Sunday, June 17, 2012

Enfold Me—A Novel Of Post-Israel: Part 1

FICTION Sunday

We welcome a new Israeli author, Steven Greenberg, with an excerpt from his thrilling first novel, Enfold Me—A Novel of Post-Israel. It's a human story of the aftermath of an occupied Israel, suffused and layered with biblical prophecy. The story's hero, Daniel, the protagonist, in many ways echoes Israel's story of survival and recognition. As the author puts it: "Precipitated by a massive earthquake and an Iranian-led attack, the fall of Israel rips Daniel Blum from his suburban life and scientific career. Alone and scarred, he endures subjugation and terror in Hamas-controlled Northern Liberated Palestine.
"Now, Daniel must follow George Farrah, a figure from his past, deep under the Carmel mountain and through Egyptian-controlled, quake-ravaged Tel Aviv. Haunted by tragedy, Daniel strains the bonds of duty and family as he and George uncover a secret that could alter the region’s balance of power."

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Chapter 2 – The Jizya
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Safuriya
Northern Liberated Palestine
The Present
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A chill dawn rose over Nazareth, sharp wispy orange beaks of clouds pecked the carcass of the landscape bloody. It was not much of a bus stop. Really just an old sign pole, the sign removed, the pole painted hastily in orange oil-based paint. The painter had obviously been less concerned with technique than with expediency – drips had congealed into solidified smooth lines of orange, frozen in time as they followed gravity to the ground, trusting its lead yet ultimately betrayed. A few rocks that had been caught in the orange deluge moped stickily at the base of the pole.

Daniel trudged up the stony road embankment, through dust-encrusted Rosemary bushes – multicolored plastic bags nesting in tangled branches – and over shards of broken glass that were just starting to gleefully catch, and play with, the morning sunlight. The asphalt was a grey skillet, still cool in the viscous morning fog, but waiting, biding its time until the sun heated it into a grease-spattering conduit, sizzling at the feet or tires of its conveyances.

Looking at his watch, a cheap digital thing he’d traded for in the market last week, Daniel approved his excruciatingly consistent, yet clearly pointless, promptness in arriving at the Dhimmi bus stop on Road 79, the Nazareth highway.

The remaining evergreens dotting the hills to the southwest drooped morosely, as if bemoaning their dramatic fall from pampered Jewish National Fund poster children to plain old future firewood. With his back to the once green hill, Daniel watched as the other Dhimmi men of Safuriya began to arrive.

Some were clad in threadbare, graying work clothes, lunches of bread, lubbaneh, and desiccated cucumbers in various-hued plastic bags clutched in their calloused hands. Some had on worn-out designer-label jeans and slick running shoes that had seen better days, brushed leather jackets over t-shirts brightly emblazoned with hi-tech company logos.

Backlit by the menacing orange sun, which had now started consuming houses in the east with a mouth of blazing shadows, they shuffled to the makeshift bus stop. As the rising sun clinched them from behind, the lines etched on their faces told the tale of the trials they'd endured these past months, much as the dull reflections of their eyes would do in the evening light, after this day’s trials.

All had lost loved ones. All had lost property – things, trifles. Some had lost all – humanity, compassion, self-respect, love. These moved mechanically, responding in monosyllables to any enquiry, enduring humiliation with bent back and lowered head. Post-Zionist Mussulmen.

The bus shelter, now reserved for Muslims only, shone in the morning sunshine – fading plastic roof an untouchable shrine, cracked wooden bench an unreachable luxury. The Dhimmis waited – alternating standing, sitting uncomfortably on the curbstones, walking back and forth, leaning on the lone orange signpost. As the hours passed, tense nonchalance gave way to subdued impatience, which morphed momentarily to disguised outrage, and then came to rest squarely in the realm of mute resignation.

Dhimmi regulations permitted inter-city travel only on pre-approved methods of transport – walking was not an option. And besides, nobody knew where they were being taken.

