Friday, August 25, 2017

Three Stories (Story two-part two) Nader Habibi


Three Stories One Middle East
Nader Habibi



 Story two
Part Two
Ronen's Quest



Ishaq Kahn had just finished his breakfast and was about to leave his apartment when he heard the doorbell ring. He never had any visitors in the morning and wondered who it might be. It was part of his daily routine to go for a walk in a nearby park after breakfast three or four times a week, ever since he had retired two years ago. His physician had given him a serious warning about keeping his weight down after his last check up. Two other retired teachers from the same high school that he had worked in for more than fifteen years also joined him regularly. They lived in Ashdod – a small city south of Tel Aviv. His wife, Ariel, had left home earlier that day for a doctor’s appointment. Surely the person at the door couldn’t be her because she would have used her key. 


 “Yes?” Ishaq said into the intercom. 

“Mr. Ishaq Kahn?” asked a male voice that wasn’t familiar to him.

“Yes.”

“My name is Ronen Shamir, Aaron Shamir’s son.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t recognize the name,” said Ishaq after being silent for a couple of seconds.
“You and my father served in the army together back in 1967.”

Ishaq had to press his memory very hard before he finally remembered.

“Oh Arun! Yes, yes,” said Ishaq with excitement. “Please come upstairs. We are on the third floor to the left of the elevator.”

As the memories of his interactions with Aaron came alive, Ishaq felt more and more excited about meeting his son. He had served with Aaron during the Six Day War, and they had developed a good friendship that lasted for a few years until Ishaq got married and moved from Tel Aviv to Haifa and then eventually Ashdod. When he opened the door, he greeted Ronen with warmth and enthusiasm and invited him to sit down.

Although Ishaq was much older and had gained weight, Ronen could still see a visible resemblance to his image in that old picture in the Black Horse restaurant.

“The last time I saw Aaron was during a ceremony after the Yom Kippur War. Unfortunately, I was sick and could not attend his funeral. May God bless his soul! He was a dear comrade and a brave soldier. How is your mother doing?”

“She passed away last week,” said Ronen.

“My condolences. It must be very difficult for you to lose both of them in such a short period of time. I met your mother a couple of times right after the Six Day War. I recall how happy they both were when you were born.”

Then Ishaq talked about his memories of Aaron while they fought side by side in the 1967 war. He was curious as to why Ronen had come to visit him but felt it was improper to ask until Ronen brought it up himself. Ronen was also eager to talk about the purpose of his visit but felt like Ishaq was enjoying the recalling of his old war memories and might be offended if he didn’t pretend to be an enthusiastic listener. Finally, after a few minutes, Ronen got to the point.

“Mr. Kahn, the reason I have come to see you is that I would like to write a book about my father’s life, particularly his activities in the army. I was wondering if I could count on your help to learn more about my father. Anything you can tell me about him will be very helpful,” said Ronen as he watched Ishaq’s face, which revealed his growing interest and approval of this endeavor.

Ishaq admired Ronen’s decision to honor the memory of his father with a book about his life. It is not unusual for Israeli families who have lost a son in war to write a book about his life and military achievements. Ishaq promised to cooperate with Ronen in any way possible and, since he was retired, he had plenty of time to write down all of his memories of Aaron.

“I’m glad I can count on your help. By the way, I found an old picture of my father with you and two other gentlemen,” said Ronen as he reached into his shirt pocket and handed the picture to Ishaq.  “I’d like to contact the other two men in this picture, but I don’t know their last names. Only their first names are written on the back. I was wondering if you could identify them for me.”

Ishaq put his reading glasses on, took a look at the picture and smiled as he nodded his head several times.

“Of course I recognize them. This one is Ihub and this is Sani.” He then flipped the picture over and read the writing on the back. “Just as I said, they were Ihub and Sani. I remember this night. We gathered at the Black Hose restaurant, which was Ihub’s favorite, to say goodbye to him. He was leaving for London the next day to go to graduate school. By the time we left the restaurant, we were all drunk. Oh what a night it was!”

“Do you know their last names and where they might be now?”

“Let me think, Ihab’s last name was Ben-Israel. After he went abroad, I only saw him once, about ten years ago. He was married to a Spanish woman, and I don’t know where he is now. Sani….eh, I think it was Sani Levy. He finished his medical education and started a practice in Haifa. We stayed in touch occasionally up until seven years ago when his wife died of cancer. After that he sort of kept to himself and didn’t show much interest in anything other than his work. The death of his wife was very hard on him, because they didn’t have any children. I must have his address and phone number somewhere.”

Ishaq then went to his bedroom and returned with an old phone book.

“Here it is: Sani Levy. Let me write down the address and phone number for you, but he might have moved to a different place by now.”

He then handed the piece of paper to Ronen, and they talked for another ten minutes before Ronen finally left. As he drove back to Tel Aviv, Ronen was thinking about how he was going to approach Sani. Finding Sani’s address proved easier than he had expected. Now the real challenge for Ronen was to extract the truth from Sani without letting Sani know that he had learned it. First he had to check this address and find Sani. With every day that passed, he felt more and more anxious to learn the truth about his biological parents. 

Back in his office, Ronen searched the army data base for “Sani Levy” and found his army reserve service record, which showed that Sani had fulfilled his army reserve duty one month per year all the way to 1993.

That must have been the year that his wife died, Ronen thought. Records showed that it was also the year that he turned 50 and was no longer required to serve in the army. Ronen found an address for Sani, but it wasn’t the same as the one that Ishaq had given him. The address in Sani’s army record showed him living in a small town north of Haifa called Kiryat Motzkin. His phone number was also different. Ronen knew that his search for Sani’s records would be recorded by the military and potentially exposed in the future, but he didn’t mind. Writing a book about his father’s military service gave him a perfect excuse for this search. Even though Anatoli was in the office, he picked up the phone and dialed the number.

“Dr. Levy’s residence,” said a female voice that spoke Hebrew with a Russian accent. Ronen asked to talk to Sani, but he was at work. Without introducing himself or leaving a message, Ronen said that he would call back later.

Anatoli glanced at him for a second without saying anything.

“I have decided to write a book about my father’s military service so I’m trying to get in touch with soldiers that served with him in the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War,” said Ronen.

