Microsoft word - rise, yg - 02.doc

Rise | 43
Lilah fled Jaffa, stung and humiliated. The rebuff was so unexpected. Such hatred was simply not in her frame of reference. After arriving home, while she loaded the laundry into the washing machine, the affront she felt gave way to anger. As she dusted the shelves in the living room, the anger turned into indignation. Finally, after she had vented her consternation by sweeping out the apartment for a second time, she settled on contrived indifference to buffer her contused soul from the events of the morning. Naftali phoned in the afternoon to ask how the condolence visit went. He had taken a break from stormy negotiations at the Finance Ministry relating to a land privatization bill the Nationalists were trying to bulldoze through the Knesset. He called to be supportive, provide some positive reinforcement for Lilah’s having ventured further into the thistles of Israel today. Lilah was loquacious. She described the difficulty of finding parking in Jaffa, the poor signage she encountered, and how she was surprised by the colonnades at the Greek Orthodox monastery, which seemed to her more in the Byzantine style than in the Greco. “Lilah, but how was the visit? How did it go?” he asked again, ignoring the summoning of an aide telling him the negotiations had resumed. Lilah stated the facts, describing what had happened. She Naftali, his patience already strained by the business of his day cut straight to the bone: “It hurt like hell, didn’t it?” Lilah admitted that it had. “You’re angry, furious,” Naftali half-asked, half-declared. “Yes,” Lilah quietly admitted. Naftali cleared his throat. He waited a few seconds before 44 | Yosef Gotlieb
speaking. “Let me tell you something,” he said, “I’m a dove not because I forget the malice that exists between Arabs and Jews, but despite it. The animosity is real and anybody who pretends that coexistence is going to come about through loving-kindness is a fool. Realism, that’s what resolving the conflict is all about.” That was Naftali’s message, a man’s message. Lilah became aware of something she couldn’t name but that he had evidenced since that week they shared together during the New England snowstorm. She saw it several more times during her visit in February, especially but not only at the Knesset or when he spoke to his staff or the press. Naftali had become a master of concision, issuing sound bites while looking at a timer on his wrist. Lilah didn’t take to such efficiency and haste. As Naftali summarized in under a minute his experience in dealing with Palestinians and Arabs in general – spurned conciliatory gestures, dead-end negotiations and expressions of sheer prejudice – Lilah found herself tuning him out. She listened though when he said, “There’s almost a hundred years of kasach, belligerence, between Arabs and Jews and the road to a new day is going to be rough. Don’t believe differently.” By the time the phone call was over, Lilah had already decided how she would come to terms with the episode – by not dealing with it at all. She would consign her experience in Jaffa to oblivion. Fatima Abed’s path never crossed hers. The events of the past three days never happened. Period. During the next few days, Lilah worked at her desk by a window that overlooked the sea, cataloging the prints for Women of the Ports. The summer heat was waning and the fringes of the sea breeze that trailed into her childhood bedroom, now her workroom, was welcomed. Lucian had sent her an email: “We are waiting, darling, for the last crop. Your port women beseech you to let them emerge. Rise | 45
We have scheduled galleys for the end of next month,” he wrote. “Not to worry,” Lilah replied. Her inhibition about releasing the photos had faded after the contempt she had experienced outside the Abed’s house. Still, she was considering adding an in memoriam, a gesture of simple respect for the slain woman, and she thought it best to send the photos of her along with the other Israel pictures she was still planning to take.“I will send you the final shots in a week or two, I promise. Just a session or two more,” she assured Lucian. Lilah always aspired to practice his credo, “capture the magic of your subjects. Show us the world in them.” Lucian had imparted that approach when she first started studying with him. “If you must be so concerned about some far-off people’s misery,” he said in 1975 after she had evaded pirates and the turbulent South China Sea to bring back her Boat People collection on Indochinese refugees, “then do it like you have here. Artfulness in the revelation of truth,” he exhorted. She had aspired to do just that ever since. As she sorted the port images for the forthcoming book, she found them to be everything she had hoped for – stirring, vivid, poignant. There were pictures of women sailors aboard Japanese whalers, herring dealers in Rotterdam, pubescent girls netting shrimp off a wharf in the Ivory Coast, Yucatan cliff divers, Malaysian craftswomen fashioning dug-out canoes, enlisted women aboard an American nuclear submarine and women drying sea sponges on Crete. Lilah arranged the photos according to the sections of the book: Struggle; The Life-Giving Sea; Wrath of Neptune; Serenity; The Endless Expanse; Adaptation; Triumph. The book was virtually complete. It lacked only the Israeli shots. Lilah had settled on Acre as her next location. It was a port rich in history, now used by fishing boats and pleasure craft. 46 | Yosef Gotlieb