Three hours later, at 9:00am, with the sun already high and heating the asphalt, a diesel-belching bus – overloaded with travelers – came around the curve sluggishly, pulling over to allow the Dhimmis to embark. Daniel and several others made straight for the ladder at the back of the bus, which led to the roof luggage rack – preferring the dust and sun to the sardine-like conditions of the interior for the presumably short ride.

Heaving himself wearily up the rusty, rickety ladder at the rear of the ancient bus, Daniel threw himself like a sack of self-motile potatoes over the top rail of the luggage rack, alighting heavily on a cushion of worn suitcases in varying degrees of disrepair, and – to his surprise – a significantly less cushioned man, who had been lying prone across the luggage rack. Daniel’s elbow in the man’s stomach produced a “what the hell?” that Daniel was surprised to hear in English.

“Sorry,” Daniel mumbled, sizing the man up briefly before casting his eyes downward, seeking, then finding a roosting spot from which he’d be less likely to tumble when the bus lurched forward. “Didn’t see you there.”

“Well you bloody well would have if you’d been looking, wouldn’t you?” the man spit testily in a clipped British accent, sitting up and turning away from Daniel’s intrusion on what had been his personal space. “Like I haven’t got enough people figuratively stepping all over me on a daily basis, I need one of our own to do so literally.”

Daniel sat, clumsily clutching the luggage rack as the bus pulled away from the bus stop, jerking the roof passengers in perfect unison, like marionettes in a synchronized swimming meet. After a few minutes of uncomfortable silence between them, the man looked up. Daniel, casually swinging his gaze away from an invisible spot on the horizon, met his eyes for a brief moment, then looked away. “Name’s Daniel,” he said, holding out his hand.

“I’m David,” he used the Hebrew pronunciation Daveed. “Used to be called David, once upon a time in the seat of the British empire,” said the man, trying unsuccessfully to again meet Daniel’s eye, and grasping his hand with a limp, almost effeminate handshake. “You a Yank, then?”

“Way back when. I grew up in a little town in the Midwest, before I came to the Holyland to seek fortune and glory,” Daniel smiled ironically. “And look how far I’ve come.”

David was a slight man, so clearly an academic that “Property of Oxford,” or whatever institute of higher learning he represented, may as well have been tattooed across his forehead. Completely bald, glasses with lenses as cloudy as watery milk perched on an understated nose that seemed to exist for the sole purpose of diverting attention to a thick-lipped mouth with a set of crooked white teeth. Daniel’s eyes unconsciously locked on those teeth as he listened to the professor – which was how he immediately began to mentally refer to him.

“Been here over twenty years, myself,” spoke the professor. “Taught over there, until the Fall, that is,” he gestured vaguely to the southwest, in the direction of the only university in the region, the now-ruined Haifa University. “Islamic History, believe it or not. A Christian, living in the Jewish state, teaching Islam to Jews and Arabs. I guess I had all my bases covered, religiously and ethnically. I’m staying now with my daughter in Nof Alonim. Not doing much but reading, these days.”

The bus driver had been instructed to proceed directly to the Jizya collection venue – the only destination of any Dhimmi traveling that morning. None of the passengers knew exactly where the bus was going, but the speculation was Nazareth. And, for once, the speculators ruled the day, as the bus took the right fork at the junction with Road 79, towards downtown Nazareth.

“i figured they’d get around to putting on a show for the masses, one of these days,” David  reflected, half to himself. “Looks like today’s the day, and you and I are going to be on center stage, my friend.”

Daniel nodded glumly. A student of Middle Eastern history, Daniel had known the term Dhimmi  well prior to the Fall. Under Koranic law, a Dhimmi  is a non-Muslim subject, afforded protection under the Dhimma, or protection pact. Never, even in the farthest reaches of his creatively pessimistic doomsday fantasies, had he expected to live as one.

“I’ll bet you didn’t know that by donning that orange armband, we’ve joined the ranks of an auspicious tradition dating back to the Prophet Mohammed himself,” David  continued, his voice taking on a bombastic, if somewhat monotonous, lecture timbre that must have bored generations of students to tears, Daniel thought. “It’s true. In the year 629, after his army conquered the oasis of Khaybar, which is in what used to be Saudi Arabia, Mohammed granted the Jews there religious freedom and security, in exchange for a yearly tithe. Of course, this was short-lasted freedom – the agreement was reneged upon by Caliph Umar several years later. But modern-day Muslim scholars, and especially our friends in the Hamas government, prefer to overlook this little blip in the storyline.”

