“Terrorism has been defined throughout the
international community as a crime against humanity. As such, the
State of Israel not only has the right but also the obligation to
do everything in its power to lessen the impact and scope of terrorism
on the citizens of Israel.
“The Security Fence is an operational concept
conceived by the Israeli Defense Establishment in order to reduce
the number of terrorist attacks whether in the form of explosive-
rigged vehicles or in the form of suicide bombers who enter into
Israel with the intention of murdering innocent babies, children,
women and men. Sadly, this abhorrent phenomenon has become common
practice since September 2000.”--- Israeli Ministry of Defense
They built the Wall overnight. They worked quietly:
bulldozers digging, trucks bringing concrete
slabs, cranes rolling on rails setting them in their designated
location. Blue-collar workers labored with the serenity of sedate
programmers: I wasn't awakened by the clatter and clamor of this
major construction enterprise, started and completed while I slept.
In the early morning when I opened my curtains to
let the sunlight in, it was all there: eight meters of gray wall
rising up towards the blue skies, completely obliterating the view
of what lay on the other side. A khaki-painted jeep zoomed by --
there was already military traffic on the concertina-wired track
along the new stretch of the Wall.
I tried to remember what was there, on the other side:
an enemy’s village, town, city? The thought itself gave me
a headache, as if I had woken up with a hangover after a binge and
now couldn’t remember a thing. It will come later, I reasoned,
getting ready to go to work. When I put on my white shirt and sprayed
it with cologne, it occurred to me that although I didn’t
remember the visual details, I had an olfactory recollection of
the foul stench that was missing today. A generous bouquet of human
sweat, excrement and urine was no longer troubling my nostrils.
I work for GlobeVision, a seven-story glass box located
at the top of a Jerusalem hill, where I write computer programs.
In the early nineties, at the genesis of the high-tech boom, my
career dream finally came true. The Technion, the Israeli counterpart
of MIT, founded a new department for educating young people to help
the country upgrade its war machinery while simultaneously creating
new markets for the greedy demands of the economy. I had just finished
my military service, and with my left hemisphere dominant over my
right brain, I was perfectly suited for the job. I had graduated
with a degree in computer science and applied to GlobeVision, a
company that was continually at the bleeding edge of the high tech
I swiped my magnetic card, and the turnstiles parted
like the Red Sea before Moses, letting me go. The elevator took
me to my niche –on the third floor—and I trudged towards
my cubicle through an intricate labyrinth of workaholic individualism.
My cubicle is located next to a tinted window, through which I can
see the sweeping panorama of Yir HaTika—The Old City—with
its mosques and churches and crumbling white-stone buildings, looking
so bright, absorbing sunlight like a black hole, trapping conventional
time within. The Old City appeared to loom on the brink of transcendence,
but somehow only in people’s minds, as its earthly architecture
remained enslaved by Newtonian laws.
I turned to my computer to overcome the morning's
unease at seeing the Wall built right outside my house. I became
engrossed in creating binary code for the robot that would mass-produce
a new generation of chips—tiny clone structures of an ever-expanding
My phone rang and I looked at its green luminous display.
It read “Limor.”
“Hi, Micah,” my girlfriend said in her
usual dejected voice. “How are you?” “Fine.”
I feared to ask her the same question. The answer somehow always
depended on new medical advances in anti-depressants. She was ever
on the lookout for brand-new, modified drugs, as her mind rapidly
deciphered the tricky chemical formula of a pill and refused to
discharge any serotonin.
I met Limor in a municipal therapy group for young
people with psychological trauma. I picked mine up on the way to
the market, when a bus exploded half a block away from me, into
a crowded street, shredding those at its epicenter, maiming everyone
in a ten-meter radius. I was about fifteen
meters away and a small nail wedged itself into my triceps. The
explosion deafened the noisy street. It became silent, as the survivors
staggered through the desolation, numb, groaning and then screaming,
without uttering a sound. I was shell-shocked, out of my mind, stomping
on the same spot, as if caught in a loop of time, when I was grabbed
by the hands of the paramedics and inserted into an ambulance.
Two weeks later, after I recovered from the successful extraction
of a rusty nail from my arm, I was ushered to the therapy group,
where I was given a chance to express my anguish.The psychologist,
a middle-aged Sephardic woman who confessed to us that she was yet
to witness a suicide bombing (in Israel people are divided into
two camps: those who were already there and the ones who are going
to be) repeated the same mantra, over and over again, “The
cure for the pain is in the pain.”
