Sweet Dreams, Isawiya
By Dea Hadar
I march in the dark with my battle ration and climb the ladder up to Guard Post 3 on the bare roof. Corporal Motti is waiting there.
“It's about time. I'm freezing, freezing to death.” He notices my food. “I'm starving, starving to death,” he adds. I give him a slice of military bread and he swallows it almost without chewing. Then he climbs down the ladder and disappears into the house of secrets.
He who guards his mouth and his tongue, guards his soul from troubles, roars the building sign at all hours, without distinguishing if it’s night or day. Two hundred submissive souls guard their mouths like the sign commands and continue preparing in silence. The building continues roaring and laughing and peeking compulsively on the people of the neighboring village.
Now they are sleeping, the people of Isawiya.
Only a thin, barbed wire fence separates my roof from the ramshackle village. The fence really is slight and it’s not very high, but the people of the village are far. I strain every sense in my body to try to gather clues about them, listen to the whispers and giggles, inhale the smell of fried dough with green hot sauce and vengeful prayers on the side. Now I look at them from above, listening to the sounds of their troubled sleep.
“They’re not really sleeping,” we are taught at the shift-changing ceremony. ”They’re preparing for the next blood bath.”
“In Guard Post 3 you must always have your finger on the trigger,” we are instructed.
Then the Israeli flag is raised. We listen on like a shamed babysitters club, because those whom we rule have stopped obeying us long ago. They know I am here. And in their prayers they ask that I come down from here and stop peeking, Inshallah. For it is late now and the people in the village are tired, and it’s hard to fall asleep when someone in uniform with a rifle is watching you with her finger on the trigger.
When I was new here I thought that we lived close. I found a friend, an Isawiya native, and I spent a few days with him. He was a mixed breed, covered in rusty brown fur, and he looked a little like me, although we only knew each other for a few days and they say people start to resemble their dogs after at least a few years of ownership. He wandered one day to the fence, dug underneath it, and found himself in our sealed off highly classified military zone. I named him Collaborator and fed him. I brought him with me into the house of secrets. He walked down the halls, twitching and tingling from an overdose of digital buzzing sounds and lack of daylight. But then Collaborator pissed in the path of the base commander, Major Oz.
“Where did this dog come from? Does he have a security clearance?” Major Oz fumed.
His aide told him that he suspects he is a native of the village.
“An Arab?! Do you mean to tell me that what we have here is an Arab-Hamasnik-son-of-a-bitch dog, may he rot in hell?”
The encounter between Major Oz and Collaborator led to his expulsion from the base. Within minutes Collaborator was flung to the other side of the fence, landing with a broken leg. I was put on trial for severe violation of field security.
“Arabs are forbidden in the base. Period.” I was harshly reprimanded and warned about a grave new phenomenon, explosive dogs that are nicknamed “Hot Dogs” in the house of secrets. Arab suicide bomber dogs, clarified the officer, in case I hadn't understood. But I just didn't know that dogs committed suicide.
I wanted to tell them that he’s just a dog, and what does a dog have to do with nationality? Collaborator had probably already fucked dozens of Jewish dogs from traditional homes in the neighboring French Hill neighborhood, and they welcomed him, because they’re all dogs and all cousins and all sons of bitches. And we are all dogs and all cousins and all sons of bitches.
But instead I expressed remorse, and then held my tongue to keep my soul from troubles.
Now on the roof I try to hear Collaborator’s bark. Silence has fallen on the village. Everyone is trying to fall asleep and to forget I am here.
“In Guard Post 3 you must always have your finger on the trigger,” I remind myself, trying to imagine Collaborator sleeping with a warm wet tongue in his mouth, or dead with a dry frozen one.
I’m forbidden to do anything on the roof and there are no objects to steer my attention from the mission. Only a large rotating searchlight, with which I’m supposed to comb the village houses, blind them, remind them that I’m here and my finger is there. Always.
I raid the village with my big light, play games with the light and dark. First I spin it like a spiral, starting at the outer rims, as the light makes its way in dizzying circles, until it lands on the orphanage in the center. They’re not really orphans, the officers warn us. Orphanage is just a cover story. I stop, focus, look for an orphan.