It was none of Anaoli’s business, but Ronen wanted to establish a record for his excuse in case he needed to track down any other military personnel who knew his father. It was more convenient to offer an acceptable excuse to everyone than to risk getting caught searching for people who had nothing to do with his current assignments.

“That’s a noble thing you are doing. Our war heroes deserve to be remembered,” said Anatoli.

Ronen called Sani around 7:30 that evening from his apartment, and this time Sani himself picked up the phone.

“Hello!”

“Is this Dr. Levy?”

“Yes. Who is calling?”

“I’m Ronen Shamir, Aaron Shamir’s son.”

Sani was shocked and speechless.

“Hello… Hello?… Are you still there?” asked Ronen. He realized that the call had taken Sani by surprise, and he knew exactly why. He had to put Sani’s mind at ease and do it quickly.

“Dr. Levy I hope you remember my father. You both served in the army together during the Six Day War.”

“Yes I remember. God bless his soul,” said Sani with a voice that revealed his unease.

“Thank you. I’m writing a book about my father’s life and his military service. I heard that you were close friends and served together during many operations. I’d like to meet you to talk about him if you don’t mind,” said Ronen and, just as he had anticipated, this explanation put Sani at ease. The suspicion in his voice turned into delight.

“Oh, oh I see. It’s so good of you to honor his memory this way. Aaron was a wonderful man and a brave soldier. He was like an older brother to me back in those times. So you are Ronen! I remember the very first weeks after you were born. Aaron was so proud and so happy. God bless his soul. How is your mother?”

Ronen told Sani about his mother’s death and asked if he could pay him a visit.

“Sure! Sure! I’d be honored to help you with this project,” said Sani and invited Ronen to visit him the next day after 3 pm. Ronen felt anxious about coming face to face with Sani. This was the man who could tell him who he really was and put an end to his uncertainties. But Ronen also realized that the truth could be even more painful than his current state of mind. He had not yet come up with a plan to get the truth out of Sani, and he wasn’t expecting it to be easy. Sani was a decorated soldier and a very intelligent physician. It wouldn’t be easy to deceive him. Ronen was up until two o’clock in the morning trying to come up with a plan.      

It was a little past noon on Thursday when Ronen got into his rental car and began the short journey to Kiryat Motzkin, which was about one hundred kilometers north of Tel Aviv. Although the drive was well under two hours, he wanted to get there early and drive around Sani’s neighborhood.

The traffic on Highway 2 was light and Ronen entered Kiryat Motzkin at 1:30 pm. Sani lived in one of the three new white and blue high-rise buildings that had recently been built on Ben Zvi Street. Ronen carefully drove through all of the streets around Sani’s high-rise residential complex and then made his way to the train station near Yisahar Street. He wanted to have a good estimate of how far the train station was from Sani’s apartment. Then he returned to Ben Zvi Street and found a place to park his car.

It was a little after two, and he still had plenty of time to review his plan before meeting Sani. He spent the next hour in a nearby coffee shop before walking to Sani’s building, which was the middle tower. The glass door was locked. Ronen looked at the list of residents on the adjacent wall and pressed the button next to Sani’s name.

“Yes who is it?” asked the same female voice that Ronen had heard before.

“This is Ronen Shamir. Is Dr. Levy home?”

“Oh yes. Please come to the eleventh floor, apartment 114,” said the woman as she buzzed him in.

Two minutes later she opened the door and showed Ronen into the living room. The woman was in her fifties, taller than average as far as Ronen could tell and a little overweight. She greeted Ronen with a nice smile and introduced herself as Helena. Sani’s flat was nice and large with expensive decorations and large windows. Sani was waiting for Ronen in the living room. Compared to his picture, Sani had gained about fifteen kilos and had developed a large bald spot on the top of his head.  If Sani was nervous or suspicious of Ronen, it didn’t show in his face. He appeared happy and excited about meeting Ronen, who offered a very warm and enthusiastic greeting in return.

“So you met Ishaq yesterday and here you are today. Looks like you are very dedicated to this book. How was Ishaq doing?” he asked.

“Very good as far as I could tell,” responded Ronen. Their conversation proceeded in a similar fashion to Ronen’s discussion with Ishaq, only more intense and covering many more topics. Sani had very vivid memories of his youth and recalled many operations that he had fought side-by-side with Aaron. Ronen was taking notes and, with Sani’s permission, taping their conversation. Sani also showed Ronen several pictures that included Aaron and a few with Aaron, Sara and even Ronen himself as an infant.

After about half an hour, Ronen finally decided to throw a curveball at Sani just to see his reaction.

“My aunt told me that you were by my mother’s bedside when I was born.”

Sani’s face froze for a couple of seconds and then suddenly broke into a nervous laughter.

“Ha, ha, ha…oh that. Yes, it’s true. You were impatient to come into this world, and we had no way of taking your mom to the hospital in time. So with the little knowledge of biology and medicine that I had back then, I helped your mother deliver you in my own apartment.”

Ronen maintained an attentive and positive posture and did not follow up with any other questions about this issue. Instead, he let Sani take the conversation to where he wanted it to go.

“I’m surprised that you learned about this from your aunt. Didn’t Aaron and Sara tell you anything about it?”

“No, they never mentioned it. I guess they thought it wasn’t that important. By the way, thank you…for helping my mother with the delivery. Who knows what would have happened if you weren’t around that day,” said Ronen.

“You’re welcome,” replied Sani and then they both laughed. Sani appeared at ease again.

Helena, who had stayed away from the living room while they were talking, walked in to take the coffee cups. “Is there anything you’d like me to do before I leave Dr. Levy?” she asked.

“No dear, thank you. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“It was a pleasure meeting you, Mr. Shamir.”

“Likewise,” said Ronen and turned toward Sani. “Well, I think I have taken enough of your time already. I should also get going.”

Sani invited Ronen to stay for dinner but Ronen refused. What he really wanted to do was to make sure Helena saw him leave Sani’s apartment. By the time Helena finished washing the cups, Ronen had put his notes and the small tape recorder in his pocket and started walking towards the door. Helena got to the door before him.

“I have parked my car nearby, and I can give you a lift if you’d like,” said Ronen in an attempt to delay her exit.

“Thanks but I usually take the bus,” said Helena. Ronen insisted and Sani encouraged Helena to accept the offer. She complied and Ronen left Sani’s apartment with Helena, promising to visit Sani again soon.