There were about a dozen of us, all except two suffering
from the shock of suicide bombings that had recently been on the
rise. We sat in a circle and spoke in turn, staring at the floor,
as if ashamed to say bad things about a reality we all shared.
Limor was sitting next to me, and when her turn came she said, “I
feel like I don’t belong here. My problem is within me. I’m
not a victim of circumstances. I’m chronically depressed.”Limor
would always take responsibility for herself. She was a sponge for
guilt attracting and absorbing it from the outside world, from other
people. She had a profound necessity to suffer the pain, but more
often than not, it became too unbearable. She said, “I’m
a junkie. I’ve been taking every anti-depressant invented
by the human race. I’m an anti-depressant gourmand.”
Limor didn’t cast her eyes to the floor like others did, but
surveyed the group, looking for eye contact, striving to be a recipient
of the collective anguish. As if she wanted to say, "Look,
I’m already screwed up, I will help you all by taking away
your pain and making you all feel better." That was what I
found attractive in her -- she would never shift her responsibility
to somebody else. Her stoicism reminded me of the Christian doctrine
of exalted suffering and attainment of redemption through it. Her
parents were Zionists; which was in a way, also a credo greedy for
personal sacrifice laid down on the altar of its bigger-than-life
We left the meeting together, and she showed me her wrists slashed
from four suicide attempts, to illustrate what I would have to deal
with. She was pushing me away, afraid of hurting me. That too, was
much part of her personality. But as much as she pushed me away,
I pulled back towards her with redoubled force. In the end she surrendered.
She submitted to my persistency, admitted my victory, her victory
too, the acquisition of her first boyfriend.
She was twenty. I was twenty-five, a few weeks shy
of graduating from the Technion. As they sing in that song, “the
future was wide open” to us. I twisted the receiver in my
hand, looking nonchalantly out at the Old City.
“Do you want to go to the movies tonight?”
she asked me casually. Limor didn’t work much. She helped
her mother manage her sweets boutique; other than that she spent
her days alone in her room, brooding in her own juices. He dad was
never home. He worked for Shabak, the Security Service, patrolling
the borders, doing his utmost to thwart the suicide bombers from
entering the country.
“Sure. Eight o'clock at your place?”
“Do you want to see any particular movie?”
She didn’t. We hung up.
Yanni, my co-worker, towered over the low cubicle
wall and grinned slyly. “They built the Wall outside my house
yesterday. It looks sinisterly similar to the Berlin Wall. Gives
me the creeps.”
“You think the Wall is a mistake?”
He was grinning no more. “I didn’t say
that,” Yanni replied gravely. “I just said that it looks
gruesome. But then again, what do you expect a goddamn wall to look
I said, “Funny thing, I try, but can’t
remember what was on the other side, behind the Wall.”
Yanni glared at me intently and said, “It’s
strange, isn’t it, but I can’t remember a thing either.
It's no really significant, I guess." I nodded. “Insignificant.
That’s what I thought. I thought, who cares
what is out there, in the territories. Apparently I never did. Never
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.” Then he leaned even
further over my wall and whispered, “There’s a rumor
circulating around that Golum has some big-buck project for us,
in which the Government is involved.” Eitan Golum is the name
of our boss, the president of GlobeVision.
“I need extra cash,” I reflected, thinking
“That’s what I’m saying, lots of
extra cash. But it’s hush-hush. Don’t tell anyone.”
Yanni disappeared back to his mass-communication-equipped
solitary confinement. As I reclined in my swivel chair it occurred
to me that the Wall had already been there in our minds long before
it was actually erected.
I parked my car, and Limor and I walked along the
Wall towards my house. The sun was on a steep decline and the Wall
cast its deep shadow over the territory. I said, “Strange,
but I just don't remember what was on the other side.“
Limor looked at me listlessly and said in her clean
Ashkenazi accent, “But I do. Clusters of huts with square
holes instead of glassed windows. Squalid streets filled with half-naked
children and donkey carts. Listen—“ She clasped my hand
and stopped. Her face was resolute and tentative.
She was listening. Listening to the new silence.
“Do you hear it?”
“The clatter of hooves on the tank-pulverized
asphalt. The nervous peal of children's laughter. Can you hear it,
She squeezed my hand tight, as if through physical
pain my hearing would get better.
