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 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 gave the Jews some 3000 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 I.R.A. 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, has 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 rundown, 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 those few ultra-orthodox terrorists it accidently managed to capture after a short term of imprisonment.
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.
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.
“Assholes,” muttered Ari.
The girl lay unconscious and 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 paying 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 publically 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 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 the 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, just as it had no woman’s Olympic team since the founding of the State in 1948.
“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 idiot’s hadn’t imposed Halachic Law the country wouldn’t be going bankrupt.”
Pausing, Ari pulled out one of the washcloths he always carried with him out of his pocket 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 shit.”
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 the 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 3000 years ago, he inserted a restrictive covenant in the deed prohibiting us Jews from ever transferring any portion of the West Bank 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 re-conquer 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 Moslems.”
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 waived 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 600,000 civilians.
“Now, zealots plot to provoke the entire Muslim world, all billion plus of them, by attacking the 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 P.M. 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 because his car got stuck in a massive traffic jam.
4. Three Days Later
Ari picked up the phone on his secure line. The voice on the other end was a long time friend, now assigned to the counter terrorism unit.
“Ari, what’s happening on your end of the assassination investigation?”
“Nothing,” growled Ari. “As ordered by the idiots upstairs I gave everything I had to your director, and kept my nose out of your investigation. Why?”
“Something’s not right.”
“Meaning what?” asked Ari leaning forward.
“Orders have been given to use all resources available to crack the case. But, if you look under the surface you’ll see just the opposite. People are running in circles. Inconsequential matters are being investigated. No investigative team knows what information the other teams have developed. Our least competent people have the most difficult assignments. We both know the signs. This investigation isn’t meant to succeed.”
Ari slammed down the receiver; chunks of plastic flew off the now demolished phone. He threw the pieces on the floor and stomped out of the building nearly tripping on a glass bottle lying on the sidewalk. Muttering angrily under his breath Ari kicked the bottle, sending it clattering down the litter filled street.
An hour later Ari stood inside the Hall of Names at Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Memorial. Pictures of thousands of the murdered lined the walls of the multi-story, tapered, cylindrical hall. The names of and the available information about those who died were available from computers in the Hall. Ari once again read the information on the life and death of his grandfather.
So what, if the Prime Minister was murdered, thought Ari. He’s the glue that holds his coalition together. Without him the government would collapse. Maybe new elections will be held before the Haredi can start their war.
It was a rhetorical question.
His father and grandfather had chose death so others might live.
Ari could do no less.
He would disobey orders and continue the investigation on his own.
5. Bad News
The buzz of Ari’s new, guaranteed indestructible, phone jarred him awake. Three rings later Ari found it hidden under an almost empty bag of bagels sitting on the corner of his desk. He grabbed a stale bagel and answered the phone. It was Rueben from Intelligence.
After social niceties were concluded, Rueben asked, “Ari, do you want the bad news or the good news first?”
Like a man preparing to absorb a punch, Ari hunched his shoulders and lowered his head. “The bad news. I’m not sure I’d know what to do with good news.”
“For a couple of years we’ve been trying to locate and eavesdrop on a disposable phone. Data mining algorithms suggest it belongs to a domestic terrorist. Today we got lucky and intercepted a conversation. Your name came up.”
Ari’s appetite disappeared; he put the bagel back in the bag. “Exactly, how did it come up? I don’t think they were discussing my birthday?”
“In a way they were. It’s the terrorist’s job to ensure you don’t live to celebrate your next birthday.”
Snorting, Ari said, “What’s the good news? They’re going to pay for my funeral?”
“We learned who the triggerman is, someone named Jonah Geller.“
“I need to take care of this myself. Please keep it quiet.”
“Not a problem. One other thing. You know the website some ultra-orthodox wacko runs, something called the Apostate’s List? The one that lists people who God abhors; people like atheists, homosexuals and assorted free thinkers? A funny thing about that list; some of the people whose names appear on it end up being murdered.”
“What about it?”
“Your name just appeared on it.”
Ari hung up, and punched Geller’s name into his computer. A moment later the printer spit out a Geller’s police record, a blank piece of paper. A search of public databases yielded the same result. Geller didn’t exist. There were no credit cards, no telephones and no driver’s license listed in his name.
Ari had more luck with a search of government and military databases. Geller’s personal history helped explain the man. Palestinians murdered Geller’s parents shortly after his birth. Geller’s grandfather, an Auschwitz survivor, raised him. After his military service, Geller met a charismatic rabbi and joined the fringe political party for which he was the spiritual advisor.