Helena lived in a modest neighborhood in Haifa. During the fifteen minutes or so that it took for Ronen to drive to her place, Helena was mostly quiet. They briefly talked about Sani whom she addressed as Dr. Levy. Ronen intentionally volunteered some information about the book that he was writing about his father and how happy he was that he had been able to get in touch with Sani. After dropping her off, Ronen quickly drove back to Tel Aviv and made several phone calls as soon as he got into his apartment. He used the regular house phone rather than his cell phone for these calls – all of them long distance – to establish a record of his presence in the apartment that evening.    

A few minutes after 7 pm on that Thursday evening, a man with light brown hair and a thick mustache entered the Tel Aviv train station. He was carrying a violin case with him. Over the past four weeks, there had been one or two suicide bombings per week and security checks in public areas were very intense. The man had to go through a metal detector and open the violin case for inspection before he was able to proceed to the ticket counter. He bought a one-way ticket to Haifa and got on the 7:15 pm train, which was packed with passengers.

If anyone who knew Ronen had been sitting next to this man, there was no chance that he would have recognized him. Ronen was a master of disguise, and he had routinely crossed international borders with altered appearances.  In addition to facial makeup, he had used special pads to alter the shape of his stomach and shoulders. Ronen also had a special gift for altering his voice and accent.

The train ride was uneventful. Ronen didn’t speak to anyone and got off at the Haifa Center HaShmona train station at 8:30 pm. He immediately took a taxi for Kiryat Motzkin. He could have stayed on the same train until Kiryat Motzkin, but he intentionally got off in Haifa. The taxi took him to Ben Zvi Street, and he got off about one block from Sani’s apartment complex. He walked into the same coffee shop that he had visited earlier that day and sat at a quiet corner. Then, he pulled out a Walkman from his jacket’s pocket and put the small headphones in his ears, pretending to listen to music.

The Walkman was actually a powerful listening device receiver. While visiting Sani that afternoon, Ronen had quietly attached a small transmitter under the coffee table. Now he could eavesdrop on Sani to find out if he was alone or not.

He turned on the Walkman and could hear the sound of a television program. He kept listening. After a few minutes the phone rang. Sani answered the phone and spoke for about five minutes. Then Ronen could only hear the TV program again. Sani appeared to be alone, which was exactly what Ronen was hoping for.

He left the coffee shop at 9 o’clock sharp and walked to Sani’s building. The building entrance door was locked, and he needed to punch in a special code to open it. Ronen pulled out his cell phone and started a fake phone conversation. He stood about three meters away from the door in a place that had a clear view of the wall to the right of the entrance where the speaker phone and the list of residents was situated. After a couple of minutes, an old man walked to the entrance door and pushed four bottoms to open it. Ronen moved to a quiet corner and looked at the small screen of his phone, which was actually a small video recorder. He had recorded the elderly tenant while he was punching in the entrance code.

After zooming in and viewing the fifteen-second video twice, Ronen was able to make out the code: two, four, seven, four. Ronen used the same code and entered the building without any difficulty. He took the elevator to the eleventh floor. He opened the violin case after exiting the elevator and detached the violin’s back panel. Then carefully pulled out a small blue spray can that was no taller than seven centimeters long. He then proceeded towards apartment 114.

Sani was watching a news program when he heard a knock on the door. He wasn’t expecting anyone at this time of night.

“Yes? Who is it?” asked Sani as he approached the door.

“This is Nathan from the building maintenance office. Could I speak to you for a minute?”
 
Sani opened the door and saw a man with a piece of paper in one hand and a violin case in the other.

“Sorry to bother you Dr. Levy, I need to inform all the residents that we are going to test the building’s fire alarm system next Tuesday at ten in the morning,” said the man with a quiet voice who spoke Hebrew with a slight Russian accent. 

“Thank you. I’ll try to remember, although I won’t be home at that time.”

“Here is a written notice and instructions on what you should do.”
“Thank you.” said Sani as he took the instructions page.
 “Could you please sign in this list?” said Ronen and gave another piece of paper to Sani. “This is for our record to show that you have been informed about this drill.”

Ronen didn’t offer Sani a pen. “Please come in while I get a pen to sign it,” said Sani.

Ronen walked in and closed the door behind him. He stood in front of the door as Sani walked to the kitchen and walked back with a pen. He found his name among the ten names on the list and signed next to it. When he walked toward Ronen to give him the list, Ronen suddenly sprayed a substance into his face while holding a napkin in front of his own nose and mouth. Sani immediately felt dizzy and was about to fall when Ronen dropped the spray and grabbed his waist. He was still holding the napkin on his face with the other hand as he let Sani slide gently on the floor. Sani was semi-conscious but could not move his body or say anything.

Ronen rapidly moved his free hand in the air to clear away any remaining residues of the dangerous gas. Then he removed the napkin from his face and picked up the spray can before turning his attention to Sani. Ronen gently put his hands under Sani’s shoulders and slowly pulled his body to the bedroom. He used all his strength to pull Sani’s heavy body up on the bed.

Ronen knew what he was doing, as he had done this three times before on special assignments.
He checked Sani’s pulse. This time he pulled two capsules and an injection needle from his jacket’s side pocket. Sani was struggling to move his fingers when Ronen sat on the bed and faced him. Ronen carefully broke the top of one of the capsules and poured its liquid content into an injection needle. Ronen examined the back of Sani’s left hand for a vein and while holding the hand firmly, carefully forced the needle into his vein and slowly released its content into Sani’s body. Sani showed no immediate reaction but, after a few minutes, his eyes began to move and after that he tried to talk but his words weren’t clear. Ronen turned on his small voice recorder and put it near Sani’s neck where he could not see it.

“Dr. Levy can you hear me?” asked Ronen, using the same Russian accent.

Sani looked at him but didn’t say anything. 

Ronen continued, “I’m not going to hurt you if you cooperate. I have injected you with a truth serum. I need to ask you a few questions about the man that visited you earlier today. I want you to answer my questions carefully and tell me the truth. I know a lot of things about him and, if any of your answers don’t match up with what I already know, I will have to give you another dose, which could be very dangerous. So don’t lie to me. Do you understand what I said?”

“Yes,” said Sani with a weak voice. The effect of the anesthetic spray was wearing off but, under the effect of the injection, Sani was neither fully awake nor asleep.

