Chapter 14. Everything Is The Same, Everything Is Different
Chapter 14 in the novel, “Ten Days That Changed The World,” a sequel to an earlier novel called “Stillpoint, a novel of war, peace, politics and Palestine.” “Ten Days,” is in the process of being written. When a chapter is completed it is posted. I hope you find it of interest. Please feel free to share it with friends.
The following information is helpful for those who haven’t read “Stillpoint.” In it we come to know David Tremaine a former philosophy professor now president of the US. We learn also of Travis, a versatile general, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and respected friend. Samara is a young Palestinian woman, friend of the sage Nasir. She helped in a daring rescue and is brought to the US for her safety. She now works as a translator for Tremaine.
Chapter 14 Everything Is The Same, Everything Is Different.
Travis came down the stairs. It was early morning and the approaching dawn lit the eastern sky over Israel. He seemed preoccupied, worried almost. Outside he was surprised to find Tremaine and Samara deep in conversation. “Mind if I join you?”
“No of course not.” Tremaine responded.
Samara smiled at Travis as he took a seat. “There’s fresh coffee, would you like some?” she asked as she got up.
Travis looked at Samara and smiled, “Thank you,” he said.
Samara went to the kitchen.
“What’s up?” Tremaine asked. He knew Travis was concerned about something.
“I just got off the phone from Hahn Shan’s father. Hahn Shan never arrived.”
“He didn’t arrive in Toronto?”
“No, his father thought he was still here.”
“His mother is facing surgery and they’re still trying to decide what to do. They want to talk to Hahn Shan. He knows how the body works and is a master herbalist, they would like his advice.”
Mr. Lao told me he went to meet Hahn Shan at the airport but he never arrived. He inquired at the airline. “We had no passenger by that name,” he was told. When he talked to security he was taken into an office and interrogated by two officers. When they were finished they told him to, “Go home, and we’ll call you.”
“And they didn’t?” Tremaine asked.
“He received a call a day later from the RCMP who wanted him to come to the office. They wanted information on Hahn Shan’s travels to China, detailed information. Dates, who he went with, the people he met and their names. He was required to provide financial information to Revenue Canada. He’s wondering if there’s some connection between Han Shan’s disappearance and the RCMP’s sudden interest in him.”
Mikel passed the sign and remembered how afraid he’d been when he first crossed into the Palestinian West Bank, seven years ago. It had sent a chill through him to read the words: This road leads to Area A Under the Palestinian Authority. The entry for Israeli citizens is forbidden, dangerous to your lives and is against Israeli law.
In those days he’d feared for his life. Now he felt sadness that so many of his people would be stopped by a sign designed to keep them ignorant and fearful. Palestinians were just like everyone else. They wanted a place to live, to raise a family in relative safety, to provide for their needs, to be respected as human beings, and enjoy the freedom to come and go on this ancient land.
Mikel had come to the village with another Israeli peace activist seven years ago. They made friends with the Palestinians. He liked the village, it had been there for two thousand years. With the building of the security wall a third of the village, without any discussion, had become Israeli territory. An Israeli family had settled on the outskirts of the village and the Israeli government redrew the boundaries, taking what they wanted of the village in the process. What remained of the village was spread across some low hills, while around them the treeless ground rose to large fenced developments that looked like up scale satellite cities seen in America and Canada. They stretched for miles. Modern Israeli developments, subsidized homes, built on stolen land. And in the shadows as it were, the Palestinians were squeezed onto smaller and smaller parcels of land.
The low hills of the valley meant that the village was spread out. Homes had been built where soil and sun were the most harmonious and important determinants. Small paths joined rough roads and members of the community with one another. There was a quiet sense of privacy in the collection of homes but to the north the village abutted a steep rock face, at the top of which the fences and barbed wire of the settlement stood out.
Mikel, a biologist by profession, had been asked to find the source of a growing pool of fetid water that appeared in the gardens and homes below the rock face. He’d confirmed it was untreated sewage and industrial waste water containing arsenic in quantities sufficient to render the soil unusable. It was not uncommon for settlement effluent to be piped down hill to contaminate Palestinian gardens and water tables.
Mikel was in bed when he heard a thud. Something heavy and wet had struck the building. He looked at his watch. Two thirty. Outside he found garbage bags of raw sewage had been dropped over the wall. He and the villagers beneath the settlement had to find somewhere else to sleep.
In the morning Mikel and the village elders approached the checkpoint manned by the IDF. Mikel described what had happened and two Israelis were sent to see for themselves. When they returned a brief conversation in Hebrew took place after which an officer and four men took a jeep into the settlement to see what they could find. They’d found nothing.
