infiltrating the enemy
The gunman was not home.
"Come in," his mother said. "Would you like some
orange soda?" She smiled, waving me out of the sun and through her front
door. She drew me into a dimly lit living room, the curtains closed
against the heat.
"That's him," the woman said, pointing. I followed her
finger to the wall, to the shooter's photograph, saw his face for the
first time, and sank into the couch.
"He tried to kill someone," she said in an easy voice.
"Who?" I asked.
"Some Jew," said the woman's twelve-year old grandson,
"He was a person from the outside, the head of a
municipality in New York," said a man with a well-plowed brow, leaning
against the far wall. "We heard he was doing something against
Palestinians. Why else would they choose him to be shot?"
This was Saed, the shooter's oldest brother. He served
in Yasser Arafat's security forces in Ramallah. He wore an olive-drab
shirt and army pants, had an eagle tattoo and a snakeskin scar etched
below his collarbone.
I lifted my eyebrows, encouraging him from across the
"It happened inside the Old City, near the Western
Wall," he said. "He shot the man one time in the head."
"Why only once?" I asked.
"It was in the marketplace."
"After the shooting, he threw the gun in the air, and
it fell in the marketplace," said his mother.
We all started to chuckle at the comic scene: one
bullet, a cowering Jew, the gun pinwheeling out of reach. The mother,
laughing, smacked my thigh.
The shooter, it seemed, had bad aim. He fired at the
American man half-an-inch too high, grazing his head, missing his brain
and sparing his life. Some of his partners had more success with their
victims. They were Palestinians in their twenties and early thirties,
some of them ex-cons, all of them members of a radical faction of the
PLO, backed by Syria. Their leader had blown out his eyes while wiring a
bomb to the bottom of a Palestinian informer's car.
The winter of 1986 had been a quiet time in Jerusalem.
People walked through the Old City without fear. In March, that changed.
The gang began gunning down tourists mostly -- American, German,
British -- point-blank, a single bullet through the skull.
The American man was their first victim. Then they
shot an Israeli businesswoman and a German tourist. Eleven days later a
fourth gunman struck. He scouted the streets near the Old City for the
perfect site: The Garden Tomb, a secluded park revered by Anglicans as
the place where Jesus was buried. Outside the door to the Tomb, he found
a young man sitting next to his backpack.
"How you doing?" the gunman said in English.
"Good," the tourist said, looking up from under a
fringe of curls. "You American?" the killer asked hopefully.
"No, I'm British," the tourist said, raising a water
bottle to his mouth.
British was almost as good. The gunman let him swallow
the water. As he watched him screw the cap on the bottle, he stepped
forward, so close he could have shaken the visitor's hand. He felt for
the gun on his hip instead. One bullet in the brain.
I had pieced together fragments of these stories
before. But now, surrounded by the shooter's family, I was hearing about
the attack on the American for the first time.
"He was proud, he was beaming," the shooter's nephew
"After the incident, he came home and ate a big meal,"
said a sister-in-law.
"And what about the man he tried to kill?"
"It wasn't a personal vendetta," said the shooter's
brother Imad. "He didn't know the man. It was public relations. He did
it so people would look at us."
"Won't someone from the victim's family kill one of
your people?" I said.
"No," said Imad. "There's no revenge." The words
billowed from his mouth. Smoke from his cigarette coiled around each
syllable. "My brother never met the man personally. It's not a personal
issue. Nothing personal, so no revenge."
I looked at the clock behind him, a souvenir stamped
"I love Jerusalem" in English. I had been sitting with the shooter's
family for over four hours. It was time to go.
Come back, visit soon, they insisted. I thanked them
for their hospitality and promised that I would. I smiled and gave one
last spirited wave before I disappeared down the street. My limbs moved
stiffly, as if I had been holding them for hours in an unnatural pose. I
felt relief, and then, I felt something else. Inside, a clamp came
"Nothing personal," Imad had said, "so no revenge."
The heat was rising in my face. It was personal. It was personal to me.
The American man was my father.
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