“The man who visited you, his name is Ronen Shamir is that correct?”

“Yes.”

“What was the purpose of his visit?”

“He is writing a book about….” Sani had difficulty focusing and completing this sentence. He slowly moved his head from side to side.

“About what?” asked Ronen.

“About his farther Aaron Shamir.”

“Did you know Arun?”

“Yes. I was his lieutenant for three years in the army.”

“When?” asked Ronen

“1965 to 1968.”

“Who is Ronen? Is he the real son of Aaron Shamir?”

Sani swung his head back and forth slowly. His eyes were closed, but his eyeballs were moving rapidly. Ronen could tell that he was struggling with this question.

“Who is he?” Ronen asked again.

Sani was still quiet, but his head was swinging at a faster pace.

“Sani are you a patriot? Are you loyal to Israel?”

“Yes.”

“Then tell me who is Ronen Shamir. Is he the real son of Aaron Shamir?”

“No.”

“Tell me who is he.”

“No… No…. No.”

“Sani listen carefully, Aaron and Sara told everyone that you helped Sara deliver Ronen. We know that that is a lie because Ronen’s DNA didn’t match either one of them. Ronen has a very sensitive job in the army. We need to know who he really is. If he was adopted, we want to know who his biological parents are. We need your help to protect Israel. As a patriot you should help us identify his biological parents.”

“I gave my word to Aaron. I gave my word.”

“Sani listen to me. Aaron Shamir was a true patriot and put his life on line many times for Israel. If he were alive, he would have wanted you to tell me the truth for sake of our country’s security. He would have wanted you to put Israel ahead of anything else. Now, tell me who is Ronen.”

“He is of Arab blood.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I was there. I helped Aaron get Ronen.”

“Who were his Arab parents? What was their family name?”

“Al-Banna.”

Ronen knew that Al-Banna was a common Palestinian name, and there were many Al-Banna families in the Occupied Territories.

“What was his first name?” Ronen asked.

“Karim.”

“Why did Aaron want to adopt an Arab child?

Sani was quiet but kept moving his head.

“Sani... Sani …did you hear what I asked?” said Ronen as he grabbed Sani’s left shoulder and shook him gently.

“It was my idea. Sara had already had two miscarriages and when she got pregnant for the third time, they both knew that she might miscarry again. Aaron was very nervous. I knew how badly he wanted to have a child. In the early spring of 1967, we got an order to do a house-to-house search in an Arab village north of Tel Aviv. Before we searched a house, we would force all family members to come out and line up. Aaron and I knocked at a house and shouted at the man who opened the door to bring his family outside. When the man came out, I could not believe my eyes. He was so much like Aaron. Very similar facial features and the same height…” Sani suddenly stopped talking and kept his head still.

Ronen quickly checked his pulse and felt relieved when he realized that Sani’s pulse was normal.

“Was that man Karim Al-Banna?’ he asked.

“Yes.”               

“What was the name of the village?”

“Ferdous.”

“Go on.”

“Arun noticed the resemblance too. Karim had three small kids and his wife was pregnant. I occasionally went to Arun’s house, and I could tell that this woman was as large as Sara. I figured she must be as advanced in her pregnancy as Sara.”

Ronen looked at his watch. It was almost nine minutes since he had injected Sani with the truth serum, and he knew that the serum was effective for a maximum of ten minutes in most cases.

He had to skip a lot of details and focus on the most essential questions. 

“Are you telling me that Ronen is the same child that this woman was pregnant with back then?”

Sani was quiet for a few second. Ronen repeated the question and finally Sani talked: “Yes.”

“But an Arab family would have never given their child to an Israeli couple for adoption. Did you and Ronen kidnap the child?”

Sani was silent again.  “Sani answer me. Did you take the child from that Arab family by force?” said Ronen as he leaned over Sani’s face.

“No. It was not like that….no.”  Answered Sani after some hesitation. Then Sani suddenly opened his eyes and looked at Ronen. The injection was losing its effect. He closed his eyes again.

Ronen quickly broke the top of a second capsule and filled the injection needle with its colorless content. Then he carefully held Sani’s left hand with his own and injected him on the exact same spot that he had inserted the needle the first time. 

Sani tried to resist, but he was too weak to pull away his hand. He even tried to grab Ronen with his right hand but didn’t have the strength for it. A few seconds after the injection, Sani was unconscious. This second injection was an anesthetic that acted quickly but wore off in about twenty minutes. That was enough for Ronen to pack up everything and leave before Sani regained consciousness. Ronen knew that Sani would not remember the questions that he had answered under the influence of the first injection but would remember the conversation about the fire drill with a neighbor named Nathan. So he had to make the scene look like a burglary. After collecting the needle and the broken capsules, he used a small tweezers to make a scratch on the location of injection on Sani’s hand to mask the injection. Then he carefully pulled Sani’s body to the living room and placed it on the floor near the entrance door. Finally, he quickly located Sani’s wallet and took all the cash that was in it. He also took a watch and a ring to make it look like a theft. There was no one in the hallway when Ronen quietly left Sani’s apartment.

An hour later, he was riding the train back to Tel Aviv. The train was less crowded than his earlier ride. He didn’t pay any attention to the other passengers sitting nearby. His thoughts were focused on what Sani had told him.  

Although he still didn’t know the exact circumstances of his adoption, what he had learned from Sani was enough to finally convince him that Sara’s revelations were true.  Biologically, he was the fourth child of a man named Karim al-Banna and was born in an Arab village called Ferdous. Emotionally, he was in hell. He felt confused and conflicted about his identity.

The next morning, Ronen arrived at his desk early and tried to access the master database on Arabs that had been compiled and regularly updated by the Arab Affairs Department of Shin Bet since 1981. It included the names and personal information of all the Arab population of Israel as well as those in the Occupied Territories. Information about the Palestinian diaspora was also included in this database.  Intelligence officers and interrogators regularly searched this database for information about Arab suspects and their relatives.

Ronen entered a list of five names. One was the name of an Arab student that was arrested in Hebron earlier that week. The three other names were the people that this suspect had named as his cousins. The fifth name was Karim al-Banna. Ronen looked at the screen anxiously as the computer search took a few seconds. Finally, the results showed up. Ronen quickly scrolled down to the last segment about Karim Al-Banna. There were only a few lines written about him.