And then I heard voices, loud voices. But behind the
soundproof wall they were muffled, barely distinct. They spoke Arabic,
and I couldn’t understand a word.
“They are standing there looking at the new
partition and are even more affected by its immensity than we are,”
“They must be arguing, trying to make sense
of it all.”
She looked at me grievously. Her eyes were forest
green, and deeply sad. They had a profound capacity for sadness
and aloofness. Limor observed the world with a loner’s bias
and often expressed it in her impeccable Hebrew, the newly resurrected
language of a very old land.
We continued strolling as the muted buzz of voices
dissipated, as if it had belonged to ghosts. It was getting dark,
and through the penumbra we saw the flickering light of a cigarette.
Someone was approaching us from the distance. When we neared the
figure we discerned in him a reserve duty soldier, of about my age.
“Good evening,” he greeted us. “What
a beautiful day.”
“Indeed, and you’re giving it away to
the military,” I joked.
The reserve soldier smiled, “I guess I don’t
have a choice.” Then he looked at the Wall, “What a
piece of work this security fence is. It’s already working.
The rate of suicide bombings is going down. But it spells bad news
to me: more days of reserve service.”
"Are you a patrol guard?” I asked him.
“No, a technician.” He pointed at the
Wall, “this thing looks medieval, but you’d be surprised
to know how much new technology is in it. It’s state of the
art, though it doesn’t look aesthetic. Now we are in a well-protected
fortress. No one can come close to it from the other side without
getting detected. Oh yes, sir, it works all right: it’s already
bringing us peace and security.”
We shook hands and went our separate ways. It was
getting cooler. A light breeze was blowing from the desert.
“Are you cold, Limor?” I asked my girlfriend.
“I’m fine.” And then she said, “I
have a recurring dream. I’m on an island, which is a boisterous
land inhabited with well-to-do people. There’s heavy mercantile
and tourist traffic with the continent. But quickly the seafaring
dwindles, people pack their belongings and move off the island,
so finally there is no one left. I go out to explore a lush resort
with beautiful houses and a modern urban infrastructure. But there
are no people left anymore to enjoy its comfortable lifestyle. I
traverse the island and come to the other side. I have a pen and
paper and I write an SOS note, stick into a wine bottle and throw
it in the ocean. The flow tide is too strong though, and it washes
my bottle back to the shore. It gets dark and I hear noises. I see
the outline of a mountain located in the middle of the island. There
are barbarians coming down its slopes, running all around, reclaiming
the abandoned territory.”
We reached my house and I fumbled in my pocket for
the key. I thought: boredom is a fertile ground for frenzy, frenzy
and hopelessness. I held Limor’s hand carefully avoiding touching
her scarred wrist. She heard the voices that were no longer there,
while I smelled the exquisite odor of her perfume. I needed her
more than she needed me. She was comfortable in her solitude, while
I craved reconnection with the real world.
“I love you, Limor.” When was the last
time I said these words to her? Last week? Last month? The wave
of time had been at its crest recently. But the significance of
these words wasn't lost on Limor. I looked into her melancholic
eyes and they betrayed an emotional upheaval. She stepped close
to me and reached her lips towards me for a kiss. Human intimacy
seemed so ephemeral in a land that counts on eternity to measure
I woke up in the middle of the night, feeling terribly
thirsty. I got out of bed and walked briskly through the darkness,
instinctively angling around the contours of my furniture, down
the stairs, my hand sliding along the banister, to the kitchen.
I opened the fridge and took out a carton of orange juice. I poured
a glassful and downed the liquid in one gulp. I put the glass into
the dishwasher and went back to my bedroom. The electric clock glowed
in the dark. It said 3:05. I felt a premonition that something was
about to happen, in just a few minutes. I tucked myself under the
blanket and didn’t close my eyes, waiting, trying not to drift
back into sleep again.
The silence didn’t last long. The lamenting,
ear-splitting voice of the Moazin came over the loudspeaker piercing
the silence. It exploded with urgency, with profound need and reverberated,
echoed, bounced over the hills of Jerusalem, carrying two words
in Arabic uttered over and over again: Allah Akhbar- God is Great.
The stress was on the second syllable in both words, as if the speaker
wanted the simple human words to linger and regress into infinity
like reflections in a pair of mirrors. I shuddered. The voice was
pious and devoted. It didn’t try to subdue the mystery, the
enigma it aspired to. I thought about helicopters, tanks, submarines,
battleships, rifles, grenades, but my mind inevitably drifted back
to the desert voice, the one repeating the same two words over and
over again in zealous ecstasy.
