Donate

Wink: A Story

In the mid-1970s, an Israeli military governor in Ramallah watches the trial of four young Arab men who have accused their interrogators of torture.

A Palestinian man is brought to the courtroom for a trial in Israel’s Ofer military court on August 17, 2017. Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

A Palestinian man is brought to the courtroom for a trial in Israel’s Ofer military court on August 17, 2017. Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

Observation
Nov. 2 2017
About the author

Edward Grossman’s journalism and fiction have been published in English, Hebrew, Arabic, French, Swedish, Chinese, Japanese, and Russian.


The new military governor, a colonel, was sitting in the last row. A colonel named Kranzdorf. Red boots, a red beret tucked under an epaulet, a dainty winged parachute badge on a field of red attached to his tunic. A field of red for a jump into combat at the Mitla Pass in October 1956.

Mitla wasn’t the governor’s only experience killing or risking getting killed, however. Nearly his whole life since being drafted, Haim Kranzdorf had made war or prepared to make it, being given, over a quarter-century, just a month off as a young lieutenant in 1953 to recover from an inconsequential wound—inconsequential except for meeting a nurse younger still when briefly hospitalized. That, plus three years in the mid-60s to gain a BA and MA in history and literature at the Hebrew University, plus a year spent in an intensive-care unit, hospital, and rehabilitation center following a bouquet of consequential wounds delivered on the 18th of October, 1973, and most recently a year at Tel Aviv University learning the elements of Arabic to be able to do a satisfactory job here in Ramallah. Just five years total not making or preparing to make war.

Yes, a professional. A hard man, a bareheaded Jew fluent in German, Hebrew, English, French, and now up to a point Arabic, outstanding in command, domination, killing. A hard man, that is, when necessary, yet whenever possible liberal. A hard liberal as it were. True, everything is relative. Wasn’t the brand-new military governor soft compared with that nurse, Esther Toledano Kranzdorf, his wife, the mother of his kids, both girls? Anyhow, today Kranzdorf had hobbled downstairs to see the quality of the justice in the courtroom of the fort-cum-administrative-office he’d be running the next three years.

When he’d entered, limping, a trial was about to start. Only the judge or judges and the defense were missing. He felt the rest taking note of him as he headed for the back—the prosecutor in khaki, the defendants, the families of the defendants, a translator in khaki, the off-duty idlers, the on-duty warders, an on-duty private in helmet liner cradling an Uzi and gnawing his nails. The private’s assignment must’ve been to keep order.

Kranzdorf having settled himself took a look at the room. It was decorated with just the azure-and-white flag and the Israel Defense Forces emblem of a sword and olive branch. Oh, and a notice forbidding smoking. There was a pair of tables below and at right angles to where the judge or judges would sit, one table in use by the prosecutor, the other not yet occupied, and a witness stand on which, from a distance, the governor made out a Quran, a New Testament, and a copy of the IDF pocket Hebrew Bible all lying happy-go-lucky together. Excellent vision the middle-aged, half-deaf, quarter-disabled Kranzdorf had.

The corporal sitting waiting between the dais and the witness stand was, he figured, a Druze translator. And the Jew leafing through papers at one table, a captain wearing a knitted yarmulke and his shirttail overlapping his trousers, was, he guessed, the prosecutor: a reservist, a lawyer doing his annual stint. It cost Kranzdorf a minor effort not to tell him to fix his damned shirt. He likewise abstained from suggesting the Uzi-toting private take his fingers out of his mouth. Though still occasionally quick to anger—too quick—the most recent war plus his not inconsequential wounds, his near-death, plus the operations, had mellowed the colonel somewhat.

And the four young Arabs in the dock?

Healthy, he judged, healthy and relaxed, although not overjoyed. He studied them. All wore mustaches. Well, had he ever bumped into a post-adolescent Arab male, dead or alive, who shaved his upper lip? Not that he could remember. There were mustaches on the prisoners and freshly-made Egyptian corpses in the Sinai in ’56 and ’67, mustaches on the freshly-made Syrian corpses on the way up the Golan in ’67, mustaches on the PLO men captured or wiped out along the Jordan Valley in ’68, ’69, and ’70, mustaches in Gaza in ’71 and ’72, mustaches on the prisoners and freshly-made Egyptian corpses on the African side of the Canal in ’73, and mustaches on the Jaffa fishermen, citizens of Israel, from whom, reconstructed leg and all, he still bought ḥasilonim at quayside—a wayward Jew eating shrimp. Yes, mustaches were the badge of Arab manhood. Even the high-schoolers holding hands along Main Street here in Ramallah cultivated peach fuzz.

They were relaxed, the mustached Arabs on trial, although not happy, not until a Jewish woman dressed to kill swept in to claim the empty table. A petite number in a red dress. Well. Jumbo hoop earrings, dress of red, wing-like shoulder pads, eye shadow, high-heeled boots, apparently no brassiere, lugging two binders and whistling La Marseillaise. The black gown she produced and threw on hid the dress incompletely.

A good ten years it had been since Kranzdorf betrayed Esther last, yet his reaction on first encountering a woman, any woman, between the age of consent and menopause was to size her up. Just some leftover beast in him. As for this woman, he detected an aura of nastiness. Something in her mouth and eyes. No reason to go with such a woman other than to instill in her, maybe, the fear of God. Again, purely theoretical—even in the old days he’d never slept with anybody he disliked.

He watched as the defendants and what he supposed were their relatives greeted her like a friend. Villagers? Townsfolk? Muslim? Christian? Refugee-camp people? He was inexperienced with enemy civilians, but he thought villagers or refugees and in any case Muslims. They huddled, and, though deaf in one ear, he got the impression both she and they were speaking Arabic.