Name: Al-Banna, Karim
Date of Birth: Unknown
Date of Death: 10 – Kislev –  5752 (November 17, 1991) 
Places of Residence: Up to 1967: Ferdous (Arab village, thirty five km north east of Tel Aviv, demolished 1968). From 1967 to 1991: Ramallah.
Education: Illiterate
Occupation: Farmer in Ferdous; day laborer in Ramallah.
Spouse: Zeinab Al-Khalid 
Membership in Political Organizations: None
Children: Omar (Born 1958), Abbas (1962) and Farha (Born 1965)

So the interrogation of Sani was worthwhile after all. What Ronen had learned from him matched the information in this database on Karim Al-Banna and his family. Ronen had already thought about the possibility that one or both of his biological parents might have died during the past thirty-four years, but he still couldn’t help feeling sad that Karim was dead. Now he focused all his attention on Zeinab al-Khalid. He quickly typed her name in a new search. As he waited for the results, the door opened and Anatoli came in.

“Good morning, didn’t expect to see you so early in the office,” said Anatoli.

“Just wanted to get ready for today’s meeting with General Ben-David.” Replied Ronen. Even though Friday was not a work day General Ben-David’s unit frequently worked Friday mornings till noon.

“How did the meeting with your father’s army friend go last night?” asked Anatoli.  “Did you have…”.

“Hold on,” Ronen interrupted him as he looked at his screen, pretending to have received something important. He just needed a few seconds to compose himself and make sure he would be calm when talking about Sani. He raised his head and looked at Anatoli who was now siting behind his desk.

“It was good. He was very kind and gave me about an hour of his time. Sani has such a vivid memory. I got a lot of useful materials from this interview, and he agreed to see me again if I needed to.”

Anatoli nodded without any more questions. They both stared at their computer screens. Ronen read the data on Zeinab. Most of the information was a repeat of what he had found on Karim’s file. However, this one had a current address for Zeinab in a poor and crowded neighborhood of Ramallah. Ronen quickly wrote down the information on a piece of paper and shifted his focus on the other four suspects in his original list.

The weekly meeting with the head of their unit, General Ben-David, was at ten o’clock, and that afternoon when he and Anatoli were both in the office, he called Ihab Bin-Israel, the fourth man in the Black Horse restaurant picture. Ihab welcomed his request for a meeting. Like Sani earlier, Ihab admired Ronen for taking the initiative to write a book about his father. 

“Another one of your father’s friends?” asked Anatoli after hearing Ronen’s phone conversation.

“Yes. I’m going to see this one next Tuesday after work.”  

After the meeting Ronen and Anatoli interrogated an older Arab man from Khan Yunis and his sixteen year-old son for a couple of hours. The interrogation was intense, and Ronen felt even more uncomfortable about Anatoli’s harsh approach but didn’t say anything. After they returned to their office, Ronen called Sani’s house. Helena answered the phone.

“Hi Helena, this is Ronen Shamir. How are you?”

“Not good Colonel Shamir, not good,” said Helena with a sad and trembling voice.

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s Dr. Levy. He is in the hospital.”

“What happened?  He looked in perfect health yesterday afternoon?”

“Something horrible happened last night.”

“What happened? “ Asked Ronen as he stood up. 

“He was drugged and robbed last night in his apartment. When he gained consciousness and realized what had happened he suffered a panic attack and because of his high blood pressure had to be hospitalized,” said Helena.

“That is so unfortunate. How is he now?” asked Ronen.

“Not good. He suffered a brain stroke this morning and now he is in intensive care unit. “

Ronen felt overwhelmed with guilt and shame. He never anticipated that a mild dose of anesthetic drug could cause so much harm to Sani.  What have I done? He thought. Anatoli could see the agony in his face and walked toward him.  Ronen sat down and tried hard to control his emotions as he ended his conversation with Helena.
“Poor man!” reacted Anatoli after Ronen explained what had happened. “With high blood pressure, a sudden anxiety attack can cause a stroke. My uncle suffered one a few years back.”
Ronen tried to stay calm for the rest of the day but he could barely focus on his work. He called Sani’s apartment again Saturday evening and spoke to a woman who identified herself as Sani’s sister. Sani was still in the ICU and had suffered very severe brain damage as a result of the stroke. So far, police had no lead about the thief who had drugged Sani. Ronen called Sani’s apartment Sunday evening and received another bad news. Sani had died earlier that day. Ronen could not go to work on Monday and called in sick.

After a couple of days Ronen was ready to resume his secret mission. Now that he knew Karim was dead, he had to focus his energy on finding the surviving members of Karim’s family. Next stop was Ramallah, the headquarters of Yasser Arafat and one of the most violent Palestinian population centers since the second intifada had started in September 2000.  The Israeli army had clashes with Palestinians almost once or twice per week near Ramallah and many parts of the town were damaged by Israeli rocket attacks. 

Ronen knew Ramallah well and had carried out three covert operations in that city over the past six months. In January 2001, he planted a hidden microphone in a high school teacher’s living room. In March, he and another officer planted a bomb in a Hamas militant’s car and, most recently, Ronen went to Ramallah to talk to an Islamic clergy and posed as a reporter for a liberal British journal called Peace.

Ronen typed Zeinab’s name in the computer again and this time asked for an extended search. With this command, the computer searched for every possible linkage between a name and all other names in the database. It turned out that Zeinab’s younger brother, Hossain Al-Khalid, was a suspected senior member of the Islamic Jihad and had been in hiding since May 23rd. Ronen decided to get involved in the search for Al-Khalid.

He picked up the phone and called Ehud Aban, the last intelligence officer who had worked on Hossain’s file. Ehud and Ronen were partners for a few months in early 2000 but didn’t get along well. They were both too competitive and a bit jealous of each other. It was a relief for Ronen when General Bin-David partnered him up with Anatoli. Not surprisingly, Ehud didn’t show much enthusiasm when he heard Ronen’s voice.

“Ehud, the computer shows that you were the last person who had worked on Hossain Al-Khalid’s file. Just wanted to know what’s the latest news about his whereabouts?”

“Why are you suddenly interested in this bastard? Has the General assigned you to this case?”

Ronen could sense the hostility in Ehud’s voice.

“No. I got a tip from an Arab informant that a few suspects have been visiting the house of Hossain’s sister Zeinab al-Khalid. I wanted to let you know that perhaps Hossain might be hiding there.”