These chanted words invaded my privacy, undermined
my self-assurance, eliminating any possibility of sleep that night.
I lay on my bed staring at the ceiling, waiting for the prayer to
stop. I was shivering all over, because suddenly I realized the
peculiar feature of the Moazin voice that had somehow always evaded
my comprehension. There was no doubt in its lamentation. The Moazin
took it for granted that his prayer would eventually be answered.
At 3:21 the prayer stopped and the night reclaimed the Eternal City.
The traditional serenity of GlobeVision's territory
was in a hurricane of mad activity. Programmers were chaotically
dashing around the lobby. The third floor was no better, no one
was looming reflectively over a computer monitor anymore: everyone
was on the move. “What’s going on around here?”
I asked Yanni, who was rushing down a corridor lined with fax and
“Golum is about to break the news about our
new project. Up in the banquet hall,” he said excitedly and
glanced at what looked like a moderately expensive watch. “In
Twenty minutes later I was seated in the banquet hall,
facing the same view of the Old City (only with a more intimate
perspective into its sacred innards), glaring at our commander-in-chief
Eitan Golum. He stood on the podium and spoke thunderously without
a microphone. “You all must’ve heard about the Wall,”
he said grinning his business grin. There were chuckles of approval
all around. Golum nodded thoughtfully, the grin lingering on his
face. “OK, now the Wall is going to be a part of your lives
“You want to send us to a military reserve service
to guard the Wall?” some joker used the opportunity to practice
his comedy. That outburst released the stressful atmosphere of too
many programmers crammed into a room without partitions and without
access to their computers. The crowd reverberated with peals of
Golum raised his left hand that didn’t have
a wedding ring (he is left-handed) in a cinematic slow motion gesture
from atop his Mount Sinai and spoke victoriously, “The Wall
is great, but has its weakness. You can’t go through the Wall
and you can’t go around, but you can go under.” At that
early stage of Golum’s announcement it was impossible to guess
what the Wall’s ingrained weakness might have to do with our
programming at GlobeVision, so the rancorous noise subsided, as
we prepared to hear
Golum said, “Round-the-clock surveillance is
too expensive. You need too many soldiers to guard the entire perimeter.
If we install cameras, then we’d need too many technicians
to watch the live footage. So the Government came up with an alternative
solution, a cheaper one. Sensor-motion detectors.”
Now having their clue, the crowd rippled with excitement.
With the Government mentioned, the project automatically held a
promise of big bucks, big shekels.
Again, Golum had to raise his hand to quench the signs
of impatience. “GlobeVision has received a Government contract
to work on a more advanced model of a motion-sensor detector than
the ones we import from the United States.”
Silence descended upon the banquet hall, which at
the moment was free of tables. He finished, “The contract
will be shared with Elbit Corporation to link our product with their
high-precision weapon system. Not only will you work on making Israel
a safer place, you’ll earn a bonus at the completion of your
work that will make everyone of you rich.” The programmers
rose and applauded, cheering Golum, cheering their good fortune.
On the way out I came across Yonni. He was in a good
mood and wanted to share it with me. “Why are you brooding?”
He asked me, giving me a friendly slap on the shoulder.
“It still troubles me. The Wall.” I said
glumly, heading for the stairs, as there was a crowd pushing towards
“What troubles you? Berlin? Hadrian? We built
a security fence to
prevent the Rats from targeting us.” Yonni became irritated.
“What if there are no Rats.”
“What do you mean "no Rats"? Are you
really in that much denial, Micah? So out of sync with reality?”
Yanni stopped and eyed me fiercely. “They killed my sister,
in a café, Micah, a year ago, do you hear me? The Rats tore
my sister to pieces with a fucking bomb. And then they said the
guy did it for their God. Now what kind of sick—“
“I can’t remember a thing,” I cut
him off, tears glistening under my eyes, “I cannot remember
what was on the other side of the Wall. As if there is -- there
was no other side. But if there are Rats,” I said unfalteringly,
“then no Wall, no matter how impenetrable will ever stop them.”
He clapped me on the shoulder again, attempting to cheer up his
“And that, Micah, is what we are going to work
on, here at GlobeVision. Do our utmost to stop them.”