Was it Rachel Vardi?

Such a flyspeck, Israel. A nick on the rim of Asia, microscopic within the Green Line and compact with the Golan Heights, Sinai, Gaza Strip, and West Bank or if you will Judea and Samaria tacked on, a vest-pocket nation-state where any Trotskyite occasionally in the newspapers would be easily identifiable. Kranzdorf read Haaretz six days a week. He therefore knew that she and another Jewish woman member of the Israeli bar, the Kremlin-line Felicia Langer, defended Palestinians, or so-called Palestinians, in military court.

So-called Palestinians. That’s how Esther who referred to the West Bank as Judea and Samaria referred to them. Langer and Vardi—not the only Jews doing what Kranzdorf held to be this vital work, merely the best-known. Was it Langer? He’d never seen, heard, or read of a chic Stalinist or neo-Stalinist, so yes, it had to be Vardi.

“All rise!” the Druze yelled.

Three judges. Boots scraping as they mounted the dais and Kranzdorf rose like everybody including the Arabs, their families, and their attorney. Unlike them, he did it jerkily. Walking no longer posed much of a challenge, but stairs remained tricky, and getting to his feet necessitated bracing the right hand against the opposite knee, then, grunting not quite inaudibly, wrenching himself upright. The judges seated themselves, everybody followed, and having reversed the travail of getting up he discovered two captains also on the bench, youngish, flanking a major with silvery temples and eyes like a sea creature in the Eilat aquarium.

One glance at Vardi and Old Fish Eye said, “If defense counsel appears in court this way again, I’ll hold her in contempt.”

Vardi, innocently: “Your honor is referring to?”

“You know very well. You’d do better for your clients if you showed respect.”

Vardi, contemptuously: “Yes, your honor.”

And now what Kranzdorf gathered was a mini-trial began: a trial-within-a-trial adjudicating the legality of a confession or confessions. Vardi called one of her Arabs, name given, to the stand. The colonel watched the defendant place a hand on the Quran and heard the vow to tell the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth.

“Who were the Shabak interrogators who tortured you?”

“Objection,” said the reservist with the shirttail.

Head judge: “Grounds?”

“Counsel is leading the witness.”

Old Fish Eye to Vardi: “Rephrase your question.”

“Who interrogated you?”

“One they called Yossi,” said the witness-defendant, and this like everything in either Arabic or Hebrew was made into the other language by the Druze. “The second was Maurice.”

“What did they do?”

Yanni, they beat us.”

Old Fish Eye to witness: “Did you see the other defendants beaten?”

“No.”

“Then don’t tell us about them.”

Vardi: “How did Yossi and Maurice beat you personally?”

Yanni, they put a sack over my head, then they beat me,” said the Arab, who Kranzdorf noticed was unmarked, at least visibly.

“Did they use their fists, or what?”

“Their fists, a club, and they kicked me too, by God.”

Old Fish Eye to witness: “How could you know what they were beating you with if there was a sack over your head?”

“You know.”

Vardi: “Where on your body did they beat you?”

“On the face, yanni, and in the stomach.”

Yanni, yanni, yanni—a noise, a tic in Arab speech the meaninglessness of which Kranzdorf’s better half had spelled out for him and which the Druze ignored. Each question and answer was being transcribed by Old Fish Eye doubling as stenographer. It necessitated waiting for the Arabic to be rendered into Hebrew, but Kranzdorf, head turned away slightly to maximize his good ear, followed much of the Arabic unaided. He was defeated by just a word here, an idiom or phrase there. Not easy, Arabic, for all its kinship with Hebrew.

 

A year of study the governor had under his belt—the new governor who intended to concentrate on the wellbeing of the Arabs of the Ramallah district. He knew he’d have to do so within the security parameters of his country, his mini-country, the one that had taken him in as a refugee, the finest Jewish state in the world. Komisch klein aber mein. Ludicrously small, but his own. But within those parameters he aimed to do his best for the Arabs. No, this wasn’t evidence of guilt over what he’d done as a lieutenant under the command of Ariel Sharon. The raids twenty years ago had been unavoidable, and he was prey to no guilt, no second thoughts. If he meant to govern liberally, as liberally as he could, it wasn’t to make amends but to exhibit a human face, and in so doing, who knows, speed the coming of peace by a nanosecond.

Peace! An end to the conflict. Kranzdorf hadn’t verbalized this for Esther. She’d guessed it, sharp woman, opining after they’d visited Ramallah and inspected the fort and eaten the mezeh at Naoum’s Garden Restaurant, and jointly decided that chief-of-staff Motta Gur’s proposal was acceptable, that yes, he should accept it, and that as governor he should behave decently, if not more than decently, should be what those Israelis whose parents or grandparents hailed from Poland or Russia called a mentsh, but shouldn’t expect the Arabs he was useful to would quit yearning to drown all the Zionists in the Mediterranean, all the Jews, every one, right-wing and left-wing, shrimp-eating or kosher-keeping regardless of how decent, regardless of where they or their parents or grandparents came from, Berlin, Warsaw, Baghdad, Brooklyn, or Jerusalem, including him, her, the girls, her parents, his mother, and the editors of Haaretz.

Quiet advice from deputy head nurse Esther Kranzdorf of Tel Hashomer hospital, who cared for the Arab sick not an iota less dedicatedly than the Jewish. So: humanity for its own sake. For the sake, as Camus puts it, of absurdity. That North African-born ladykiller was, Esther knew, her husband’s second-favorite writer after Franz Kafka. He’d learned French to read him in the original.

Vardi: “How long were you beaten?”

“Until I couldn’t stand,” the defendant answered jauntily. “Then they’d throw water on me and start over.”