“Well, thanks for the tip,” replied Ehud.

“I’m going to visit this woman and put a bug in her house. I’ll let you know if I find anything.”

“Look Ronen, this is my case. You gave me a tip, and I’ll handle it from here.”

“Don’t worry. I’m not after Hossain. I’m after other people who visit this woman. Stay away from her house and don’t send the soldiers after her. She might lead us to much bigger fish,” said Ronen.

“You do your job, I’ll do mine,” responded Ehud and hung up.

Before leaving for home that Friday afternoon, Ronen sent a request to General Ben-David to visit Zeinab under his usual disguise as the reporter from the journal Peace. General Ben-David called him to his office Sunday to find out more about his request. Ronen was ready. He explained to the General the same story that he had told Ehud. Ronen had recruited three informants in Ramallah whose only contact with Israeli army intelligence was through him. These informants had proven themselves reliable in the past.  There was no reason for the General to doubt the value of this mission. Any mission that could help them identify and stop the militants who were responsible for wave after wave of suicide bombings was considered worthwhile. Permission was granted.

Ronen contacted the office of a Palestinian journalist, Mahmoud Salmi, as soon as he left the General’s office. He used a special phone connection for this call that first went to the office of the Peace journal in London and from there it was rerouted to Salmi’s phone line. This was done to make sure that if any one tried to trace the call it would appear to have originated in London.

“Hi Mahmoud, this is John Northon,” said Ronen in Arabic with a very convincing British accent.

“Hi John. How are you my friend? It’s good to hear your voice,” responded Mahmoud.

After the usual greetings, Mahmoud asked him if he was planning to visit Palestine again.

“Yes, my friend. I’m coming back for another assignment and, as always, I need your help.”

Mahmoud, who lived and worked in Ramallah, was happy to help John. John not only wrote articles that were sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, but he also paid Mahmoud very well for his assistance.

“It would be my pleasure to be of service to you. Just tell me where you’d like to go and who you’d like to interview, and I’ll arrange everything before your arrival.”

“Thanks Mahmoud. This time, I’m flying with a short notice. I’m arriving next Tuesday, and I’d like to meet a couple of people. One of them is Sheikh Husni Hamudeh. The other one is a woman named Zeinab al-Khalid,” said Ronen.

“I have heard of Sheikh Husni. He is a well known cleric in Hebron, but who is this woman Zeinab al-Khalid?”

“It’s a long story, but I’m very interested in her. I know that she lives in Ramallah, near the al-Sadeegh mosque.”

“That’s a very rundown neighborhood. Is she famous for anything?”

“I’ll explain everything when I arrive. Can you just try to contact her and set up an appointment for me for next week? It’s very important that I interview her,” answered Ronen.

Mahmoud was a bit puzzled. In his past visits, John Northon was always interested in meeting high-ranking politicians or well-known intellectuals.

“I’ll try my best, my friend. How long are you staying?”

“One week at most but, in addition to these interviews, I plan to visit Jenin and the Gaza city.”

Ronen was confident that Mahmoud would do his best to arrange this interview. He always said nice things about John and portrayed him as a friend of Palestine. As a result, most Palestinians were happy to talk to John.

There were two suicide bombings that weekend. Both happened Saturday night after Sabbath. An Arab blew himself up in Jerusalem near a bus station and killed four Israelis. Another Arab was spotted by a soldier and detonated his bomb prematurely near a restaurant in Haifa. This one killed only one Israeli soldier, but ten civilians were injured. Ronen was busy all of Saturday working on his plan for meeting Zeinab. He couldn’t stop thinking about Zeinab and how she might look like. Ronen wondered if he would resemble her at all. He also thought about the possibility of seeing Zeinab’s other children during the meeting. 

Ronen woke up early on Tuesday morning. He had several things to do before going to the Ben Gurion airport later in the day. In order to avoid any risk of blowing his cover, he was supposed to surface as John Northon among the passengers arriving from a London flight and go through customs like everyone else. Mahmoud had arranged for an Israeli Arab to meet John in the airport and help him check into a hotel in Jerusalem.

As usual, he turned on the television when he came to the kitchen for breakfast but, before he had a chance to pay any attention, the phone rang. He knew that a call at 6:20 in the morning must be work related. As soon as he picked up and identified himself, a female voice informed him that it was a phone call for John Northon. Ronen immediately turned off the television and waited for the receptionist to connect the call.

“Hello?” said Ronen in English.

“Hi my friend, this is Mahmoud.”

“Good morning Mahmoud,” Ronen replied in Arabic.

“Sorry to bother you so early, but something important has happened.” 

“Don’t worry, I’m a light sleeper. Is something wrong?”

“I’m afraid it is. I just heard in the news that Israelis fired a rocket at a car near Zeinab al-Khalid’s house and killed her brother. From the pictures I saw on the television a few minutes ago, the house has been badly damaged, and I don’t know what has happened to Zeinab al-Khalid herself. These bastards kill innocent people with rockets and call us terrorists.”

“That’s terrible. When did this happen?”

“I think early morning, around five-thirty our time.”

Ronen tried hard to control his emotions. Initially he was shocked but, after a couple of seconds, he was overwhelmed with rage. Although he had never met Zeinab, the pain and anger that he felt at that moment was as intense as what he felt when the hospital called him about Sara. This time he also felt guilty, because he had a strong feeling that Ehud Eban must have been behind this rocket attack, and he was the one who attracted Ehud’s attention to Zeinab’s house.

“Bastards!”

“So John, are you still going to fly to Jerusalem today?” asked Mahmoud. Ronen didn’t answer, because he wasn’t paying any attention.

“John? Are you there?”

Ronen told Mahmoud that he had to talk to the journal editor to see if he should postpone his flight. They agreed that if he decided to fly according to schedule, he would call Mahmoud.
Ronen turned on the TV as soon as their conversation was over and after scanning several channels; he found a channel that was reporting the rocket attack in Ramallah. He was still overwhelmed with rage and grief. He was hoping that the news report would have some information about Zeinab, but the only name that was mentioned was Hossain al-Khalid, who was confirmed dead.

Ronen picked up the phone and dialed a number.

“Ehud?”

“Yes?” responded Ehud as he immediately recognized Ronen’s voice.

“Did you have anything to do with the attack in Ramallah?”

