Watch five and a half millimeters of NATO Standard Issue part hair, skin and skull. See soft cerebellum liquefy and hollow point steel fragment. Witness shards of metal and bone as they spin through cortex and colliculus and wonder at the bullet’s rotational shock wave as it opens a cavity inside Abir’s head the size of the child’s fist she still holds in her hand. Hear her sister. She is the first to scream.
Wait. Let’s backtrack a moment to the back of a slit-eyed armoured jeep slung across a junction outside Abir’s school in the heart of Anata refugee camp, Palestinian East Jerusalem. Inside, an eighteen year old Israeli border policeman blinks sweat from his eyes and checks the brass cartridge in the breach of his Galil carbine. They call him a man, but really he’s just a downy-lipped boy looking forward to the Barcelona game. Like many soldiers on the frontline, Falah is no descendant of European Jewry. He knows the sun that’s slow-baking them inside this jeep. He is Bedouin, one of two in his unit. The others are Druze or Mizrahi – Jews of Arab descent – at least those of them below the command line. Falah thinks of his mother, black-wrapped, but neither sweating nor heeding the heat, and the distance she’s likely already covered today in the search for good grazing.
Abir’s body arcs fantastically through the air and lands like scrap at the roadside. The sweet-seller stands in his kiosk, hand outstretched with the child’s change. Other children, wearing the same starched collars as Abir scatter and crash in the explosion of energy that follows the shooting.
Some kids scream, some just crouch, a few of the older ones pick up stones in the remnants of a bulldozed house. Most dash for known exits to the block and wire trap of the alley. A short round man with a hard-parting shouts for a car. A white-shirted teacher bursts, lips already shaping prayers, through the school’s rusting doors.
Hang on. Let’s tail back a bit further – to this morning as nine year old Abir and her classmates, feverish with anticipation and last night’s revision, clockwatch for the start of their mathematics test. Three miles away, in a Jerusalem army base Falah, the border policeman, takes a box of shells from his commander.
He talks about “operational procedure”, “prevention” maintaining the military’s fascination with curious medicinal language. Falah regards his commander’s white knuckles and how they contrast his own – the desert hands his mother steered so gently around the teats of a goat? The hands his father held in silence the day he left. He doesn’t know it yet, but his father and Abir’s share a name.
Arin had celebrated her eleventh birthday only three weeks ago. She and Abir had danced like elvers at her grandmother’s house. They had worn dresses cut from the same bolt and their mother had risen extra early to bathe them and brush their hair. Arin remembers quietly envying how her younger sibling’s shiny tresses behaved for the brush in a way hers would not. She watches now as a dark halo radiates from Abir’s head and soaks into the sandstone kerb.
Maybe we should travel a little further back – to a bleached J Town morning. Yoshe Evyatar arrives at work at one minute to nine after a brisk valve-opener in the HaMenora Gardens. Mayah, the latest in what Moshe likes to call the ‘long lazy line of interns sent by the Knesset to make his life harder’, waits immaculately with a car and a driver.
“That’s a lot of gold,” says Moshe, causing Mayah’s hand to rise involuntarily to her earlobe. “Even for procurement.”
Moshe resents both her vanity and her youth. His last intern walked out after Moshe told her, “at twenty two,” she “should be making babies and building the nation’s future, not just chasing one for herself’.
“You have the ATK file?” he asks Mayah, challenging her to have made an error.
“I have,” replies Mayah whose eyes, in contrast, reveal nothing about how she views her boss.
Moshe nods for them to get going and bristles as the girl struggles to lift her ample behind into the armour-plated 4×4.
Moshe is a junior minister in the Israeli Department of Defense. Moshe has always been a junior minister. His white wisps, withering stare and impending retirement may suggest otherwise but, destined or not, true greatness somehow passed Moshe by. However, in the Land Cruiser’s AC’d bubble Moshe rules supreme. And when it comes to driving hard bargains for small arms procurement, the old man is the maestro.
The warehouse staff call him Ayin – the Eye – as Moshe likes to personally oversee the arrival of every shipment. Today it’s a half a million 5.56 x 45mm STANAG 4172 rifle cartridges. More litter for the territories thinks Moshe – waste management is one of the investments he’s been considering for his retirement.
Moshe has Mayah instruct a warehouseman to pop a crate. He digs a shell from a box of fifty. Its casing glistens in the hardening mid-morning light.
“That way! That way!” A medic attempts to navigate his driver through the Jerusalem gridlock. It’s slow, maddening, progress. They cut up another side street in the hope of a clearer run only to find another alleyful of taxis. To the north, barely a stone’s throw from where they sit in traffic, the empty blacktop of the settler-only highway stretches carless towards the city. The ambulance lurches through another pothole and the men inside exchange a wince but the child, leaking life from a head wound they cannot stem, stays silent.
Clarence Nash knows all about progress. He breezed through school. There wasn’t an exam he didn’t take early, wasn’t an opportunity his smart mind or old man’s money couldn’t capitalise on. There was talk of medicine, he graduated in law, but for kicks Clarence always liked to bust out the Browning A Bolt and head off in search of Eagle River moose. An NRA three star junior at eight, Minnesota Sureshot at twelve, it was no major surprise when Clarence finally pitched up at ATK, munitions supplier to the great and the God-fearing.