Acre would also provide an opportunity to see Michal. When she arrived back at 3 HaGaon Street and was settling in, Lilah half-gasped when she found a note from Michal waiting for her. She recognized the handwriting on the envelope immediately. “Saw your cousin Kobi at a reception several weeks ago and he told me you were returning – for good. What serendipity! Have missed you every day since we got back. Would love to reconnect,” Michal wrote. The note caught Lilah off balance. A lot had happened since they had been friends, the closest of intimates throughout their school years. The year before they were to enter the army Michal broke away from her life, her family, Lilah. She took up with a clique of professed radicals who practiced an inchoate brand of anarchism, free love and general contempt for anything remotely establishmentarian. Michal moved in with some Tel Aviv Svengali and from virtually living in each other’s homes and sharing almost everything on each other’s plates, Michal suddenly dropped out of Lilah’s life entirely. The last Lilah had heard, she left Israel and moved to France. Over the years, Lilah had heard bits and pieces about Michal, how she had become a respected actress and artist in Paris and though Lilah had been tempted to look her up whenever she passed through that city, she had not. Lilah wasn’t sure if there was still a basis for friendship or if she could endure Michal’s personality. The Michal she remembered could be passionate to the point of tempestuousness – though she was always loving, empathic and soulful. Lilah wasn’t interested in having any unnecessary commotion in her life, now that she had returned home to rebuild. She resolutely put Michal’s letter away in a drawer – for a day. She fetched the letter the next morning, picked up the phone and dialed the number on Michal’s letterhead. The palms of her hands were moist; she felt a tremor in her body, a tightness in Rise | 47
her belly. But she took the chance just as Michal had in writing her. When Michal heard who was on the other end of the line, her nervousness was as palpable as Lilah’s – at least during the first few minutes of the hour-and-a-half long call. The conversation flowed, spring water over smooth stones. They reminisced, told each other about their lives over the years, their respective ups and downs. There was much laughter – even girlish giggling. It was Michal who suggested Acre for Lilah’s next round of shooting, a grand idea, Lilah thought. They planned that she would come up mid-week, shoot in the morning and visit in the afternoon, perhaps stay the night. After she had hung up and thought back on the conversation, there was only one thing that dampened Lilah’s elation after her talk with Michal. In all other respects, Michal seemed anything but capricious and impetuous. She sounded stable, moderate and self-possessed. But there was a peculiarity, something troubling she had mentioned though Lilah had not made anything of it while on the phone. She hadn’t really absorbed it at the time. As Lilah sat on her bed and thought back, she wondered what to make of Michal’s comment, made in passing and without elaboration that she was married to an Arab man, an Israeli Arab. A Jew and an Arab sharing the same bed? Lilah pondered. Was Michal sleeping with the enemy? Was she still into slumming, just as she had after high school? Lilah flushed at her reaction. Still, she wondered about the integrity of Michal’s marriage and the woman who had entered into it. The question hovered in Lilah’s mind for a while, but withdrew as sleep came over her. She would see for herself the day after tomorrow. Dawn was still an hour away when Lilah awoke, though she would have to move quickly if she intended to shoot in Acre in 48 | Yosef Gotlieb