“I sure did, and I’m glad we got this bastard.”

“Didn’t I tell you I wanted to plant a bug in this woman’s house?” said Ronen with a loud and angry voice.

“You sure did, and I told you that I will do what I have to do.”

“Well, you made a big mistake, because she could have led us to people far more important than Hossain.”

“I sent Hossain al-Khalid to hell and that’s all that matters to me. Understood?”

“Do you know what happened to Zeinab?”

“No I don’t, but I hope she is dead too,” said Ehud and hung up.

“You sick bastard! I wish you were dead!” shouted Ronen but it was too late.

He was overwhelmed with rage for a few moments but quickly focused his attention on finding out what had happened to Zeinab. He immediately went to the Jerusalem office and started contacting a couple of Arab informants in Ramallah. An hour later one of them called and informed him that Zeinab was badly injured in the attack and was hospitalized in Ramallah’s al-Ghods hospital. Although the informant mentioned that Zeinab’s life was still in danger, Ronen was glad that she was at least alive. The only thing that mattered to him at that moment was to see her and do everything possible to save her life. The events of the past few hours had intensified Ronen’s affection for the mother that he had never met.

 “Hi Mahmoud, this is John.” 

“Hello my brother. So are you coming or not? “

“Do you have any news about Zeinab? Was she killed in the attack? ” asked Ronen.

“No, she is alive. I heard that she was injured and was taken to a hospital in Ramallah.”

“I’m flying today, but I don’t know if I can make it with the same flight. I’ll call you when I arrive. Please find out which hospital was she taken to and what’s her condition.”

Ronen wished he could see Zeinab right away, but he knew that the safest way to see Zeinab was to enter Ramallah as John Northon. He had to wait for seven hours to announce his arrival to Mahmoud so that it coincided with the landing of the first morning flight from London to Ben Gurion International Airport. In the meantime, he talked to General Bin David and filed a formal complaint about the fact that Ehud had failed to inform him about last night’s rocket attack ahead of time. He was furious and Bin-David, who was aware of Ronen’s past disagreements with Ehud, attributed part of his anger to those earlier tensions.

Later that night, Mahmoud and another Palestinian named Salman, who had also helped John in his previous visits, met John at his hotel. John complained about the rough treatment that he had received from the Israeli authorities in the airport.

“I’m sure they know who you are and what you think of the occupation. That’s why!” commented Mahmoud. He then discussed Zeinab’s condition. She had suffered injuries to her left leg and her abdomen. She had already undergone surgery but her condition was still critical and Palestinian hospitals were short on medicine and intensive care facilities. 

“How soon do you think I can see her?” asked John. Salman replied “It depends on her condition. We will take you to Ramallah tomorrow and, if we are lucky, she will be able to talk to you.”

Ronen talked to Anatoli about their conversation after the two Arab men left his room. They had not revealed anything that had any intelligence value other than a general speculation that since Hussein al-Khalid was a high ranking member of Islamic Jihad, a revenge attack on an Israeli target was sure to be carried out within a few days.    

The next morning – Tuesday, June 12th – Ronen was anxious. He had been anxious since midnight and didn’t get much sleep. This was it. If all went according to plan, he would finally be able to see his biological mother. He was never a religious Jew and now he wasn’t even sure who his God was, but he was so worried about Zeinab that he found himself praying several times in those sleepless hours.  He was expecting Mahmoud to call him after eight o’clock, but the phone rang half an hour earlier.

“I’m afraid I have bad news, John. Zeinab suffered a heart attack last night after she learned that her brother was killed. She was moved to an Israeli hospital overnight, and she is in the CCU unit now.” 

“Oh no! No! … This is so tragic! This is horrible, poor woman. What a painful life! How much more does she have to suffer?” said Ronen with a very emotional voice. “Why did they have to tell her about Hussein so soon? Why couldn’t they have waited until she was better?” he asked.

Mahmoud was surprised by John’s intense reaction. “Yeah, it’s so unfortunate, but she is not the only one. All Palestinians are suffering like this on a daily basis,” he said.

“Do you know which hospital she is staying at?” asked Ronen.

“She is in Beit Urshalim Hospital in Tel Aviv.”

Ronen could not believe his ears. Beit Urshalim was the same hospital that Sara had stayed in and now Zeinab was there.

“Are you sure it’s Beit Urshalim? Why that hospital?” he asked.

“I don’t know. It’s a good hospital for heart patients as far as I know. …. Why does that matter? … John is there something about this woman that you are not telling me? You seem very concerned about her.”

“No! No!” Ronen interrupted him. “I was just curious. That’s all. Listen, I want to go there right away.”

“It might be awhile before I can manage to go through the checkpoints and get there,” said Mahmoud.

“You don’t have to accompany me. This is inside Israel, and I can manage my way around here by myself. Why don’t you work on arranging my meeting with Sheikh Husni Hamudah in Hebron?”

Ronen talked to Anatoli and let him know about the change of plan before leaving the hotel for Tel Aviv. On his way to Beit Urshalim hospital, he couldn’t help thinking about the irony of Zeinab and Sara both ending up in the same hospital. The likelihood that Zeinab might die there like Sara frightened him.

When he arrived at the hospital, he no longer had to ask for directions to the CCU unit. He walked directly to the elevator. There were two nurses already in the elevator when the doors opened. Ronen immediately recognized one of them. She was the same nurse that gave him the message from Sara before she died. He still remembered this nurse’s voice as she repeated her mother’s sentence, “No one knows.”

The nurse looked at Ronen and smiled but did not recognize him in his John Northon disguise. Ronen left the elevator at the third floor and navigated through the hallways to the CCU unit.
He walked to the reception desk. A male nurse, a female nurse and a police officer were sitting behind the desk.

“Excuse me, I’m looking for a patient by the name of Zeinab al-Khalid, asked Ronen in English with a British accent. The male nurse looked at him for a second and then looked at a list of patients on the computer monitor.

“What is your connection with her?” he asked in English.

“I’m a British reporter. Here is my identification card,” said Ronen and handed his fake John Northon ID to the nurse.

The nurse examined the card, both back and front. “I have to ask her relative who is here with her if she would allow you to see her. Wait here please.”

A minute later, he saw the nurse walking toward him. An Arab woman in her sixties was walking beside her. She had a very curious and worried look on her face and was staring at Ronen. She was limping and walking slowly. Ronen slowly walked toward them.