A woman half-sighed, half-groaned.

“Quiet,” said Old Fish Eye, and the Druze put this in Arabic, too. “Another disturbance and I’ll clear the court.”

“What else?” said Vardi in her shoulder pads.

“Maurice and Yossi tied my wrists to my ankles and left me on a chair.”

“For how long?”

“Hours, days, who knows?”

Old Fish Eye: “How long?”

“Hours.”

Vardi: “What else?”

“They wouldn’t let me sleep.”

“How?”

“By keeping a light on and playing American music.”

Kranzdorf realized that everybody—the young judges, Old Fish Eye, the lawyers, the Druze tonelessly doing his job, the defendants, their families, the warders, the idlers, the private with the Uzi on his lap steadily chewing his nails— had forgotten he was there.

“What else?”

“Sometimes they left me in darkness.”

“What else?”

“They shook me, yanni.”

“Shook?”

“They shook me hard back and forth.”

“What else?”

“They gave me bad food.”

“Bad?”

“No salt.”

“What else?”

“They wouldn’t let me use the bathroom.”

“Do you mean toilet?”

“Yes.”

“And so?”

Old Fish Eye to Vardi: “Understood. Ask your next question.”

“What else?”

“They made me take ice-cold showers.”

“What else?”

“Afterward they made me stand under the air conditioner naked.”

“What else?”

“They made me take hot showers.”

“Hot?”

“Boiling hot.”

“What else?”

“Threats.”

“Which?”

Yanni, they said by God if I didn’t confess they’d raze my family’s house.”

Kranzdorf, his functional ear pointed at Vardi and her client, watched sidelong. A husband, a daddy, something of an intellectual, a man with a temper and, yes, a liberal. Meaning he gave everyone the benefit of the doubt until a reason surfaced to withdraw it. All except Germans and Austrians over the age of fifty and Marxist-Leninists of whatever age. Vardi was a thirty-something Marxist-Leninist. And this nonchalant young Arab? Did he even know of dialectical materialism? Probably not. A truthful witness? Vielleicht, vielleicht auch nicht. Maybe, maybe not. A liberal, yes, but the colonel was neither gullible nor a y’feyh nefesh, the Hebrew version of a bleeding heart.

He’d been called many things. “Yekke potz! Yekke potz!” the older boys at Ein Harod kibbutz, the muscular, tan sabras, jeered that first day when refugee immigrant Dora Kranzdorf dressed her boy in lederhosen. It was all Heinzi could do not to break into tears. “Yekke potz!” The hilarious Alpine gear had quickly been replaced by faded cotton shorts, faded cotton work shirt, the ubiquitous Israeli dunce cap, and floppy sandals, and Heinz was moved from his parents’ room into the kids’ dormitory.

But the joys of initiation were drawn out, and not until he was circumcised, and got renamed Haim, and became tan and muscular, and handy with his fists, would they end. So many names, so many imputed qualities. Oddball. Brainy. Too brainy. Insubordinate. Cold. Hot-tempered. Valorous to the point of questionability. Never, however, dangerously softhearted. No, as he listened Kranzdorf wagered his most cordial IDF enemies never tagged him a y’feyh nefesh.

“What else?”

“Yossi twisted my nose until I was bleeding.”

Old Fish Eye: “Through the sack again?”

“Without the sack.”

Vardi: “Did you confess of your own free will?”

“What, with the blood coming down?”

Old Fish Eye: “Answer yes or no.”

“No.”

Both younger judges were mute. Youngish captains, younger, Kranzdorf dared say, than he’d been when he gained that rank. Valiant though he’d early on shown himself to be, chosen to go abroad to study in the staff college at Camberley in England in what usually heralded fast-tracking to the general staff, his promotions lagged. No mystery why—his weakness for books and his outspokenness made him enemies. Anyhow, the colonel looked forward to reporting to his wife on the silence of the captains and Vardi’s high heels and Old Fish Eye.

They shared everything, he and Esther did. Or nearly everything. Kranzdorf had never wept in her presence for comrades killed, for Zvi or Suleiman or Sasson, and it was only by a feminine sixth sense that she’d intuited his two adulteries. She was quick. A quick, sharp woman, painting and joking, painting landscapes, cityscapes, and still lifes for relaxation and voting for Menachem Begin. Harder in ways, Kranzdorf mused, than he himself, yet neither cynical nor unhappy, and on both occasions hadn’t she forgiven him?

A queer couple. He wouldn’t deny it: the killer and the nurse, refugee yekke and old-line Sephardi, painter and cook, blond and dark, nose-holding Labor voter and wholehearted Herutnik and now Likudnik. But didn’t every indestructible couple in reality, if not in German, French, Hebrew, and translated Russian fiction, appear unlikely? The colonel thought so, and believed Esther feared him.

Believed it, and was certain it gratified her to be afraid, the slightest bit afraid, a female, a mother. Normal women in abnormal situations and even in countries at peace desired frightening men capable of protecting them and their offspring. Slightly, not very, frightening. At least so Kranzdorf, who since Ein Harod had made no effort to frighten anybody, believed. Yet she didn’t shy from giving advice to her partner-for-life with the medals he never wore, the books he’d read, the stitched-up belly, the dead ear, the khamsin headaches, the bionic leg, although not in front of their girls Nurit and Ḥamutal. Such an odd couple. And no important career step without discussion—for example, he wouldn’t have taken on a governorship if she’d been against.

“You can’t be sure, right?”

It was the cross-examining prosecutor inquiring of the defendant-witness how he could know the men who allegedly beat him were Shabak, internal-security men.

Vardi: “Objection!”

Old Fish Eye: “Grounds?”

“Immaterial.”

“Overruled.”