“It’s strange, but I began to see my father
more often these days,” Limor said as we drove through the
congested traffic of the inner city. “It’s good, isn’t
it? Now you have someone to talk to during the day,”
I noted. Limor didn’t have that many friends,
that many unemployed friends.“But what can I talk to him about?
I’m so used to having him absent; now that he is home I secretly
wish for him to go away, back to his job.” I was concentrating
on the traffic, which is always exceptionally frantic and perilous.
Someone is continuously trying to cut you off, honking at you, cursing
at you, violating your space. It seems that we release all our tension,
all our inner terror through driving, which in Israel is like warfare.
No one wins a single battle, only minor skirmishes: the stretches
between traffic lights, the gaps between cars speeding on the highway,
“He is like an American pioneer manifesting
his destiny,” Limor continued speaking about her father, disregarding
the frenzy of the traffic congestion around us, “but suddenly
forever stalled in his advance. Prohibited by geography and demography
from proceeding with his conquest. So he embraces his fate, pulls
up his stakes, builds a fence and calls it home. But deep inside
he remains discontent with his lot. He wants to keep on going, knowing
well enough that there is nowhere else to go anymore. He has
reached the end of the line.”
I thought about my parents, who had escaped the trappings
of the Holy Land tragedy into the comfortable complexities of the
New World. I followed them for a while to their new home in Berkeley,
California, where they resurrected their ancestors' Diaspora living:
its accent, its displacement, its conformity. But I returned soon,
however not seeking the land of my Biblical forefathers, but rather
the place where I grew up.
“That’s why Aba could never understand
my mother,” Limor said listlessly, “She’s British,
and my father always used to say that she has an island mentality.”
“What about you Limor? What mentality do you
have?” I asked my girlfriend keeping my eyes on the road.
“Israeli I presume. I want a peaceful and quiet
life in my own country.”
I turned into my street, which was hidden from the
burning sun by the foliage of flame trees. It occurred to me that
the mentality of a people reflects its collective dream more than
its collective experience in reality. We went inside, and Limor
started dinner. I sat on the sofa flipping absent-mindedly through
the channels. Every single channel was American: sit-coms, movies,
quiz shows, reality shows. Television was like a haughty invasion
into my cultural integrity. Here it was, a 61-inch screen activated
from the sofa, pummeling me with its foreign agenda. Those in power,
on the other side of the world, were taking it for granted that
I would watch what they watch, that I would like what they like,
that I would feel what they feel and that I would relate to what
they relate to. And in the end they turn out to be right: in the
end you do start to watch what they watch and feel what they feel
and relate to what they relate to. In the end they successfully
mold you in their image. In the end you become them. We made love
in the dark. There was no wall between us: no condom, no birth-control
pill, no fear. She wanted a child just as badly as I did.
The hope it would bring, the dreams, the peace. Limor
muttered abstractedly, while we helped each other to undress. She
breathed hard, her small hands clenched at my shoulders-- her back
ached. I knew she would scream at her climax, then slump and remain
silent for the rest of the night. I knew there would be a child
soon. With the new job project that I have, I reasoned, I would
be able to support the three of us without any problem: my Limor
and our child.
When it was over, we rolled away, each to our own
side of the bed. The act of love doesn’t belong to an individual
couple -- it belongs to the entire species. It exists solely for
the whole. The seed that I planted in Limor’s womb was a common
contribution to our survival, our preservation as a race.
That night I had a vivid dream. I was awake, lying
in bed and the sunlight streamed in illuminating the room. I got
up and walked to the window and looked outside. There was no concertina
wire, no Wall rising up, no gray slabs of concrete hiding what lay
beyond. And what lay beyond, the disappearance of the Wall revealed,
was emptiness, complete desolation.
There was a desert stretching out, merging with the
sky of eye-watering blue hue. No city, no streets, no houses, no
people: empty, devoid of life, at least of human life. Limor slowly
approached me from behind speaking quietly, “We have a frontier
in front of us again, Micah. A clean slab. We can start anew. God
is letting us try again.” I touched her shoulder and felt
“Do you hear it?” she asked, her eyes
“Hear what?” I said anxiously.
“The clatter of the donkey carts. The peals
of children's laughter. The sound of human traffic. We are on the
move again. Out to populate the Promised Land.”
I woke into the deep shadow cast by the Wall.
Copyright © 2004 Misha Firer