The Dream Begins
Jews, Christians, Moslems, and Canaanites all share an ancient dream of possessing the land that lies between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea which they hold sacred.
In 1956 an Egyptian spy, Ishmael al Mohammed, is determined to gain information which will reclaim the infant state of Israel for the displaced Palestinian Arabs, one of whom is his mother. While on a secret espionage mission posing as an Israeli, he falls passionately in love with an Israeli woman, Rebecca Silverman.
He must decide if he will betray the only person he will ever care for or be true to Islam, Egypt, and his family. A Christian, Danny O'Halloran, has always dreamed of walking the Stations of the Cross in Jerusalem, while a pagan donkey goddess named PalÚs dreams of being worshipped again by the original inhabitants of Canaan, which was renamed Palestine in her honor. Israeli politicians dream of making Israel a nuclear power while Britain and France conspire to regain the Suez Canal, which the President of Egypt nationalized.
Against the backdrop of circumstances leading to the 1956 Suez War between Israel and Egypt a love story which encompasses the forbidden romance of Romeo and Juliet, Delilah's betrayal of Samson, and the treachery of Britain's MI6 double agents unfolds as Ishmael and Rebecca's story spans three millennia of history.
I haven't thought about Danny O'Halloran in years. No, that's not exactly true. Danny is in the corner of my mind where I place memories I don't want to remember. But on this Friday afternoon, memories of Danny will obsess me. Although I don't know it now, in three minutes I will recall every detail of the last time I saw Danny. That was when I knew where my loyalties lay, when I knew whom I must love, when I knew what I had to do, when I knew my conscience was clear.
But at this moment Danny is far from my thoughts. I am impatiently sitting with two other diplomats in our Arab taxi which, with its green and white Palestinian license plate, is too conspicuously parked in front of a pizzeria on Levinsky Street. The cab driver and the other diplomats speak only Egyptian which is why, since I speak Hebrew fluently, my government selected me to travel to the last place on earth I want to go. Our shrewd driver has stationed himself here across from that Israeli gift to monstrously grotesque architecture, the Tel Aviv Central Bus Terminal, and continuously asks Muslims in front of the terminal if they would like to ride in his air conditioned cab to Gaza.
He beckons to a bearded man in a black caftan who is about to enter the station.
"Why take an Israeli bus which stops at every city and settlement between here and the border? Why not ride in comfort with Arabs to Gaza?"
The man peers through the cab window at us and declines. "I'm going north to Haifa. And even if I weren't, I wouldn't go with you. Why should I ride in a crowded taxi when I can sit in comfort in an air-conditioned bus which charges half as much as you do?"
Our cab driver shrugs his shoulders and tells the three of us who are anxious to leave Tel Aviv that gas is too expensive to drive all the way to Gaza with less than four fares. While the other two fume impatiently I am almost ready to get on a slow bus.
I am in Israel against my will. I have no desire to relive painful memories of my several espionage assignments here. But, since my mother was born in Jerusalem and I vacationed with her family in Palestine for many years, the Egyptian High Command decided I was the perfect diplomat to go to Tel Aviv to finalize details of the peace treaty Egypt will sign with Israel at the end of the month in Washington, D.C.
What a farce!
For several days my two colleagues and I engaged in delicate diplomatic calisthenics to regain the Sinai Peninsula that we lost in our last war with Israel. This barren moonscape of 61,000 square kilometers of sand and rocks was ours for centuries until the Ottoman Empire, and then the British, seized it from us. We Egyptians can always use a little more desert. And the Israelis will have one less hostile nation on its border.
President Sadat and I agree that if Egypt fights against Israel, both countries will suffer major losses; if we talk, we will both win. So, he will go to Camp David, sign the treaty, win the Nobel Prize for peace, and war between the Arabs and Jews will be postponed for another nanosecond.
My colleagues, in a foolish economical gesture, refused a limousine and a chauffeur for our ride back to Gaza where we will catch a ship that will take us to Cairo. Instead, without informing me, they picked a taxi whose driver turns out to be the cheapest, craftiest, know- it- all in the entire Middle East. The other diplomats are anxious to leave Israel because they want to go home; but leaving Israel is uppermost on my mind because I am deluged by memories of betrayal and trust, of love and hate, of duty and reckless irresponsibility, of dreams deferred and dreams denied.
And then, because I am fortune's fool, I see her. After I read this morning's paper I thought I could. Not true. I prayed I would. My Rebecca, but not my Rebecca. She is running frantically through the crowd toward the bus terminal; her handbag swings wildly from her shoulder, her shoes pound an alarming "get out of my way" click-clack on the concrete sidewalk.
In her haste she bumps into a dark-haired little girl wearing a pink top. Blue and gold butterflies flit across the front of the shirt and one butterfly delicately sips nectar from a white lily on each sleeve. Her white shorts reveal little legs that should someday break men's hearts.
Walking beside her is a woman who is carrying a large shopping bag. Startled, she grabs the child to prevent her from falling. As she steadies her, the bag tips over, and tomatoes, onions, and cucumbers spill across the street. The mother shouts at Rebecca, "Watch where you're going! You almost knocked my daughter down."
I am surprised that Rebecca does not stop running and help the woman pick up her vegetables; she merely waves an apologetic hand at mother and child and frantically cries, "Please, please excuse me; I must catch the noon bus to Ashkelon, I'm sorry," and she runs even faster toward the terminal.
While the mother simultaneously glares at Rebecca's back and stoops to pick up her bruised tomatoes, her daughter runs ahead of her into the restaurant. Instead of following her little girl into the pizzeria, the woman shades her eyes from the fierce noonday sun with her right hand and vengefully grins as she (and I) realize that no matter how desperately Rebecca runs the last few hundred feet she will never reach the sixth floor of the terminal in time to catch her bus.
While Arabs and Jews have a hostile and volatile history, they do agree on one detail. They both concur that the Tel Aviv Central Bus station is a more complex labyrinth than the one Daedalus constructed to house the Minotaur. Finding the platform from which one's bus is scheduled to depart requires the patience of Job and the skill of an Arctic explorer searching for the North Pole in a blizzard.
First, the harried passenger weaves through aisles where stores are anxiously going bankrupt. Next, confused and frustrated passengers grope through endless passageways which lead nowhere. Peace between Muslims and Jews will occur before anyone makes sense of the terminal's maze of convoluted corridors. Even if Rebecca masters the twists and turns of the station's architectural digressions she will never reach the platform in time. I silently plead with the god of bus drivers to somehow delay her and give me a chance to atone for what I did to her so many years ago.
Sandra Biber Didner teaches Literature and Composition at Palm Beach State College in Lake Worth, Florida. Family, book discussions, music, tennis, and above all, her dogs, occupy most of her time when she is not reading, writing, or teaching.