“Immaterial and irrelevant.”

“Overruled.”

Prosecutor: “How can you know they were Shabak?”

Defendant, smiling: “I can’t.”

Prosecutor, adjusting skullcap: “Didn’t a doctor check on you during the interrogation?”

“Yes.”

“What did he do?”

Yanni, he took my pulse.”

“Did you complain about anything to him, any pain or injury?”

“Why should I?”

Old Fish Eye: “Answer the question.”

“No.”

Vardi on re-examination: “And why didn’t you complain?”

“Because Yossi and Maurice were standing there.”

And now, though Kranzdorf wasn’t so liberal as to believe everything, he began to feel the Shabakniks had employed more than deception and patience in winning a confession from this Arab.

It unsettled him.

There was nobody harder in the army currently or recently. Nobody—not the battlefield genius Arik who’d entered politics, not Motta who jumped at Mitla and hated Arik, not Reḥavam Ze’evi, nickname Gandhi, who’d become the prime minister’s civilian adviser on terrorism and intelligence, not David Elazar, nickname Dado, who’d had to step down after the Yom Kippur War, unfairly step down, not the one-eyed, lady-killing Moshe Dayan who’d fought under Wingate, gotten his education in a British jail, made over the IDF for Ben-Gurion, fashioned a liberal occupation, as liberal as an occupation can be, advised Golda in ’73 to say no to Dado’s request to preempt on Yom Kippur morning and then cracked up briefly, not Yitzḥak Rabin who’d briefly cracked up in ’67 and who thanks to having the ambassadorship in Washington during most of the five years leading to Yom Kippur and incurring no guilt was now prime minister.

Nobody harder than Kranzdorf? What about fellow Unit 101 and Mitla veteran Raful Eytan who’d been shot in the head, then shot in the head again, but who’d blocked the Syrians on the Golan in those wild days and nights three Octobers previous and now was O/C Northern Command?

Okay, maybe Raful was harder, though not harder than Golda. The chain-smoking Golda Meir geborene Mabovitch. Hard as only a Jewish woman can be. Would testimony of sleep deprivation, beatings, American music have upset the grandmother who’d told an interviewer from the Sunday Times of London that when she’d arrived in this country from the U.S. there’d been no Palestinians and who in May of ’74 had led the president of Israel, the defense minister, and the chief-of-staff into Kranzdorf’s hospital room? Maybe not, but though he didn’t credit every word, it disturbed him.

Again, it was unsettling.

Killing had always been, was, and would always be at the heart of war—so he thought. Once the green light was flashed, especially in Blitzkrieg, the thing was to demoralize the enemy by killing him so urgently that individuals and platoons and then brigades and divisions cracked, surrendered, fled. Because the key was morale. Yes, morale counted over and beyond logistics, transport, weaponry, intelligence, the seizing and retention of high ground and road junctions. Clausewitz and Trotsky described it as the edge needed to win, and Kranzdorf agreed.

Granted, due to the mismatch in size and population between the Arabs and Israel, and owing to the freighted legacy of Moses, Jesus, and Anne Frank, the Jewish army could never win a total victory, meaning political victory, could never smash the enemy utterly and dictate terms as non-Jews could. Never mind. The fundamental thing applied. No substituting Jewish cleverness for killing, either, not when firing the opening shots as in ’56 and ’67 and not when, rather than defy Henry Kissinger, you let the enemy open fire as two years ago happened, an enemy who’d stood and killed well until almost the ceasefire. Did the governor find pleasure in killing? None. If for nearly a quarter-century he’d taken part, if he’d led, it was because he judged it had to be done.

While the guns were talking, mercy had no place. But once they’d stopped, or at least once they’d been whistled to a stop until the next round, and those enemy soldiers not killed or fled had been taken prisoner, woe to anybody in Kranzdorf’s command mistreating them. He’d jailed violators and had them demoted. Therefore—or maybe because he commanded only elite units—abuse was infrequent. A question of respecting the Geneva conventions? No, not for him, not primarily. And since a higher order, never mind God, was beyond conceiving, neither was it a question of honoring the image of divinity in which Genesis and the rabbis say everybody is formed.

As the mini-trial continued Kranzdorf reflected that to ill-treat somebody in your power betrayed weakness. God help the Jews if they weakened before the other side acquiesced in their nation-state. Or, to be exact, God help them if they continued weakening—he’d recognized omens in the crying, by soldiers, at IDF funerals, a development reported by Esther after he left the ICU.

 

And now Vardi had brought another of her mustached clients to the stand. Defendant number two, name given, was also, visibly at least—head, neck, hands—unmarked. More than peach fuzz, not quite yet a real growth. A minor? No, couldn’t be. The hand on the Quran, the truth, etcetera, etcetera, and as she had with defendant number one, Vardi put her leading questions. It would’ve been impossible for Kranzdorf to say whom he found less attractive, Old Fish Eye or her. What, a Marxist-Leninist championing human dignity? Please. Trotskyism and the rule of law? Opposites, was his view, based on wide reading for a soldier including the former Lev Davidovich Bronstein’s memoirs. But attractiveness? Irrelevant.

Old Fish Eye had a job, a vital job, and charm was beside the point. Likewise with Vardi. She had a job to do for her clients and for the half-capitalist, half-socialist, relatively civilized and democratic society of which she was a member and which, being a Marxist-Leninist, she despised. Everybody had a job that he or she did as best he or she could. Including the Shabakniks whom each of these four Arabs was to accuse of pressure and, in the case of defendant number two, of worse, revoltingly worse, than a little pressure.

“Were you beaten?”

“Yes.”

“Who by?”

“Jacques and Sami.”

“What did they do?”