Clarence likes to walk the floor. He’s no engineer, but he revels in the hiss, thump, hiss of the die cutters popping shell casings from annealed brass and the clickety steam train clack of the propellant loader. Today, eight weeks before Falah’s commander orders him into Anata, Clarence stands on a gantry 5,000 miles to the east. The vibrations from the finisher rising through his feet, and the smell of corncobs and black powder, ignite Clarence’s sense of the monumental. This spot always makes his task that much easier.
“Fifty thousand shells roll off this line each and every day,” he tells the Israeli delegation. “Some difference that coulda made to the Temple Knights at Damascus.” He chuckles. Spectacled heads bob in unconscious rhythm with the clanking presses. Clarence lets it hang there a beat then sticks out a hand. It’s met. The deal is closed.
Bassam ar Amin is in a taxi on the way to work when his phone rings. Three out of the six people squashed into the Ramallah bound car reach for their pockets. Bassam, who spent much of his youth fighting the occupation or incarcerated for his troubles, suppresses a dry laugh. No freedom of movement, self-governance, water, power, unmolested homes or lands permitted, but everyone east of the green line still has a cellphone in his chinos. Are we that cheap? It is his eldest, Arin.
“It’s Abir,” she says.
A full three months before Bassam’s phone rings, Jerry Keel scoops little Jessica onto his knee and begins to bounce her up and down. On the table top-sized TV, that takes up most of the corner of the room, Jerry’s congressman berates the ‘Godless liberals’ from ‘across the floor’ for ‘daring to suggest’ the U.S. should consider reducing military grant spending to Israel.
“This is the way the farmer rides,” coos Jerry as the child squeals and squirms on her imaginary saddle. He pays little attention to the screen behind his daughter’s head.
“I wanna go Daddy,” says Jessica’s sister Annie.
“Schoolwork first baby,” says Jerry.
“…but can we afford to keep giving in this time of austerity?” asks the interviewer. Jerry was considering the same thing only last accounting day.
“There’s no recession in Sderot, Anthony. If we want redemption we must invest in it,” chides the congressman.
Jerry’s invested. Two per cent of all he earns goes to the American Committee for the Promotion of Israeli Affairs. And another two to the Trinity Network.
Despite Jerry’s financial concerns, the donations make Colleen happy and he supposes fulfillment of the scriptures must be God’s will if the pastors give it so much airtime. That said, Jerry’s not holding out on witnessing any second comings in his lifetime.
A red-faced preacher Jerry doesn’t recognise has replaced the congressman onscreen.
“Can I watch cartoons?” asks Jessica.
“Yes,” says Jerry.
At first Bassam cannot make out his daughter’s face among the mass of white sheets in the bed at Makassad. There is talk of hemorrhage, hydrostatic shock, the need for an operation, for miracles. He lifts her colourless hand, but she’s unable to match his grip.
“She has Blue ID,” Bassam tells the doctors. “She can go to Hadassah.” Hadassah is an Israeli hospital, one with money and equipment and round the clock electric.
“Okay,” say the doctors.
Bassam’s green ID card says he cannot cross into the West of the city, so he bends to the stretcher and kisses Abir on the forehead and watches from the checkpoint as the ambulance doors close behind her.
Bassam takes a minibus back to Anata. Notes and coins pass from hand to hand to driver and more coins are passed back. On the radio a holy man talks of prophecies that need fulfilling and of lines drawn in the sand.
“How far are you going?” asks the driver in his mirror.
“Not much further,” says Bassam.
There are no miracles that night and in Hadassah, Abir dies.
Real time now. Three miles and a street or two from Abir’s cold, muslin parcel, the Bedouin soldier, Falah, shares a beer with the boys from his unit. It took less than fifteen minutes for him and his commander to fill out the paperwork and they even made it to the bar for kick off. Maybe the dead girl will prove an example? Maybe just one kid will learn to stop throwing stones? He begins to recall her body ragdolling through the air, but checks himself.
He looks up from his drink and sees an old Palestinian man watching him from the street. He reaches behind and touches the rifle slung on the back of his chair before it dawns on him that the man is his father. His father, a man of the land. His father the nomad. His father who sleeps in a hutch cobbled from corrugated steel and plastic sheeting, trapped in a strip between the highway and the unscaleable walls of the settlement squatting on the hilltop above.
Falah releases the gun and puts his hand back on the table among the bottles. He looks at it, and for a moment, the irony of one displaced indigenous people being used to crush another is right there in the hair and the skin. When he looks back to the street the man has gone and Falah is no longer sure it was his father after all.
Now what if this story jumped its tracks? Perhaps Falah’s commander, rushing home to his young wife in their smart apartment in their well watered West Bank home, takes a corner, on the empty settler blacktop, a little too quickly and a Palestinian farmer finds the wreckage of his car strewn across his olive grove early next day.
Or Moshe, the minister, safe in his armour plated refrigerator reaches to the wet patch at his side and turns to see Mayah, the intern, a red letter knife in her hand and a look in her eyes he can’t quite place. Or Clarence Nash, drawing a bead on a 200 kilo bull moose, reels more in confusion than pain when the bullet in his rifle explodes unexpectedly in the chamber. Or Jerry Keel, who’s given so much in both the ballot and the dish, decides to prioritise his domestic spending and stops all deductions from his monthly wage.
Then check the picture outside that school in Anata, East Jerusalem, where a girl, pleased with her performance in a morning maths test, buys gum from a kiosk attendant and hands a stick to her sister.