Is a 25-year-old writer from Russia. After fighting in the Israeli Army and traveling in Europe, he incidentally wound up in Berkeley, California. This year his writing has appeared or forthcoming in BIG News, Laundry Pen, Nuvein, Paumanok Review, Pink Chameleon, Purple Dream, Rose & Thorn, Scarlet Letters, Slow Trains, Struggle, Taint, Vestal Review, Word Riot and Ululation.

The Wall

“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 industry.

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 digital fortress.

My phone rang and I looked at its green luminous display. It read “Limor.”

“Shalom, 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 cause.

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 like, right?”

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 cared.”

“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 about Limor.

“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?”

“Hear what?”

“The clatter of hooves on the tank-pulverized asphalt. The nervous peal of children's laughter. Can you hear it, Micah?”

She squeezed my hand tight, as if through physical pain my hearing would get better.

“I don’t—“

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,” Limor said.

“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 time.

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 copy machines.

“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.”

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 in earnest.”

“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 childish laughter.

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
his explanation.

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 the elevator.

“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 old buddy.

“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, parking spots.

“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 her tension.

“Do you hear it?” she asked, her eyes ablaze.

“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