“They covered my head with a sack and beat me after I denied the charges.”

“Where on your body did they beat you?”

“On my head, stomach, and sex organ. I fainted, so they threw water on me and started again.”

“That’s it. I warned you,” said Old Fish Eye, and ordered a row of spectators cleared. Kranzdorf, disgusted, saw the private with the Uzi getting to his feet, and saw and heard the Jewish woman Communist protesting. Those banished, she told Old Fish Eye, included the defendant’s uncle and grandmother, the uncle in keffiyeh, the grandmother in one of those embroidered robes the colonel was already used to seeing on village and camp women.

Uncle and grandmother and several others having left, Vardi, half-grinning, asked her young man if he’d given his statement freely.

“No.”

“So how?”

“I was exhausted. They wouldn’t let me sleep, yanni.”

Prosecutor, cross-examining: “All these things you’re saying today you’ve never said before.”

Old Fish Eye: “Is that a question?”

Prosecutor: “Why did they put a sack over your head? Do you think they were ashamed of what they were doing?”

Old Fish Eye, rapidly, before the Druze could speak: “What’s the matter with you today?”

“Your honor, if these defendants were beaten it wasn’t by their interrogators. The confessions are valid.”

“Ask your next question.”

The judge evidently no less disgusted than Kranzdorf. By what, however? Merely the prosecutor’s uselessness? Yes, possibly, Kranzdorf thought, having noticed that the allegation didn’t cause Old Fish Eye to blink. A’da at-tanasul—sex organ, genitals. A new term for the governor’s Arabic vocabulary, one he’d had to wait for the Druze to process. No echo of the Hebrew term although Hebrew and Arabic were brother languages.

Or half-brotherly. Kranzdorf had learned in his high school, the Gymnasia Reḥavia, that Isaac was Abraham’s son by his first wife Sarah and Ishmael by his second Hagar, the first-born son, Ishmael, thrown out into the burning desert with his mother to appease Sarah and God. At least so Genesis narrates. What about the Quran? He’d check. Yes, old idol-smashing Abraham with his goats, camels, tents, and wives, father of the Jews and of the Arabs. And therefore Hebrew and Arabic were half-brotherly. One explanation, maybe, why Kranzdorf, a Jew comatose between October 19 and October 29, 1973, had soaked up as much Arabic as he had in a year.

He’d noted how many words rang consanguineous. Children—y’ladim in Hebrew, awlad in Arabic. Death—mavet and mawt. Hence the epithet Esther informed him the Arab kids used to throw at Jewish kids and grownups, throw along with stones—“awlad al-mawt.” Dozens, hundreds, thousands of comparable words. Love—ahavah and hub. No need to add shalom and salaam. But not just resemblances. As one instructor, a Jew, actually a right-winger, had said in that year-long Tel Aviv University course, Arabic has it over Hebrew. More words, more variants, more nuances, and often the Arabic differs subtly if not altogether from the Hebrew. Take for example war—harb in Arabic, milḥamah in Hebrew. And hatred—sin’ah in Hebrew, kuraiya in Arabic. Or take sex organ, genitals, in Hebrew simply eyver hamin but in Arabic, it now proved to be, a’da at-tanasul.

The governor had waited for the Druze’s translation and on hearing it was angered, nauseated, and, yes, relieved. It was a lie. An unbelievable, disgusting lie, fruit of the Arab imagination and/or a Trotskyite’s amorality.

Unbelievable, first, because it hadn’t needed to be coaxed from the young man. Next, because it didn’t accord. Were the Jews or the Israelis, were the colonel’s people, Vardi’s people, better than Arabs, Turks, Germans, French, Belgians, Russians, Japanese, Chinese? Yes, he believed they were. Even compared with the British and what he’d read about the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Americans, the Jews, the Israelis, the Zionists had used relatively vegetarian methods in staking, taking—or to be more exact, retaking—and defending their bit of earth.

Not that Kranzdorf cherished illusions. He knew very well that in the Jewish state you had both bareheaded and skull-capped fools, hypocrites, perverts. But the Shabak? Exhibiting mental illness in the line of duty? Not credible.

The Shabak wasn’t the Gestapo, or the secret police in any of the dozens of Muslim countries roundabout from Indonesia to Morocco, from Turkey to Sudan and Uganda. Nor was it the Cheka or the NKVD, in which some torturers and murderers had been of Jewish extraction. And the other side knew it very well. Kranzdorf now recalled how the PLO men five years earlier, when the Jordanian king was liquidating them on the East Bank, waded the Jordan River in daylight, preferring to give up to the Jews rather than chance the humanity of fellow Arabs, fellow Muslims. He’d given these asylum seekers over to the Shabak. And though he’d never witnessed an interrogation, he believed until today and now believed again that the Shabakniks were professionals relying on guile.

So the climax of defendant number two’s story was unbelievable. It was a lie that Old Fish Eye didn’t appear irritated by, maybe having heard similar lies in the past, but that riled Kranzdorf, and eased his mind, for if such could be told under oath, then what had been testified to before could and ought to be disbelieved also. He watched and listened to the continuing mini-trial less troubled.

 

Continue it did, the other two fit-looking Arabs with mustaches being named, sworn, examined, cross-examined, re-examined, saying that what defendants one and two had undergone they’d undergone also, minus that one thing, and the Druze fighting before giving in to a yawn. A’da at-tanasul. Kranzdorf tried, unsuccessfully, to work out the roots, all Semitic languages being constructed on roots. He’d ask Esther. Or should he? A’da at-tanasul—she might know.