Like many other settlement-based rabbis of the time, the message of Geller’s rabbi was one of violence. He preached the Second Commandment’s prohibition against murder did not apply to the murder of Arab men women and children. Nor, did it apply to the murder of any Jew who advocated the surrender of the West Bank to the Palestinians. Geller’s rabbi was among those who publically called for the assassination Prime Minister Rabin back in 1995.
Ari examined the picture of his would be assassin and chuckled at a random thought flashing through his mind; at least he wouldn’t be murdered by a total stranger. He was not comforted by this realization.
The rest of Geller’s file was uninformative. With a grunt of disgust Ari tossed the unbound pages in the air and watched them flutter to the floor.
Jonah Geller, Ari realized, was that most dangerous of men, a killer doing God’s work.
6. A Trip to the Cemetery
That afternoon found Ari slouched at a corner table in a coffee shop trying to scratch a mental itch. He felt he was missing something important. Ari hoped a cup of fresh brewed coffee, and the scent of cinnamon rolls taken straight from the oven would help him scratch the itch. So far, it hadn’t.
Ari was reaching for his fourth cinnamon roll when he noticed the paper place mat. Emblazoned on it was an advertisement for a photo exhibit at a local gallery. One of the exhibit pictures, a close-up shot of the odds and ends a man might carry in his pants pocket, was part of the advertisement. Ari squelched a burp and charged out of the coffee shop.
Five minutes later Ari was on his hands and knees fumbling through the papers on his office floor. With a grunt of triumph, Ari grabbed the picture of the personal items Geller surrendered for safe keeping when he entered the army.
Shown in the picture were Geller’s keys, his wallet, a ring with a raised pattern hanging on a chain, a cheap watch with a cracked crown, a wallet, loose change and a worn pocket bible. Ari hung it on the wall next to the pictures of his parents and grandparents. He was satisfied he now possessed the information needed to neutralize Geller.
Ari’s thoughts were interrupted by the insistent beep of his computer. It was a news flash announcing the death of former Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. The current Prime Minister, Netanyahu’s protégé and personal friend, would deliver a eulogy at the funeral.
The Prime Minister had also volunteered; in accordance with the Jewish custom requiring the deceased not be left alone prior to burial, to maintain a vigil beside the casket the night before the funeral. An unwelcome thought crossed Ari’s mind; the funeral of another Prime Minister might soon be announced.
Ari’s attention returned to the problem facing him. In order to neutralize Geller, Ari had to meet him face-to-face. The real question was how to prevent Geller from killing him before he could open his mouth. Somehow, Geller’s curiosity had to be sufficiently aroused to allow Ari to talk first and, hopefully, not shoot later.
That evening found Ari at the Yeusefiya Cemetery, an ancient cemetery located at the foot of the Mount of Olives. He was leaning against the tombstone of Geller’s grandfather. The yellow light of the full moon hanging low on the horizon illuminated the graveyard. Thousands of closely packed tombstones cast irregular shadows in its light. A gentle breeze cooled the night air. Ari was at peace with himself. Strangely the fact that he might die within the hour only added to his feeling of serenity.
After the moon set, a slightly built man in Hassidic dress materialized from the darkness. His right hand was in his suit pocket. In a gentle voice, almost a whisper, he asked, “How did you learn about me?”
This morning Intelligence intercepted your phone conversation with your controller.”
The bearded man ruefully shook his head and moved closer to Ari. “What do you want?”
Ari locked eyes with Geller. “I’m here to collect a debt you owe me.”
Geller’s voice roughened. “I owe you nothing.”
Ari moved away from the tombstone and pointed at Geller. “You’re wrong. You owe me three lives.”
A puzzled look crept into Geller’s emotionless eyes. “Stop talking in riddles. Say what you have to say.”
Moving slowly, Ari reached into his brief case, removed the wedding picture of his grandparents and placed it on the tombstone. “These are my grandparents. They died at Auschwitz. My grandfather’s brother and my father survived.”
“So what. Millions died there.”
“Some lived. One of them was the man who raised you, your grandfather.”
Ari pointed at the gold chain and ring hanging from Geller’s neck. “Take it off and put it by the picture.”
Geller did so.
The raised dental pattern stamped into Geller’s ring matched the pattern on the wedding rings worn in the picture by Ari’s grandparents.