early morning light. She dressed and promptly left the apartment. The roads were empty. By anyone’s standards, it was still early. She sipped the coffee in her thermos and listened to Spanish guitar on the disc player. The mood of her phone call with Michal had stayed with her and she looked forward to seeing her. Lilah had chosen to travel north along the Coastal Road. The sun had only begun to whiten the pre-dawn sky and the traffic streamed. Thirty minutes out of Tel Aviv she passed Zichron Ya’akov. There, the southern reaches of the Carmel range to her right, the road began to fill with early-morning commuters. At first, the low rumble didn’t arouse Lilah’s suspicion, though she did look through her windshield for low-flying aircraft. She had already forgotten the noise when, a minute or two later, she noticed the absence of oncoming traffic on the other side of the highway median: an accident perhaps – maybe a break-down. Lilah concluded that something was amiss when, a few minutes later, in her rearview mirror, she saw a police car, its emergency lights flashing, rapidly gain on and then pass her. A second one quickly did the same, its siren shrieking. With the northbound traffic starting to back up, Lilah craned her neck to see what lay ahead. As the car crested a rise in the road, she saw a sea of flashing blue and red lights; from afar she saw that they were surrounding a hulk of some kind belching tall clouds of smoke. An ambulance suddenly tore past her on the left, weaving between the cars. A little further up the highway she could see that the hulk was a bus. It lay on its side having broken through the median barrier in the southbound direction and now blocked the lanes to the north. All traffic in both directions had stopped – as much from the horror as the obstruction. After a few minutes of immobility, some of the drivers ahead Rise | 49
of Lilah parked on the shoulder of the road. Others turned off their engines, letting the cars stand idle. Lilah put hers in park and turned off the motor as emergency vehicles tore past her and raced to the scene five hundred meters away from where she stood. Along with other people, Lilah walked toward the commotion. Three hundred meters from it, she stopped and stared in disbelief at the wreckage. The bus lay like a carcass. Police and passersby were boldly trying to dislodge the passengers. Even at this distance, Lilah saw that many of those who had been removed were limp or unmoving. There was an eerie quiet. Only the garbling of police radios and the screams of ambulances arriving and departing intruded on the odd stillness of the woeful scene. Suddenly, there was the roar of a second explosion and a burst of light. The shock wave threw Lilah hard against a car. She felt a sudden blow and granite-hard pain. Then, as she lay on the hood of the car, she heard a whoosh and what sounded like metallic rain. Some of the people around her screamed as if the precipitation had pierced them. Lilah slowly rose to her feet and holding her side walked toward her car. Her chest was rising and falling in a short, clipped pace. She came to the realization that this had been an attack. She was momentarily astounded – this could not be happening. The feeling soon turned into revulsion. Finally, she felt the determination rise in her. She reached into the camera bag in her back seat, rummaged around for an old press card, grabbed her Olympia and began shooting. After vomiting a third time, her stomach acids churning – Lilah couldn’t say what would have been better, having had breakfast or not – she was staggered. She had seen human suffering before, but nothing as acutely evil as this. The explosions had left the victims’ bodies – of the bus passengers in the first blast, of their rescuers in the second – mockingly 50 | Yosef Gotlieb
contorted. Arms, legs and fingers had been torn away, heads twisted and torsos ripped apart by the force of the explosions. The sounds were no less grotesque: the gravely crunch of shoes and boots on broken glass and shards of metal; savage screams, guttural groans, pathetic pleas for help. An emergency worker who was still standing tried to take command and shouted orders. He slowly realized he was calling out to the fallen: the first responders were now strewn along the pavement and road shoulders. The predators had leveled them with pernicious aforethought. A smoky haze fueled by the rising heat carried the stench of burnt rubber and catalyzed explosives. A ring of putrid yellow smoke hung overhead. Beneath it, whoever had been and still remained alive after the first blast was now scorched and bloodied by the second. Lilah took pictures: A little girl, miraculously unscathed, clutched both her doll and a woman, presumably her mother, lying inert on the ground. An old man in a state of shock with metal nails embedded in his neck and cheeks and one perilously close to his eye. These nails, shrapnel, were the metallic rain that had showered with enough force to rattle the chassis of cars a third of a kilometer away. She photographed determined personnel, newly-arrived and valiant, replacing their stricken colleagues and attending to the victims. This was the Israel Lilah remembered, rising to the challenge. The emergency team acted unhesitatingly, with professional precision. The dead and wounded were evacuated within a quarter of an hour. Lilah had shot nearly four dozen pictures. She paused for a moment to change lenses and became aware of feeling thirsty, parched. She was heading toward an emergency van to ask for a cup of water when her knees buckled. An alert police officer caught her by the elbow and eased her fall. Rise | 51