She’d grown up with Arabs, and for years now had had them among her patients, both Israeli Arabs from Nazareth and Umm al-Fahm and Taibe and so-called Palestinians from this side of the disappearing Green Line, the side that the world and many Israeli Jews considered occupied territory. This nurse who’d cared for the briefly hospitalized Kranzdorf back when he was barely older than the men on trial wasn’t an immigrant or refugee but a sabra who as a child, youngster, and teenager had spoken Ladino, Arabic, Hebrew in the streets and alleyways of Jerusalem, a native-born Jew, homegrown as the so-called Palestinians, a Palestinian herself if you will, indigenous as the cactus fruit the Palestinian women crossing the Green Line in embroidered robes hawked from buckets of ice. “Sabras! Sabras!” they yelled in West Jerusalem. Iced treats shaped like grenades.

Yes, if Kranzdorf was once an uncircumcised refugee newcomer made to feel weak, alien, laughable, Esther was fifth-generation in the land, and his and her sabra kids would be the mothers of the seventh.

“All rise!”

Boots scraping, the judges went off to chambers. Having again levered himself to his feet, Kranzdorf decided to wait and hear their ruling—his secretaries upstairs knew his whereabouts if they needed him. Again he settled himself, and watched Vardi fishing a lighter and a box of Marlboros from her shoulder bag, leaving the bag for the warders to guard and exiting while he, most of the Jews, plus the Druze, plus all of the Arabs, including the defendants, stayed put.

Kranzdorf agreed with Old Fish Eye—this Jewish lawyer ought to have behaved respectfully. Two jobs she had. She was under a duty to society and her profession to defend her clients zealously. But wasn’t she also duty-bound not to worsen their situation? Her earrings, her makeup, her heels, everything, her collusion in perjury, only alienated the judges, increasing the likelihood of an unfavorable mini-verdict and eventual heavy sentence. Old Fish Eye and the dumb captains were human.

Again he studied the defendants. Guilty? Innocent? Guilty, he reckoned, and wondered what of. Murder? Plotting murder? Enlisting in a terrorist organization? Terrorist? He never used such language and never had, not even in ’68, ’69, and ’70, no matter what those he’d hunted with his men and Suleiman the Bedouin tracker in the wadis and caves and bulrushes of the Jordan Valley planned to do, and occasionally did do when not intercepted and killed or taken alive, such as bombing cafés, marketplaces, buses, schoolbuses in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa. And not in ’71 and ’72, either, when he’d pacified Gaza with Arik.

It had never been “terrorists” for Kranzdorf, just simply “the enemy” in briefings to his men ahead of going out and in his postmortems with copies for Gandhi, Haim Bar-Lev, Arik, Dayan. “Terrorist”—hazy language, emotive, disrespectful. Thou shalt respect thine enemy. Respect him alive, respect him dead, even if a so-called terrorist, even if Syrian, because he who disrespects the enemy will underestimate him, and will pay, as on Yom Kippur.

He glanced at his watch. Twenty minutes since the judges had left, and neither Vardi nor they had reappeared.

As Kranzdorf sat waiting he debated the pros and cons of torture. He recalled Camus anathematizing it. Even when the information saved lives, torture blighted the name of France and encouraged more Arabs to kill more pied-noir women, children, and old men. Yes, the author of The Stranger wrote, torture meant descending into barbarism for short-term gains. Civilized people and nations wishing to remain civilized never, never tortured. Never.

An impassioned essay making sense, no? If abuse weakened militaries, as the colonel was in no doubt it did, torture went further, debauching societies. Besides, intelligence obtained this way can’t be very good. Won’t the hardest man say anything to end the agony? Kranzdorf wondered if he himself could hold out à la the French resistance leader Jean Moulin, dying having given away nothing, betrayed nobody. Er hielt seine Lippen versiegelt. He kept his lips sealed. Anyhow, what man inflicts torture without going crazy? Only a psychopath. You don’t want psychopaths defending you, your wife, your kids, your country. So it was better—was it not?—always to rely on empathy.

But now Kranzdorf saw the courtroom guard toying with a fag.

He hoped the private wasn’t going to light up. Would he, despite the sign? Hopefully, curiously, the military governor waited as the boy hesitated. A non-fighter, a so-called jobnik by the looks of him. Kranzdorf wasn’t disdainful. Each man, boy, and girl in the IDF, be he or she conscript, professional, or reservist, had a task, and if he or she carried it out satisfactorily he or she enjoyed the colonel’s respect. He waited, and then, yes, the nitwit produced a matchbox. One lungful Kranzdorf allowed him.

“No smoking here, soldier.”

He hadn’t intended his voice to fill the room, but it did, and everybody, the Arabs, the Druze, and the Jews, swiveled their heads. Kranzdorf regretted what he’d done. Nobody should be humiliated, and Jews shouldn’t humiliate other Jews, especially not in front of Arabs. Yes, he should’ve cantilevered himself up, limped over, and murmured in this individual’s ear. The kid might next have thought to join Vardi outdoors. In which case Kranzdorf would’ve required him to stay. Happily it wasn’t necessary—with fingernails eaten to the quick the cigarette was pinched dead.

So where had Kranzdorf been? Torture. An unpleasant subject, none more unpleasant, but he didn’t let it go.

What is torture and what isn’t? Camus hadn’t raised that question, much less grappled with it, no doubt because what the French colonels were up to in Algeria—electricity to the genitals, simulated drowning—was unequivocal. But is hooding torture? Sleep deprivation? Heat? Cold? Tasteless food? American music? The various other privations and worse gone through or allegedly gone through by the defendants here in the Tegart fort in Ramallah? Where’s the line? If torture was outlawed internationally by conventions that Israel had signed, conventions probably enacted in Geneva, probably within a few years of the liberation of Treblinka, Buchenwald, Mauthausen, it must’ve been defined. How would the American, British, French, and Soviet jurists, appalled by Nazism if not by the Gulag, and at about the same time as the UN was resolving that Palestine be chopped into two nation-states, one Jewish, one Arab, have legislated what was and wasn’t torture?