Then I use the harsh light to write my name, letter after letter, as the tired people of the village have no choice but to participate in my name game, as if I were God or just an armed stranger from a legendary unit. They toss and turn in their beds again. I cross alleys and cut through the mosque in a primitive laser show that kills another two hours of guarding duty.
I sit at the edge of the roof of the house of secrets and drink the cold cup of tea to wet my dry cold tongue. It’s hard to see the view from Guard Post 3 through a web of frozen veins and tears. I look around and remember the words of a friend who stood here not long ago, and saw clearly although he was cold too. He lived here with me, and he didn’t always guard his mouth.
“Here with me are old friends…” he wrote from his guard post, “Augusta Victoria, the highway, the hospital, Isawiya...”
I blink, trying hard to see. The barbed wire fence comes close to me and then far and then close again. One moment I’m inside the cage, and then they’re inside and I’m free, and then I’m the caged one again, until everything becomes blurred and we’re all trapped in a web of toxic metals.
The sky is getting brighter and I don’t need the searchlight to see the boy from the village walking toward the fence. He’s tall and thin and looks about my age.
“I want to sleep,” he stands beneath me and says. “Can’t you let me sleep?”
“Go to sleep,” I tell him. “I’m very quiet.”
“But your rifle… it’s making a hole in my head.”
“I’m not shooting.”
The boy sculpts his finger into the shape of a gun and points it at my forehead.
“Now try to sleep,” he commands. “Go to sleep. Can you fall asleep like this?”
I shake my head to the sides without blinking, my pupils doubled in size.
“You’re right. I’ll never fall asleep this way.” I ask him if he knows the dog. He says he thinks he does. Collaborator breaks the ice a little.
“What do you have up there on the roof?” he asks me.
I show him the IDF cup.
“Boring,” he says, but asks to see it anyway. I throw the blue plastic cup over the fence. “Keep it,” I say, knowing that the soldier who will soon be waking up for kitchen duty will appreciate the gesture. He asks to see the plate and the halva too, and I throw them over the fence. The battle ration changes sides. He sniffs the anemic spread, says “yuck” and throws it back to the roof of the house of secrets. The cup and plate stay on his side. “Can I see your rifle?” he asks.
“In Guard Post 3 you must always keep your finger on the trigger,” I recite in my head and refuse politely.
But the boy insists, and promises to take a look and return it immediately, just like he did with the halva. I remove my finger from the trigger and pass him the weapon across the fence.
He picks it up, holding it firmly but tenderly, like a newborn baby. He examines it, exploring all the things that my rifle has and that the stone in his pocket doesn’t. And why shouldn’t what is mine be his?
“Now give it back,” I ask him, frightened. ”Give it back to me...”
“Didn't they teach you not to peek?” he asks in a voice that suddenly sounds coarse, electrified. I don’t say a word. My eyes race between the boy and the rifle now pointed between my eyes.
“Whoever peeks gets punished,” he says, and pulls the trigger.
A screaming shot slices the air.
“Peeping Tom,” he whispers, now for his ears only.
My body falls from the roof, landing on the fence. All eighty-two points of my military profile that were granted to me in the sorting tests at Tel Hashomer turn to zero. Boiling crimson blood that was hiding inside my body spills out of my pupils to the other side of the fence.
Hanging, perforated, I rest on the fence, as my blood trickles down to the village between the cracked feet of questionable orphans and bleary-eyed schoolgirls with combed hair and a part in the middle.
The village dogs gather beneath me. They lick veins and tears, making sure I really have stopped seeing. Only Collaborator stands on the side and remembers the time when I was a private and we were friends.
The boy paces back to his home, on the way continuing to discover all of the rifle’s tricks, once property of the Israeli Defense Forces, and now property of the Isawiya army. He quietly enters his home, puts his new toy under the pillow, and drops off to sleep. He doesn't have much time left, but at least now he can fall asleep. Today he won’t wait to wake up from the Muezzin prayers. Today he’ll wake up with a shift-changing ceremony on the other side of the cage.
Darkness. Light. New day.
New soldier. New guarding shift.
“Birds chirping, Isawiya’s donkey makes his presence known, and even a few of our cousins have gotten out of bed.”
The Israeli flag is once again raised, the boy arrives at the fence, and another peeping Tom falls.
A tiny rainbow, orange and blinding, sneaks up on the neighboring mountain. Good morning…
This story is dedicated to Yonatan Barnea (1976-1996).