Lilah recalled little when she opened her eyes in the hospital corridor. She knew that she was in an emergency room overflowing with wounded. Doctors and nurses attended to patients, some conscious but most not, along the length of the hallway. Lilah spotted a clock. It was past eleven o’clock, hours after the bombing. The hours that had ensued were wrapped in fog. A harried doctor checked a paper tag pinned to the hospital gown she wore. “There you are,” he said, wiping sweat from his face with the sleeve of his exam coat. “Your x-rays are back and the rest of your lab work too,” he said as if they had just been having a conversation. “Nothing’s broken and the bleeding has stopped. It was absorbed by the muscles of your torso. But you’re going to have quite a bruise on the left side of your trunk.” He noted something on Lilah’s chart and then continued, “We think you collapsed from a combination of dehydration, the extensive bruising and the general trauma. We gave you something potent for the pain when you came in, so you’re going to be drowsy for the rest of the day. I’m giving you a prescription for the same drug to get you through the next day or two. I advise you to see your family doctor as soon as you can. Also, drink a lot of fluids – you’re still very dehydrated… Nurse…” The doctor withdrew and an aide came and helped Lilah into a wheelchair. She wheeled Lilah out of the treatment area to a holding space that was relatively quiet. “Which hospital is this?” Lilah asked. Despite the medicinal haze, her thinking was clearing. She wanted to know what had happened to her and to the others. “This is the emergency room of Rambam Medical Center in “How many victims were there?” Lilah asked. “We received forty-three people here. I understand that another thirty or so were taken to other hospitals around the 52 | Yosef Gotlieb
“How many people were killed?” “It’s up to twenty-seven now. Another ten or so are touch and go. But don’t think about that. Let’s get you dressed so you can go home.” Lilah felt numb, as if she was hovering somewhere off the ground. This could not be. As she helped Lilah put on her shoes and tucked a sheet around her, the volunteer asked who she could call to pick her up. Naftali was touring constituents in the Arava, the lower Negev. It would take him hours to come, once he was located and contacted. Ido was in the field and even more inaccessible. Lilah felt odd about giving the volunteer Michal’s phone number. But who else was there? Lilah found her cell phone in her bag and gave the number to the volunteer. The woman stepped down the hall to make the call. Lilah had been dozing when a hand on her shoulder gently roused her. She looked up to find Michal, more than 30 years older but utterly familiar. Lilah rose and they embraced long and hard, both of them crying freely. “Thank you so much for coming,” Lilah said once they had “Oh, come on,” Michal said, waving her hand, “I am just so sorry that you were there. I still can’t believe you went through this.” “I’m fine,” Lilah said, but then admitted “Michal, it was the most terrible thing. I don’t know how to describe it,” she said in disbelief. As they waited for the discharge papers, Lilah slowly recounted her recollections in a jagged verbal stream. Michal listened sympathetically, comforting her. “Let me take you home with me to Acre,” Michal proposed once Lilah’s litany of horrors had slowed. “It’s a lot closer than Tel Aviv, and I can look after you there.” Lilah fell silent as she thought. “You don’t mind?” she then Rise | 53
Michal’s smile was a clear enough reply. Lilah accepted Michal’s arm as they walked to the car. It felt strangely natural to Lilah to be leaning on her old friend at a time like this. As they were about to get into Michal’s car, they were distracted by the sight of an elderly man attacking a young hospital janitor, an Arab, sweeping the sidewalk. “All of you are terrorists! Murderers of women and children!” screamed the man as he feebly but wildly struck out at the worker. Bystanders pulled the man away from the janitor, though not before he managed to spit in his face. “Wonderful,” Lilah said sarcastically as Michal helped her into the car. “As if that helps things.” “People are angry. This is the bloodiest attack we’ve had in years,” Michal said, her tone even, explanatory. She started the engine and turned on the air conditioner and radio. She backed out of the space and began driving focused, restrained. “Do they know who is responsible?” Lilah asked. “Various Palestinian jihadist groups have claimed credit. No one really knows yet. Ever since the talks between Jerusalem and the Palestinians broke down in May, people have been predicting something like this would happen.” As she drove out of the hospital parking lot, the traffic report spoke of heavy delays northbound from Haifa. “It’s going to take a while,” Michal said gently to Lilah. Close your eyes, dear. Rest.” Lilah already had, having trailed off into deep sleep.


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