Daniel had now turned, interest piqued, and was actively listening to the professor’s soliloquy.

“You see, Muslims love using the Dhimmi system as an example of the historically enlightened nature of Islamic government. And I suppose it could be considered ‘enlightened’ by historical standards,” he mused. “I mean, Dhimmis were neither systematically massacred nor forcibly converted. They retained basic property rights, they were guaranteed basic freedom of worship, and they even had legal recourse against Muslims. It’s not a mystery why the status was even welcomed by Jews when the Muslims took over after centuries of Byzantine persecution. “

Something behind Daniel’s eyes caught fire. “Enlightened?” he snapped, just as the bus lumbered through a deep but smooth pothole, slamming his ass down hard on the luggage rack.

“Enlightened, indeed,” the professor continued, shifting uncomfortably, enjoying the parley. “You see, you and I understand – in 20-20 hindsight – that the Dhimmi system legitimized disenfranchisement, segregation, arbitrary violence, and disproportionate taxation. However, history is nothing if not relative. Some scholars compare the Dhimma status to life for ex-slaves in the southern United States, from the end of the Civil War until the 1960s. And, the very fact that these people were no longer slaves made their treatment more ‘enlightened’ – even though by our standards it was abysmal,” David  continued. “Enlightenment,” he postulated, “is in the eye of the enlightenee, so to speak.”

Daniel looked up. The Dhimmi bus had already crossed into Nazareth from the northern checkpoint – no hassles getting in today – and was working its way through slow-moving traffic on the main streets of Nazareth. As David  finished speaking, Daniel noticed the hush that seemed to fall over the street as the bus passed – the way a blanket draped over your head at the beach dulls out the sound of waves just enough so you can focus on each watery crash. Bypassers stopped, pointed, stared at the bus, with its hastily painted but distinctive orange stripe. Daniel watched their faces – some eyes just curious, some mocking, even a few pitying – but most hardening like red-hot metal cooling in a blacksmith’s water bath.

The Hamas-led government of Northern Liberated Palestine, with the enthusiastic support of its Iranian masters – who had a long history of zealously embracing the Dhimmi system – had enacted Dhimmi  legislation soon after taking power in the previous August. The Christians and Jews that remained in Northern Liberated Palestine – those who had not fled to the Egyptian-held territory south of the Carmel, secured a coveted ticket out prior to the Fall, or been slaughtered in the post-Fall Terror – were now officially Dhimmis.

“To sum it up,” the professor broke the silence, jolting Daniel back into focus. “The Dhimmi system was – is – a codification of the discrimination and subjugation of minorities under Islamic rule. It ensured basic rights, true – but far more for the financial gains of the ruling majority than for some greater humanistic ideal. For,” David ’s voice became less oratorical and more conspiratorial, “as we are likely to soon find out firsthand, at the base of the Dhimmi system was the collection of the poll tax – the Jizya.”

Imposed only on Dhimmis, Daniel recalled, the Jizya was not just a crushing tax – ostensibly to cover the cost of the protection pact – it was an opportunity to ceremonially demonstrate the Dhimmi’s subjugation to Muslim rule.

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Part 2 will run next Sunday the 24th.
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I am a professional writer and an Israeli. I am also a full-time cook, cleaner, chauffeur, and work-at-home Dad for three amazing young children, and the lucky husband of a loving and very supportive wife. Born in Texas in 1967 and raised in Fort Wayne, Indiana, I emigrated to Israel only months before the first Gulf War, following my graduation from Indiana University in 1990. In 1996, I was drafted into the Israel Defense Forces, where I served for 12 years as a Reserves Combat Medic. Since 2002, I’ve worked as an independent marketing writer, copywriter and consultant.
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Copyright ©2012. Steven Greenberg. All rights reserved. This work is available in digital form on Amazon.com. This excerpt is republished here with the author's permission.

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