There are moments when life becomes a movie, a flimsy celluloid veil which – if only pushed aside – could reveal the actual. It is as if the human psyche throws up a translucent scarf as it retreats to a safer haven – attempting perhaps to delude itself that the phantasmagoric is only the surreal.
A filter of this sort descended over Daniel as the bus stopped at the Nazareth municipal stadium, not far from the new government compound. Tires crackling on gravel, the bus turned into the parking area, and it was like when the ophthalmologist clicks the wrong lens in place – the letters on the chart go just blurry enough to become unidentifiable, but still clear enough to be recognizable as letters.
Their rooftop perch afforded David and Daniel a view of the scene in the soccer stadium. There, the Jizya officials had set up a stage at one end, and marked out two paths in lime from the parking-lot gate to the stage.
Recognizing individual aspects of the scene, yet still unsure of their holistic meaning, Daniel’s eyes found and focused on the first item they could identify. It was to remain the defining image of the entire experience. Industrious municipal employees, lacking plastic garbage bags to serve the refuse needs of the substantial crowd in the stadium, had diligently created an environmentally-friendly, reusable alternative. From simple steel frames located every several meters around the stadium hung grease-stained cloth trash bags, hastily fashioned from sewn Israeli flags.
The Jizya had been fixed at PD 2000 for this first collection, around US $500 at current exchange rates, and was to be payable in any currency, including the now-defunct Israeli Shekel.
For Safuriya residents, the early-morning bus-stop meeting took place on less than a day’s notice, following receipt of notes in Arabic deposited in the mailboxes of all residents the evening before. A thoughtful local Arabic-speaking resident had quickly posted a Hebrew version of the order by the mailboxes, which sent Daniel and the other Dhimmi residents scrabbling to gather or borrow enough cash to meet the household tax. According to the notice, a Dhimmi bus would arrive at 6:00am to transport the male taxpayers. Attendance was, of course, unquestionably and unpardonably mandatory.
Clambering down from the bus rooftop, Daniel and David found themselves in a sea of Dhimmis, and were quickly separated in the throng of kippah-wearing religious Jews, white-capped Druze elders, and Christians or secular Jews who wore nothing definitive except their fear. Music was blaring festively from the stadium’s tinny loudspeaker system, and the giant TV screen on the scoreboard was alternating between white-on-green Arabic text, video of children making the “V” sign climbing on burnt-out Israeli tanks, and live action shots of the Dhimmis themselves, thronging in the parking lot.
The Muslim crowd had taken advantage of the government-declared holiday and turned out en masse to witness the spectacle. Daniel could see the crowd from his position in the mass of Dhimmis – these people who had been nothing to him previously, and with whom he now shared a common, uncertain fate. How ironic that the people in the stands, many of whom he undoubtedly also knew, had meant equally little to him in pre-Fall Israel. For now, they held the power over his life, or were at least part of the power that controlled his life. Had he once held such power? If held, had he abused it, and would he have come when bidden to gloat in their misery, even that of former enemies?
The Dhimmis shuffled forward toward the crowded stadium, where the Jizya collection had already begun. Pushed and herded by heavily-armed Hamas guards into a chain-link chute, which had been erected outside the gate, they awaited their turn to approach the Hamas official on the stage.
Despite a fundamental disregard for international convention, a tight communications and media blackout, and the Western powers’ profound silence and inaction in the face of the events leading up to the Fall – the Nazareth-based Hamas government was not entirely inept at public relations.
Objectively, Daniel had to admit that they had initially implemented the anachronistic practices of the Dhimma – fundamentally unjust and warped as they were – in an intelligent way. As CNN looked on, Dhimmis had been mandated to pay the Jizya (at a yet-unspecified time and place), to maintain separate residences from Muslims, to study in separate schools, to limit public religious displays, and to carry their blue Israeli ID cards as a temporary Dhimmi identification.
Some of these requirements differed little from de facto practices in the former Jewish state, where segregation had existed, albeit undeclared. It was easy, therefore, for both the world media and the local Dhimmi populace to accept the changes – the former because the regulations so closely resembled past practice, and the latter out of pure gratitude for not suffering the outright slaughter that many of their ranks had met during the Terror.
It was only with the second round of Dhimmi legislation – passed quietly in January, without media fanfare, and slated for gradual implementation – that the true nature of the Northern Liberated Palestine Dhimmi system was revealed.
From the beginning of February, all adult and child Dhimmis would be required to wear the orange Dhimmi armband. Separate public transportation was mandated, as were strict rules of conduct in Muslim-Dhimmi interaction – notably forbidding Christian and Jewish Dhimmis from operating motor vehicles on Muslim roads, forbidding interaction of Dhimmis with Muslims except in necessary business matters, delineating Dhimmi behavior upon meeting a Muslim, and setting up the first annual Jizya collection.
