, Ari bulldozed on. “I’ll tell you why. In the eyes of the orthodox, when God gave the West Bank to the Jews some three thousand years ago, He inserted a restrictive covenant in the deed, prohibiting us Jews from ever transferring any portion of the West Bank to third parties.”
David cocked his head to the side. “Where are you going with this?”
Ari pointed at the grease board. “I can’t prove it yet, but I think he was saying that ‘God willing, next week someone the Haredi view as a traitor will be murdered on one of the eight nights of Passover’. Then, after the traitor is dead, Israel will attack the Palestinian State and take back the Promised Land. I think the target is the Prime Minister.”
“The Prime Minister? Why him?” asked David in a disbelieving tone of voice.
“We know the Haredi would love to start a war with the Palestinians and reconquer the West Bank. But this Prime Minister will never go along with that. So, they’re going to assassinate him and push someone into office who’s willing to pull the trigger.”
David gasped, “If you send this fantasy upstairs, it’ll be the end of your career. Hell, it might be the end of your freedom.”
Ari ignored David’s comment. “I suspect the Designated Acting Prime Minister is in on the conspiracy. He’s backed by every ultra-orthodox with a soapbox, and he’s next in the line of succession should the Prime Minister die. He’d be more than willing to order the attack.”
Then Ari leaned forward and shook his head. “But he doesn’t have the balls to assassinate one of the most closely guarded politicians in the world. I expect he’s more the type to let some one else do the wet work.”
David looked over his shoulder, as if he were afraid of being seen. “You’re serious aren’t you?”
“I’m dead serious. And if I’m right, an enormous number of Israelis may die in a pointless war with the Palestinians. Even worse, if we attack Palestine, our semi-hostile Muslim neighbors may well come to the aid of Palestine. Hell, Israel might even be destroyed.”
David fidgeted in his chair and looked over his shoulder again. “How can you say that?”
“Because the Haredi think that since they’re backed by the hand of God, the Israelis — all seven million of us — have nothing to fear from a billion well-armed and hostile Muslims.”
By now Ari was striding back and forth in his office. Gesturing at the cars and pedestrian traffic filling the street below Ari continued, “Our history is filled with zealots provoking powerful nations, usually with disastrous consequences for us Jews. Zealots provoked the Assyrians. We put up a good fight, but the Assyrians won the war, and ten of the twelve tribes of Israel disappeared.”
He waved his hands, almost like an orchestra conductor, as he got into his historical recap. “Zealots provoked the Babylonians. The Babylonians showed how happy they were by destroying the First Temple and exiling the surviving Jews. When we rebelled against Rome, Rome sacked Jerusalem, destroyed the Second Temple and murdered six hundred thousand civilians.
“Now, zealots plot to provoke the entire Muslim world, all billion-plus of them, by attacking Palestine. If the idiots’ plan succeeds, the Muslim response may well devastate Israel.”
Ari paused and wiped a hand across his sweaty face. “There’s another minor detail to consider. The Haredi have no intention of asking the Israelis who’ll do the fighting and dying if they’re willing to sacrifice their lives to support the Haredi’s religious quest. As far as the Haredi are concerned, this detail is irrelevant. All that matters is the sacred nature of their mission. Besides which it won’t be the Haredi who do the fighting and dying, since they don’t serve in the armed forces.”
“That’s enough.” David held up a hand as he jumped to his feet. “You’re insane.” He stormed out of the office, slamming the door behind him.
David’s reaction confirmed Ari’s private opinion of his assistant. David wasn’t the brightest candle in the menorah.
Ari leaned back in his threadbare chair and wondered if David’s attitude would be different had he stayed to learn the most recent developments. The wives of the dead terrorists were nowhere to be found. Someone didn’t want us talking to them.
Even more telling, the Designated Prime Minister had left his office during the critical time period without his usual security detail. The only reason he didn’t make it to the meeting was that his car got stuck in a massive traffic jam.
Copyright © 2013 by Mark L. Glosser