Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Israeli buildings, Palestinian land

[Following is an excerpt from my novel The Talpiot Find. The central character, Marc, is being held as a hostage in an undisclosed location near Los Angeles. He is talking with a special-ops agent, Lior, who is assigned to him as a facilitator. The tablets they mention are ancient clay tablets discovered by Marc on an archaeological dig in Jerusalem earlier that summer. Lior is an Israeli now living in the US.]

Marc says “I suppose this all wouldn’t be so mindfreaking if you weren’t so polite and attentive. That makes it just too surreal. Like a twist in the fabric of the universe.”

“We don’t see any reason to be barbaric.”

“With me, like you are with Muslim hostages, in other words. Or like Israel is with Palestinian hostages.”

Lior gives a small shrug. “Palestinians have benefitted from interaction with Jews who came from different countries. It’s helping to bring them into the modern world. Before the modern state was founded, you should’ve seen how it was there. They kept goats where there are tall bank buildings now.”

“I remember Dennis Miller saying something on TV about Israelis growing oranges the size of basketballs. Meaning the land was wasted on the Palestinians and they deserved to have it taken away.”

“You’ve seen yourself how green it is there now.”

“Like access to the Persian Gulf was wasted on Kuwait and they deserved to have it taken away by Iraq. Aided and abetted by the West.”

Lior acknowledges the point. “The West knows the history of the land. Palestinians don’t consider Tanakh seriously.”

“The land always belonged to the Jews and they were just retrieving it like a lost hat, nineteen centuries after the Bar-Kokhba revolt? Nineteen centuries.” Lior shrugs. “No matter how many centuries went by, it would still be the Jews’ land? Because of the covenant between God and Moses?”

“Of course.”

Marc wonders if this is not a good time for a rebuttal. Lior has a gun. “You understand the significance of the Istanbul tablet, right?”

Lior’s expression indicates that it’s not his concern and not something he wants to discuss. “It’s related to the Jerusalem tablets. It was separated from them centuries ago.”

When Lior doesn’t continue, Marc asks “That’s all they told you? Do you know who separated it from the others, and why?”

“No. And you’re to share that information with no one until you’re cleared to do so.”

Marc is surprised that the information is locked down even here. But then these are just contractors. He thinks it must be permissible to discuss the tablets the public knows about. “Do you have an opinion on what the Jerusalem tablets are?”

Lior’s answer is guarded. “Some say they’re an early version of Devarim. What you call Deuteronomy. Others say they’re a corrupted version.”

“What do you think?”

Lior shrugs. “I’ll let them decide. They know more about it than I do.”

“Can I tell you what we learned from the tablets?”

“Only if it’s public knowledge. Not anything that the public doesn’t already know.”

Marc pictures an agent listening in and watching video feeds from hidden cameras.

“Okay, let’s assume that the tablets were never found. Or that there never were any tablets. That should be acceptable. Anything I’d talk about in that case would’ve been public knowledge for a long time.”

Lior nods , ambivalent. “Sure. I may not be interested in hearing it, but it would be permissible.” He reveals just a shade of a smile.

“Okay. It’s not that much. But it’s always been there in scripture for us to see, if we looked. You remember learning about Hilkiah, the High Priest, finding a scroll of the law during Temple renovations. He gave it to Shaphan, a scribe, who took it to King Josiah and read it to him.”

“Yeah. Sure. Josiah was a reformer. He brought Israel back to the worship of God. One of the last Davidic kings. Finding the scroll initiated the reform.”

“Yes. They’ve been theorizing for two centuries, from de Wette in 1805 to Finkelstein in 2001, that scribes in the time of Josiah created that scroll to support the reforms but it was presented to the people as if it were old and preserved Mosaic law written six centuries earlier. The priests themselves may have created the covenant between God and Moses regarding the land.”

Lior’s eyelids droop while he gives a listless shrug. “I’ve heard that. There are other theories. They might be true or they might not. There isn’t evidence to support any of them.”