To assuage the international media's occasional scrutiny, and the occasional Red Cross outcry, the Hamas government spun the new regulations as part of its magnanimous campaign to protect the minorities that had fallen under its care. The armbands – to assist security forces in differentiating law-abiding citizens from insurgents. Segregation – partially a natural result of wartime emigration and population movement, and partly to alleviate sectarian frictions. It all made perfect sense, given the mitigating circumstances and recent upheaval. Curiosity appeased, passing pangs of guilt eased, the world moved on to the next human-interest story.
As the bizarre and terrifying scene before him resolved itself in Daniel’s reeling mind, it became clear that the Hamas government was making the most of the Jizya collection. Traditionally, collection of the Jizya had both financial and symbolic significance. On one hand, collection of the Jizya was a serious boon to Muslim economies; on the other hand, it was a very public affirmation of the Dhimmis’ state of absolute subjection – saghir.
As each Dhimmi arrived from the crowded chute to the stadium gate, two guards, one on either side, forced him to his knees at the origin of the lime-delineated path. Daniel had the sinking rollercoaster feeling he always felt when entering a situation utterly lacking control – an operating room, a dentist’s chair, the army induction center, a trans-Atlantic flight. He was pressed forward by the crowd, which was being herded – yes, herded was the right word, Daniel thought – like sheep by whip-wielding Hamas soldiers, and then kicked or prodded in the direction of the stage.
Daniel watched the line of Dhimmis on the field waddle forward slowly, clumsily – like a wounded worm writhing earthward, away from a marauding child. Every now and then, a roar went up from the crowd as a Dhimmi tripped or fell, often causing a domino effect that knocked down several meters of the line, or when the Hamas official on the stage delivered a particularly resounding blow with his cane.
Arriving at the stage, still on painful knees, each Dhimmi was forced to kiss the holy Koran held out to him. Each then handed over ID card and the tax, and – following a careful counting and rubber stamping of the ID card – received either a blow to the back of the neck or a kick in the buttocks, depending on the whim of the Hamas soldier. Due to the large number of Dhimmis, several officials, and a small group of soldiers, were working on processing the arrivals.
Daniel was swept forward, rollercoaster feeling supplanted by something more removed, yet more ominous in its distance. As he watched, a young man – perhaps 25 – arrived on his knees at the stage. Ignoring the threats, shouts, and blows from the Hamas guards, and the pleading from the other Dhimmis – he defiantly rose to his feet. The crowd fell silent almost immediately, anticipating. Staring directly at the officials on the stage, and then looking around to ensure the eyes of the crowd were upon him, the man ripped off the orange armband, and then turned and spit luridly onto the Koran which had been waiting, extended, for him to kiss.
Absolute silence. After several seconds of collective shock, the crowd, soldiers, and Hamas officials broke the silence simultaneously with a roar that filled the air like a flock of birds scared off a smooth African lake by a predator – voices beating the air, arms flapping like wings, as if struggling to break gravity’s stifling hold over their outrage.
They took him to the side of the field, within full view of the crowd, and beheaded him without ceremony. At the Hamas official’s bidding, soldiers crossed from both sides of the field, closing in on the line of Dhimmis. An officer came forward, and counted off the next twenty Dhimmis in line. Marching them to the sidelines, the soldiers lined them up, backs to the line. Bearing a still-dripping bloody sword, the executioner and his assistant, who held the heads, worked their way down the line. The sword bearer was visibly panting from exertion and covered in gore by the fourth or fifth head, but persevered to the end of the twenty. While this was going on, the crowd remained respectfully, perhaps fearfully, silent.
The line began to move forward again. An hour had gone by since Daniel had arrived. Another thirty minutes passed. The guards became bored, the blows became more and more theatrical – growing in crowd-pleasing and humiliation value, if not in pain infliction. Still the Dhimmis kept moving forward to the stage, then shuffling back slowly, still on their knees, to the gate. After that, they were free to go.
Daniel had grown up in a culture that veiled its underlying distaste for Jews, cloaking it in guises ranging from curiosity to disinterest. Having survived the Fall, the Terror, and the following months in the ranks of the Resistance eating stringy wild Carmel boar – hardship, suffering, and fear were no longer strangers to him.
However, as he eased forward with dew-damp grass soaking his gravel-racked knees, he saw the hard eyes of the guards tracking their progress with the aloof bemusement of schoolchildren watching a line of ants. He saw the line of still twitching orange-armbanded bodies to his right. And he saw in the spectators’ eyes not silent outrage, not indignity, not pity, and not even mild surprise at the extremity of the abasement – but rather, pure, undeniable Schadenfreude. As he approached the stage, bent his head to kiss the Koran, and handed over his money, Daniel realized that fear has an older brother – one who, in the absence of mitigating motherly hope, is far more powerful in the family of emotions. As he felt the stinging slap of the soldier’s hand on his cheek, he met, and truly came to know, despair.
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.
Copyright ©2012. Steven Greenberg. All rights reserved. This work is avaialble in digital form on Amazon.com. This excerpt is republished here with the author's permission.