Kranzdorf wrote himself a mental note to look it up.

Again he thought of Camus, the husband, father, adulterer, chain-smoker, ex-Communist, and quasi-pacifist who’d volunteered to fight the Nazis only to be turned down on health grounds. The man had ruled out torture with no ifs, ands, or buts. Yet in that same incandescent essay he damned as lunatics the Algerian guerrillas in the FLN who bombed cafés and expressed anxiety that the victims of the next bombing might include his own pied-noir family. And then in Stockholm before collecting his Nobel Prize he did, he said, worse. Kranzdorf retrieved the quote from somewhere in his brain verbatim: “Je crois à la justice, mais je défendrai ma mère avant la justice.” I believe in justice, but I will defend my mother before justice.

The derision the Parisian leftists and other bien pensants, Sartre, Beauvoir & Co., Camus’s ex-friends, the intellectuals who’d never forgive the Americans for liberating them from the Germans, poured on him for that! Justice? Mothers? The defense of mothers? Albert the Nobelist wished to eat his cake and have it, too. Because objectively, as the Marxist-Leninists used to say, his illiterate mother couldn’t be defended without electricity and water. Repellent as Kranzdorf found Sartre’s anti-Americanism, not to mention his long-time excuses for the French Communist party, Stalin, and Russian-Soviet imperialism, on this the governor had to admit that Sartre the walleyed bourgeois and more or less consistent defender of the Jews and Israel was right and the Humphrey Bogart lookalike and working-class Camus had been muddled. Camus foresaw that an FLN victory in Algeria would prompt the exodus of all non-Muslims from the country of his birth and youth, but, himself tortured by the means being employed to forestall it, he, too, was inconsistent.

 

Again the colonel studied the Arabs in the dock.

No, certainly not the demeanor of men who’d been gravely ill-treated or expected renewed ill treatment. And unmarked. But so what? A line came to him from a well-known Tawfiq Zayyad poem: “Wafi qulubna jahim khamer.” None of the humor or insight or charity of Naguib Mahfouz, the Egyptian several of whose short stories had also been assigned at the end of that year-long course. “Wafi qulubna jahim khamer.” No charity there. And why should there be? Zayyad a Palestinian and a Kremlin-line Communist to boot.

In fact, not just a poet but also the Communist mayor of Nazareth and a Communist-party member of the Knesset, his salary paid by the Jews. The colonel would give Zayyad the benefit of the doubt. He’d be astonished if the man was a genuine Marxist-Leninist, no more than were Samih al-Qasim and Mahmoud Darwish, two other celebrated Palestinian versifiers and party members. It was simply that, unlike the PLO, the Communist party was legal. A long twisted history. Stalin in ’48 for his own reasons had told the Czechs to send guns to the Jews when the Jews needed them desperately and the Americans had imposed an embargo, and had recognized the newborn Jewish state de jure before the U.S. did.

Yes, the Israel Communist party was kosher. It had remained so even when the USSR decided to back and arm the Arabs, even when in the Six-Day War in ’67, a war fomented by the USSR, the IDF left the Sinai a junkyard of Soviet T-55s and squashed its MiG-21s like roaches on the tarmac, even when the USSR closed its embassy in Tel Aviv, even when a year later the Israel Communist party congratulated the USSR for invading Czechoslovakia and quashing a liberal movement, even when the PLO began getting training, weapons, medical care, rest, recreation, and safe houses in the German Democratic Republic, even when, a week ago at the UN General Assembly, to Kranzdorf’s fury and disgust, the USSR voted with the majority to categorize Zionism as a species of racism. So the country that Stalin was quick to recognize and that pays Tawfiq Zayyad’s salary is racist and has to be eradicated?

Never mind. Waiting for the judges to reappear the governor didn’t blame Zayyad the politician for his CP affiliation or Zayyad the poet for his lack of humor, insight, charity. How did the whole famous stanza go?

Ana huna baquna
Kal tashribu al-bahr
Kahrs wa al-zaytun wa al-tiyn
wal’afkar alnabatia mathal alkhmirat fi
alkhubz
al’aesab ladanya alsulb bwasti aljalid
Wafi qulubna jahim khamer. 

Translatable more or less as:

Here we shall remain
You may drink the sea
We shall guard the shade of the olive
and the fig
And plant ideas
Like yeast in bread
Our nerves steeled by ice
And a burning hell raging in our hearts.

Not much of a poem but it got across the idea of the wound, the cosmic wound and the refusal to patch it up, make a deal, split the difference. Not you the Jews but we the Arabs, the Muslims, the Palestinians are the sons and inheritors of this land, of the whole land, everything from the river to the sea. Unbeatable as you may appear now, we’re not going, nor are we forgetting anything. We’ll outlast, wear down, out-reproduce, outfight, outmaneuver, and finally wave goodbye to you as we did to the Crusaders. Let it take 100, 200, 300 years. We’ll see you off. The hatred and the vision of manhood reasserted à la Frantz Fanon.

Did these young men of Vardi’s know Fanon’s work? No, they didn’t seem the intellectual type. But a line or two of Zayyad? Probably. And whatever the Shabak and the warders had or hadn’t done, a burning hell could be raging in their hearts, as the poet avers rages in his. Ya Allah! To be controlled, to be shamed in the eyes of the Arabs and Muslims of the world, unmanned by the Jews of all people, the awlad al-mawt with their females in khaki! Yes, not a question of mere land but of intangibles. The colonel remembered Dayan saying that if he were a Palestinian he’d join the PLO.