It was late afternoon when Mikel went back with friends to talk to the Israeli troops. “Why are you interested, you’re an Israeli citizen? What’s this got to do with you?” he was asked. “This isn’t your home, stay out of it. Leave things as they are. One day it will all be worked out. In the meantime it’s none of your business.”
Mikel had realized a long time ago the futility of trying to respond to closed minds. As they left the checkpoint and walked back to the village, Mikel thought he was seeing things. A man dressed in a desert uniform had crossed his line of sight. When he looked again, there was no-one there. It was dusk. Was it mist or perhaps smoke he saw drifting slowly through the village? That’s what it was, it had to be. The thought eased his mind. He wasn’t seeing things, it was just his imagination! But, he was! He was sure he’d seen men ghosting into the village, sometimes in twos and sometimes fours, appearing and disappearing. Like a small army of apparitions, they never seemed to stop. Their movements were smooth, unhurried and soft. One moment they’d be there, as substantial as a sudden flash of memory; the next, they were gone. They seemed to emerge from every direction, arriving at last into the light of oil lamps in the village square. Thirty apparitions, three donkeys and a mule.
As he approached the square he felt someone following him. He turned but in the low light he couldn’t be sure of anything. The presence, however, was friendly. The apparitions suddenly became men. With the help of oil lamps, food was being unpacked and distributed throughout the village. These were some of the American troops he’d heard of; they were on their way to the West Bank. He was glad to see them.
Mac was short and despite his size commanded the respect of the men. He was slim with freckles around a long sharp nose, bright blue eyes and a Mac Tavish cap, with red hair visible beneath it. He appeared to be in his mid forties.
Mac made a point of meeting each villager. He wanted to get a sense of everyone. He took two of his men with him. They were fluent in the language and had a fondness for the culture and people. He asked the village elders for their help and they in turn accompanied the three Americans making the introductions in every home.
He’d learned to trust his assessment of his surroundings, particularly people. Not their words but their energy. He would laugh with them in their own language, as at home in their culture as he was in his own. He had a natural affinity for people, was curious and hadan excellent memory. To be aware of his environment when it was not under threat, was important information to have in hand. It had saved his life.
Being unarmed in dangerous circumstances requires one to know and understand people, to genuinely like them. He’d found that such understanding was not learned at the end of a gun.
At eight o’clock Mac took four of his men and went to the checkpoint. They’d observed the area earlier in the afternoon, before entering the village. A large weighted pole blocked traffic to and from the village, while passing traffic continued to flow. Two armored personnel carriers stood to one side of the road. On the other side a large tent served as an office.
Mac and his men broke into song. The Israelis had drawn their weapons and watched as the singing men approached. “Stop,” the Israeli commander shouted. The men halted in a line, directly across from the Israelis. The fact they carried no weapons should have been obvious. Mac introduced his men. “My name,” he concluded, “is Sergeant James Mac Tavish, Charley Company at your service.” He snapped his heels together.
Mac watched the men at the checkpoint. They had eyes for one thing only, the small embroidered American flag above the name tag on their shirts.
How had they missed the arrival of the American troops? They’d been on the look out for them, they knew they were coming. And, yet they hadn’t seen them, Corporal Cohen shook his head.
An hour later Mac returned to the village with his men to find the medical tent had been set up. Having heard of last night’s events, he stationed observers with an unobstructed view of the settlement above the village. The BBC correspondent had also set up and was now ready to record whatever happened.
At four in the morning Mac was woken by one of his men. The high intensity light they’d installed had just come on. Grabbing the glasses he watched four flaming tires bounce off the roof of one of the homes below the cliff. The spray of liquid ignited in a great whoosh. At the top of the cliff he saw six men, faces covered, push more burning tires over the fence to bounce off the buildings below.
An Israeli corporal arrived with four men from the checkpoint just in time to witness three more tires launched into space. Mac took him aside. “There has to be a stop to this,” he said, “no more excuses.”
“What are you going to do about it?” Corporal Cohen asked as he headed back to the checkpoint.
It was eight in the morning when Mac and two of his men arrived at the checkpoint to speak to the officer in charge...Corporal Cohen, again! “Who was behind the events of last night?” Mac asked.
“We didn’t find a thing,” Cohen responded.
“Nah Laddie I don’t believe ya. Tell yer boss we have it on film, thanks to the BBC.”
Cohen looked at Mac, the smile still on his face. “We don’t care what you’ve got on your camera. This is our land, our war. Might be a good idea to stay out of it.”
“Thanks for the info,” Mac responded and turning smartly he and his men returned to the village. “Don’t forget to tell yer boss,” Mac tossed the words over his shoulder.
