Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Strong as Death IV


          When David Shemesh arrived in Palestine, he thought he would land an office job as a clerk or translator with a Bank, the Jewish Agency, or perhaps even the British Administration. 
       But he quickly discovered that nearly every job worth having in Palestine was gotten through influence, and David could turn to no one for that.  Besides, he was an “Oriental” Jew, and the best jobs went to the Ashkenazim. 
       So Shemesh heard of a kibbutz north of Tel Aviv that needed Jews to work the orange groves.  He picked oranges for a year and lived in a low slung, poorly ventilated cinder block hut which housed the kibbutz single men.  Shemesh received an excellent religious education as a boy, so he could read and write Hebrew well when he arrived in Palestine.  It only took him a month or so to adjust to the colloquial Hebrew of the Yishuv.  He found himself quite suddenly in the land of his ancestors speaking their recently revived tongue.  
        David became a zealot for the language, and in the spirit of that time shed his Arabic last name and adopted a Hebrew one: shemesh, or sun.  It was an appropriate name for he toiled all day, every day but Saturday under the unremitting Palestinian sun.  He began to sleep with a small, red haired kibbutz girl born from Poland who maintained the irrigation pipes.  Then he realized that she was sleeping with four other men on the kibbutz, in the spirit of free love, so he stopped visiting her.  The free love ideology of the kibbutz appalled him.

            About a month after he arrived Arabs riotied in Jaffa, and some of the disturbances spilled over to Tel Aviv, and then north to the kibbutz.  One morning the kibbutzim awoke to find several of their orange trees mangled or uprooted, and irrigation pipes split with hatchets.  So the kibbutzim decided to mount night patrols.  They gathered some old rifles and the men and women took turns going out on the chilly nights and guarding the trees.
            David, with his knowledge of Arabic, proved invaluable on these forays.  When marauding Arabs heard his clear, crisp voice castigating them for trespassing in their own language, there was less need to fire weapons.  Soon, David had contacts with the local Arabs.  He knew these people well:  he had been surrounded by Arabs his entire life, many of them peasants.  He spent summers on his father’s lands near Basra, and often went out on their skiffs in the reeds to fish.  He knew how to speak to the Arab mentality, to respect their ways without condescension, to enter their lives fully yet maintain his otherness, so as not to trespass upon their rigidly circumscribed world.  He was invited to Arab homes for meals, was a prize guest at weddings and funerals.  Among these Arabs he was called the Baghdadi (which would be his code name in the SHA’I files) or simply Dawood.   


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