 

Kranzdorf pondered a hypothetical.

Say an IDF hitchhiker is kidnapped by PLO fighters. They demand the release, within 72 hours, of hundreds of comrades, among them mass murderers, or she’ll be murdered. What to do? Accede? Bargain? Try a rescue with no certainty of a happy outcome? The specialized unit is waiting. All it needs, besides a go-ahead, is the address where she’s being held, information the Shabak feels an Arab guy just taken into custody is privy to. The guy’s not saying, however. No time for building a relationship. Question: which means ought to be legitimate? Camus notwithstanding, Kranzdorf found the answer easy. Whatever it took.

Really? Whatever? Haul in the man’s wife or kids and crucify them in front of him? No, not that. But on and to himself, anything—yes, and deal with the societal repercussions later. The prime minister would have to give the nod. And the Shabak would have to be professional enough not to be misled by agonized lies.

Exceptional circumstances, granted. But inconceivable? Unfortunately not in the world’s only Jewish state. If on grounds not of utility but morality you forbade torture, defining torture as narrowly or broadly as you wished, forbade it absolutely under any circumstances, then it was obvious to Kranzdorf you preferred murder, including the murder of young women, including even the mass murder of civilians, to letting those acting in your behalf jeopardize their souls.

What kind of morality was that?

Apropos of civilians he remembered the gelignite-filled icebox left in Jerusalem’s Zion Square in July. It had killed, what was it, fourteen Jews, Arabs, and tourists, maimed, what was it, 77, and the PLO in Damascus claimed credit. Kranzdorf’s widowed Mütter and her New York grandnephew, an undergraduate on holiday in Israel, a dancer and Vassar student, had just ordered yekke-style pastry with whipped cream at Café Atara nearby when the fridge exploded. She’d hustled Zack through Atara’s back door lest he glimpse the indelible. Zack for Zachary, you understand. Having just heard, not even seen, he departed the Holy Land ahead of time for a Greek island.

Was the Zion Square massacre a Shabak failure? Yes, obviously. Nobody and no intelligence service is perfect, of course, but what happened? Did they have a clue or clues beforehand? Anybody in custody they failed to ask the right questions of, or didn’t subject to certain methods? Who knew? All somebody like the colonel knew was that fourteen Jews, Arabs, and tourists were dead and 77 more or less crippled, disabled, disfigured.

And in addition the governor knew the fort wouldn’t be his domain entirely. The court, the interrogation rooms, and the cellblock were going to remain the province of the IDF advocate-general, the Shabak, and the Prison Service. Famous or notorious for being his own man, he accepted this yet decided he’d informally monitor conditions. Word had it that the bigger, older Arabs in lockups on either side of the Green Line raped the younger, weaker ones.

Kranzdorf contemplated the fuzzy-lipped Arab. He’d be damned if this happened in any building he was even partially in charge of. But how was he to know? Should he make friends with the warders? The Shabakniks? And if it happened, and he did learn of it, how to end it? Well, he’d cross that bridge. Meanwhile, though not his responsibility, he’d see to it that the bedding, food, toilets, and medical care were okay. Yes, he’d visit, meet the warders, meet Yossi, Maurice, Jacques, and Sami, meet a few inmates too. He’d insure they had Qurans if they wished. Esther shouldn’t object.

But here was Vardi.

With her reappearance the colonel not only gathered that a mini-verdict was imminent but fancied he knew what it would be. His anger lingered—unforgivable, that sex-organ business she’d cooked up or gone along with. She took her place, and her eyes darted like, to his mind, a rat’s. Only with an effort was he able now to imagine himself in her skin, in her boots, and imagining understand what before he hadn’t quite. Tout comprendre, ç’est tout pardonner. To understand everything is to forgive everything. Who said or wrote that? He didn’t remember, he wouldn’t even agree it was true, but now he realized that Vardi’s job as she viewed it wasn’t to get her clients the lightest sentences but instead to demonstrate contempt for a farce and its predetermined outcome. If this resulted in longer jail time, so much the better.

Yes, that had to be the service this woman faithful to her ideology and/or Jewish guilts or both had volunteered or been hired to provide. The one the PLO, if not these men and their families, also wanted to be provided. Were they, was she, blameworthy? No, it was a free country. Jews and non-Jews were entitled to their ideologies, their guilts, their agendas, their vanities.

“All rise!”

Here came the judges. They sat, and Old Fish Eye, having waited until Kranzdorf reseated himself, cleared his throat and said: “We don’t believe the defendants. If what they claim is true, why were no marks left, and why didn’t they seek medical attention?” Vardi was smirking. “Hence the trial proper will continue tomorrow at ten in the morning.”

Vardi smirked and the Arabs shook their heads.

“All rise!”

The judges trooped out. Military justice, the military governor admitted to himself as he stood, was certainly rough, was indeed to justice what military music was to music. But had he witnessed a farce? A travesty? No—rough isn’t necessarily unjust. Gently the warders prepared to escort the defendants back to the cells, first giving them a minute or two with counsel, who spoke what Kranzdorf took to be heartening words, and family, who lavished kisses. The grandmother who’d been thrown out had reentered and was passing a sesame bagel to defendant number two. Couldn’t a razor blade, a message, whatever, be hidden inside? Yes, but the colonel, still on his feet, held his peace.

One bagel, multiple hugs and kisses. The quartet was led away. He watched Vardi take off her gown, collect binders, Marlboros, lighter, shoulder bag, car keys, and even if she hadn’t delayed shooting Kranzdorf a wink until just before vanishing, he would’ve kept his face a mask.

More about: Arts & Culture, Fiction, Israel & Zionism, Literature