Mac and his men spent the morning teaching families how to use the filters and pumps they’d brought with them. It was also decided to move the families beneath the rock face and house them in tents at the homes of friends elsewhere in the village.
In the afternoon Mac and his men continued visiting the families, gathering information on villagers who used to live in the village and had somehow vanished. Some, they learned had been picked up in raids by the IDF, some had been abductions right off the street. ‘Others,’ Mac thought to himself, ‘were outright murder...the kind that comes with impunity, the careless kind, knowing no one will ever be charged.
Light from the arriving dawn suffused the village and the surrounding hills in a soft amber glow. Mac stood quietly feeling the light change, tasting it almost, still surprised by the wonder of dawn and the birth of a new day.
In the distance he heard an engine being geared down, and then another, and another. The sound became louder and more labored; three trucks heavily loaded were coming up the hill. The Israelis had brought in reinforcements. Mac approached the checkpoint with two of his men and stood watching.
A new Israeli officer approached Mac. “How was it after the incident with the tires?” he inquired. He was more friendly than the Corporal. “Captain Leaven’s the name. I’m in charge now.”
“Good to meet ya,” Mac shook the Israeli’s hand.
“We’re going into the settlement this morning, to see if we can find anything.”
“Good luck.” Mac responded. Not hopeful, he returned to the village and ordered his men to set up tents for the families forced to move from their homes. By afternoon the tents were in place, the moves made, and the families settled.
Sterling had forwarded the raw footage to London where it had been edited and then released to global news outlets.
It was late afternoon when Captain Leaven and two of his men walked into the village. Mac spotted them at once. He walked over to meet the Captain. “What can I do for you?” he said in way of greeting.
Captain Leaven turned toward the American. He liked Mac, he was straight-forward, factual. “We searched the settlement as well as we could but didn’t find a thing. People know but they’re not saying”
“It’s a tough one. Any ideas?”
“I’m putting men up there. We’ll see if we can stop it tonight.”
“What’s the climate like?” Mac nodded toward the settlement.
“Violence and fear—provocateurs behind the scenes stirring things up.”
That evening a crowd of settlers gathered at the entrance to the village.
Leaven had watched as speaker after speaker tried to whip up a frenzy of hatred and violence. Leaven had reason to be concerned. Even with reinforcements he wasn’t sure he had enough strength to hold off a concerted attack on the village.
Mac, monitoring the events had alerted his men. Journalists were also arriving anticipating the village would be a flash-point. The night had suddenly vanished under an invasion of lights and cameras.
Leaven arrested a number of settlers already heavily intoxicated by alcohol and the messianic fervor of the speakers they’d been listening to. He’d arranged his men into a human barrier. It was more bluff than bite, he knew, but it had the intended effect. The hostility was focused in one place, or so he thought.
Mac and his men were moving. There were no lights in the village and yet his men seemed to be everywhere, somehow filling the space with an indefinable sense of presence, of hope, of life. They and the villagers had stepped into the unknown.
Mikel had deliberately joined the settlers now gathered outside the entrance to the village, listening to the speakers. He wanted to gauge for himself what was going on. He could feel things slipping. Hatred and mob mentality was emerging and with the increasing numbers of the crowd a sense of inevitability took hold.
Years ago Hitler had stood on the shores of France and looked across the channel to an England shrouded in fog. His advisors had urged him to attack before England gathered its strength. Instead, he went into Russia and the outcome of the war was set. Mikel, who knew the story, sensed a similar tide in the affairs of men. Something was teetering, which direction it would fall, no one knew.
Then as if on cue a shot rang out, followed by a sudden unearthly silence as people waited, hoping. Then on the warm evening breeze came a long eerie wail. Somewhere a mother clutched her lifeless child to her breast, the warm blood soaking her clothes, her heart awash with sorrow.
Leaven was glad to see Mac, who’d suddenly appeared. “Can you block access to the village?” Leaven asked.
“Already done,” Mac responded.
“Good, then I’ll handle this,” he nodded toward the now silent crowd of settlers, still poised, waiting but afraid. Leaven saw the opportunity and ordered his troops into the crowd, “Get them back inside the settlement and block the gates. No one in or out!” Turning he spoke to the man beside him. “Take your men and arrest the instigators, get them out of the picture, where they can do no more harm.”
Mac, who’d pulled back toward the village, kept his men out of sight and the lights off. He watched as Leaven quickly resolved what had become a dangerous situation. Mac admired the courage and swiftness of his actions. This man he knew he could trust. Leaven had seen the window of opportunity and without hesitation moved.