Ari took a washcloth out of his pocket and wiped the sweat from his face. “I’m sure your grandfather told you how he came to own the ring. My grandfather’s brother gave it to him. He gave it to him after his brother, my grandfather, was murdered by a Nazi guard because he refused to kill your grandfather.”
“The picture could be a forgery.”
Ari pulled a crumpled piece of scrap paper from his pocket and smoothed it out on the tombstone. Several words written in the Cyrillic alphabet were printed on it. Ari pointed at the paper. “These are the names of my grandparents written in Russian. If you check, you’ll see they match the inscription engraved on the inside of your ring. You owe me your grandfather’s life, your father’s existence and your birth and life.”
Geller bowed his head in acknowledgement of the debt.
7. The Funeral Home
The assassination plan was simple and stood every chance of succeeding. To penetrate the Prime Minister’s security cordon, the conspirators chose a weapon from the past…poison.
The morning of the Passover Seder the Prime Minister’s cook would fall ill, having been administered a non-fatal poison with his morning coffee. His replacement would poison the Prime Minister at the Seder. False evidence suggesting the Palestinian government was behind the poison plot would be planted. The Designated Acting P.M. would take office and instigate the attack against Palestine.
The problem confronting Ari was the same one he faced in dealing with Geller. He had to arrange a face-to-face meeting with the Prime Minister without being shot in the process. A task he had to accomplish in forty-eight hours or not at all.
Ari decided to pay his last respects to the late Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. He showered, shaved and changed into a clean suit; he felt reborn. In accordance with Jewish custom, the casket at the front of the room was closed; mourners silently filed by it.
Once he paid his respects, Ari sought out the funeral director and explained his problem. At first Ari thought the funeral director would respond much the same way Ari’s assistant had—slamming a door on his face, but Ari kept his explanation calm and professional. The funeral director agreed to help.
Security swept through the building searching for unauthorized persons or explosives. None were found. The Prime Minister entered the private room, closed the door behind him and sat beside Netanyahu’s coffin.
By this time, Ari had been stuffed in the coffin for three hours. He was in agony. He could barely breath, his extremities were numb and his back ached. The heat inside the coffin was intolerable. During the security sweep Ari had worried that a puddle of sweat might have formed under the coffin, giving away his hiding place.
Ari hadn’t decided whether to open the coffin, step out and say “hello” or yell, “let me out.” Both approaches had the inherent risk security forces might be called, an outcome that might well shorten Ari’s life expectancy. Ari decided to wait before making a decision. He had all night.
The sound of the Prime Minister’s voice woke Ari from a dreamless nap.
“Well my friend, what would you do? I know you were disappointed in me, Benjamin, but I had to appoint some of the Haredi partners to key posts in my cabinet. I couldn’t risk the collapse of my government. But you were right, Benjamin, one cannot trust people such as them. Now, I suspect they plot against me. I fear for my life, and more importantly, I fear for our country.”
From inside the coffin, Ari spoke in a firm, commanding voice. “You have every reason to worry Mr. Prime Minister. My name is Ari Rosen and I’m an inspector in the Investigation Division of the National Police. I’m here to warn you about a pending assassination attempt against you; an attempt that will be made tomorrow.”
The Prime Minister stopped talking. Ari heard the clang of a chair falling over; then silence. An infinite period time passed. The coffin lid opened and light flooded in momentarily blinding Ari. When his vision cleared Ari saw the bearded face of the Prime Minister looking down at him; his gaze expressed wary curiosity.
“If you help me out of the coffin, I’ll explain.”
The Prime Minister helped Ari climb out of the coffin.
Ari told his story.
In the days that followed, several members of the Prime Minster’s Cabinet died in a tragic plane crash.
A number of high-ranking police and security officials disappeared.
As time passed, repeated and untraceable administrative efforts were made to fire, demote or transfer Ari. All failed.
Ari’s name is still on the Apostate’s List.
Israel remains a theocracy.
But the Prime Minister lives, and during the steaming nights when Ari cannot sleep, he tries to pretend this is enough.
Mark L. Glosser is a retired attorney. He recently began a second career as a writer of children’s stories and as an author of science fiction tales. He lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with his wife Caryle, their two Labrador Retrievers and a cat. He has two grown children and two young grandsons both of whom he is exposing to the world of science fiction. His work has appeared in Beyond Centauri, Spaceports & Spidersilk, Static Movement, Candlelight Stories and in volumes 1 and 2 of the anthology entitled Yarns for our Youth.