Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Strong as Death, V


A short time later he was approached by a stranger, a tanned, blond Ashkenazi man, who quickly revealed himself as a SHA’I agent.  He asked if David would be willing to write a report about his Arab friends once every two weeks or so. 
            So, the “Baghdadi” wrote his reports.  He had no experience in intelligence or surveillance.  He just wrote what he saw or heard, anything that seemed to have some importance.   
           A month later the SHA’I agent returned and scolded Semesh.  The report contained too much incidental information, gossip and hearsay.  There was little of any use.  But the office appreciated his command of the personalities involved.  Other agents could not properly transliterate an Arab name: Hassan, Hussein, Hassin… no one cared about the difference.  David’s reports contained the biographical precision the SHA’I required.   The agent then told David the one or two bits of information in the reports which were interesting, and suggested David follow them up.
            Shemesh did, and wrote his report accordingly.  After that, matters moved quickly.  Boris Gurveich, who headed the department, saw David Shemesh’s potential.  He instructed him to stay on at the kibbutz, but only as a front.  SHA’I would support his efforts directly.  He no longer picked oranges or organized night patrols in the groves.  
           Eventually, he was provided false identity papers.  He moved about Palestine, moving easily around the towns and villages, checking on the preparedness of the local militias for war with the Jews. 
            Shemesh’s assignments grew in complexity and duration.  He realized that SHA’I was grooming him for bigger things.  He began to meet with Gurveich personally, and the man became increasingly critical of David’s work.  Shemesh felt the hand of his father in the prodding’s of Gurveich.  The man told him what to do, what to say, how to think, and David addressed him with the same Levantine formality and docility he did with that distant man who sired him
            “Your hair is wrong.  That’s a Jewish haircut if I even saw one.  Stop going to that woman.  Go to my man near around the corner.
            “Are you crazy?  Listen to you!  You are slurring your r’s like you are on the banks of the Tigris.  If we sent you in as a Palestinian, and you talk like that, we might as well send a coffin with you!”
            It was after a few of these sessions with Gurevich that David realized he was to be sent abroad.  Gurevich was known for staging such shrill histrionics before he sent an agent into overseas peril.  And there was a reason for this: if he was sent to Beirut, Damascus, or Amman he would have to rely on himself alone and never let down the guard of his carefully crafted identity.  If something went wrong in Amman, he would be left to his fate.  If he slipped up in Damascus, the Haganah could not rescue him.  If he blew his cover in Beirut, he would have to face his death all alone.

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