“Except—” Marc makes a small gesture with his hand as if he wants Lior to complete the sentence. “And it’s noteworthy that the priests’ authority increased in the reforms initiated by the finding of the scroll, which, incidentally, had been discovered in the Temple by the priests themselves.” He continues looking up to Lior and spreads his hands as he shrugs. Lior blinks and unfocuses his eyes. Marc says “It’s just something to consider.”

Lior looks back to Marc, his eyes conveying boredom. “Why?”

Marc pictures Yakub being unconcerned about the implications of the tablets. “It was important enough for someone to authorize my being brought here. And to authorize the agent with the gun not to miss my head next time if the information isn’t kept quiet. They consider it important enough to keep from the public. You probably shouldn’t think it isn’t important enough to consider.”

Lior gives a shade of a smile again. “I’ll keep it in mind. Do you have any other questions?”

Marc looks at Lior and nads a little. “It doesn’t phase you, that the foundation for the modern state of Israel, the whole foundation of the modern state, could be fraudulent.”

Lior pauses a moment. “No. Because it’s not. But I don’t want to get sucked into a discussion like this. There’s no point to debating—“

“Would you humor me?” He shrugs. “I have a lot of time to kill.”

Lior’s expression remains the same as he regards Marc and then he gives a quiet juhf. “I’ve hated having these discussions, with activists and others types. With you it may not be quite as bad. You seem reasonable; they just kept ramming their point home and wouldn’t let up.”

Marc nads. “That’s a shame. There are too many sides to the issue , too many variables. Nobody can be adamant about their point of view because we just don’t know enough.”

“We don’t. How could we, it was thousands of years ago.” Marc wonders how such a flimsy premise as an unwitnessed verbal promise in the eighteenth or nineteenth century BCE could have been used to justify the declaration of the nation’s independence in 1948 and is about to bring this up when Lior says “But even if what you’re saying about the tablets is true, even if Torah is proven somehow to be fraudulent, what should Israel do? Just give the land back to the Palestinians and move away? Would the Palestinians know what to do with all the technology Israel has developed there?”

“No, you’re right, that’s an impractical solution now; too much has been built on the Palestinians’ real estate for it to be just returned to them. The land is the Palestinians’ but the buildings are the Israelis’. Although that is what Helen Thomas was suggesting when she told Jews to ‘get the hell out of Palestine.’”

Lior rolls his eyes behind drooping eyelids and looks like he wants to discuss Thomas in vulgar terms.

Marc says “Jews should just pack up and go back to Poland, Germany, the U.S.? That’s too simplistic. It’s been more than sixty years, two or three generations; everything has changed since then.”

Lior nods. “Yes.

“Wasn’t she something? ‘Now don’t give us Bushisms.’ ‘Worst president ever.’ A real character.”

“Yeah she was؟”

“What I hope is that, someday, Israel simply pays for the land it has acquired. There are Palestinians who still have the deed to their property, but someone else has possession of the property and a new deed. If no compensation was ever given to the original owners for the property, the only legal deed is the first one and the original owners still own the property. That’s just basic. Even kids can understand that legal concept.” Marc takes on a child’s voice. “If somebody takes a person’s house without paying for it, that’s stealing.”

Lior considers this and then shrugs. “What should they pay? What the land was worth in 1948? The Palestinians wouldn’t settle for that. What the land is worth now? They don’t deserve that much; they didn’t make the improvements to the land.”

Marc nods. “For the courts and accountants to figure out. The 1948 value of the land adjusted for inflation, the interest compounded since then…” He shrugs. “I dunno, why shouldn’t they be paid the fair market value of the land now? The owners would have to pay that amount to anyone else for the land.”

“But the land wasn’t worth that much when they acquired it.”

“The current owners were fully aware that the improvements were being made to land they hadn’t purchased.”

Lior turns his body a bit and looks over at the bookshelf, the desk. “You’re sucking me in. I don’t want to discuss this.” He looks back to Marc still sitting on the edge of the bed. “What can we accomplish by discussing it? They’re going to listen to what we decide they should do?”

“Yeah.” Marc juhfs. “You’re right. I’m sorry. But don’t you… If that’s all it took to resolve the conflict… You can accept it in theory, right? Just in general. Broadly.”

“If that’s all it took?” Lior considers this. “Nothing is ever that simple. Any other questions?”