“This woman is the patient’s sister,” said the Nurse.

The woman greeted John without any change in her facial expression. The nurse and the other woman were both surprised when John replied in Arabic. He explained to the woman that he was a British journalist and that he wanted to interview Zeinab for a report. The woman was wearing black clothes and a black scarf and introduced herself as Fatimah.

“She is very weak and fragile after her heart attack. You have to come back some other time.”

Ronen waited for the nurse to return to her desk. “I fully understand, and I’m very sorry for what she is going through. I’m writing a report about Ferdous, and she is one of the few survivors among the people who lived in that village. I realize that she is in no shape for an interview but can I at least see her for a minute if she is awake? Then I will return for an interview after she recovers.”

“She might not recover!” said Fatimeh. “Besides this heart attack, she is badly injured and her heart is broken,” she said and then wiped the tears off her eyes as she looked down.

Initially Fatimeh was hesitant to let this journalist see her sister. Then she realized that if she allowed a foreign journalist see Zeinab and he mentioned her in a report, the entire world would read the story and her suffering and possible death would not be in vein.

“I’m so sorry! I should not have come here at this moment. I will come back later after she is stable.”

“No…you can see her now for a few minutes. She is awake.”

As Ronen and Fatimeh walked toward Zeinab’s room, Ronen recalled the night that he walked in this same hallway to Sara’s room. His memories were still as fresh as if it had happened only two weeks ago. It was here that this whole nightmare began. His heartbeat rose as he approached room seven where Sara had been. To his total surprise, Fatimeh stopped in front of room seven.

“She is in here,” she said and then walked in.

Ronen could hardly breath. He gasped for air and closed his eyes for a second, still standing next to the half-open door. He had not looked inside yet.

“Mr. John, you can come in,” said Fatimeh. Ronen tried hard to control his emotions as he slowly walked in. There she was. The woman that Ronen had gone through so much trouble to find was lying on the same bed that two weeks ago Sara was lying on. Ronen’s eyes were fixed on Zeinab’s wrinkled face. A small cut and a bruise were visible on the left side of her forehead. She looked much older than Ronen had expected.

Ronen stood next to her bed in silence, but Fatimeh could see the sadness in his face. After looking at her for a few seconds, he noticed how similar some of her facial features were to his own. The shape of her nose in particular was almost identical to his nose. If it weren’t for his disguise, there would be a good chance that Fatimeh would have been able to recognize this resemblance.

“They call us terrorist, and this is what they did to my sister,” she said and wiped off the tears from her eyes with a napkin.

“I’m so sorry. How is she now?” asked Ronen.

Instead of answering him, Fatimah put her hand gently on Zeinab’s forehead.

“My dear, are you awake?” she asked.

Zeinab slowly opened her eyes and looked at her sister. Then she turned her face and looked at Ronen.

“This is Mr. John. He is a reporter from Europe. He has come here to see you,” continued Fatimeh.

Zeinab slowly opened her eyes and looked at her sister. Fatimeh looked at her and then looked at Ronen who was staring at Zeinab. Zeinab turned her head to the right and looked at John for a second and turned her face toward Fatimeh again.

“What does he want?” she asked.

“Mr. John speaks Arabic.”

Zeinab turned her face toward John again.

“Hello, how are you feeling?” asked Ronen with a quiet but emotional voice. He was overwhelmed with conflicting feelings. On the one hand, he felt happy to finally have found his biological mother. On the other hand, Zeinab’s condition and all the suffering that she had endured pained him.

“They killed my brother, destroyed my house and almost killed me. How do you expect me to feel?” she said as her eyes filled with tears, and her lips began to tremble. Fatimeh began to cry.
Then she cleaned the tears off Zeinab’s face.

“I’m very sorry for your loss,” said Ronen.  

Zeinab didn’t respond for a few seconds. “I wish I had died instead of him,” she said finally.

“Don’t say that my dear. Our life and death is up to Allah,” said Fatimeh.

“Did you want to talk to me?” asked Zeinab.

Ronen had so many questions to ask her but not under those circumstances. He had no intention of revealing who he was to Zeinab at that point. 

“I think you should rest now. I can come back tomorrow or the day after tomorrow when you are feeling better.” He wished he could reach out and kiss her and hold her hand.

Zeinab was surprised by John’s fluency in Arabic.

“You can at least tell me what you want to talk about tomorrow.”

“About Ferdous,” said Ronen. He could tell by Zeinab’s facial expression that she was shocked by his response. Zeinab looked at him in silence and then looked at her sister.

John continued, “I’m writing an article about Ferdous and the Palestinian families that lived there before it was confiscated by Israelis.”

“The occupiers forced us out of Ferdous in 1967. Who told you that we are from Ferdous?” asked Fatimeh.

Ronen was well prepared for this question, “I have a close Palestinian friend, Rashid al-Najjar, who lives in London. His mother lived in Ferdous until her family fled to Jordan when she was sixteen.  It was because of him that I decided to write about Ferdous and its residents. Rashid’s mother gave him your name and said that you might be living in Ramallah. I have a couple of friends in the West Bank who found your address for me,” said Ronen. His eyes were fixed on Zeinab’s as he offered this explanation. Zeinab smiled at him and he smiled back. With every second that passed, he felt a stronger attachment to her. 

“I thought you were here to interview me about my martyred brother,” said Zeinab. Her eyes were filled with tears.

“I planned for this visit before yesterday’s attack and I was coming to visit you in your home, but now that this tragedy has happened, I’d like to talk about your brother and the resistance as well.”

Before Zeinab had a chance to say anything, Fatimeh spoke, “Mr. John, I think you should do this when she is feeling better. Right now she needs to rest.”

“Every day I try to forget Ferdous, but it creeps back into my thoughts,” said Zeinab and then silently stared at the ceiling. Fatimeh wiped a tear off her face. Zeinab turned toward Ronen and looked at him as another teardrop rolled down her face.

“I’m so sorry! I should have waited until you felt better,” said Ronen. Zeinab opened her mouth to speak, but she ended up coughing instead.

“Why don’t you come back later? She needs to rest now,” said Fatimeh as she wiped Zeinab’s face and gave her a glass of water. Zeinab closed her eyes. She was breathing heavily.
Ronen didn’t want to leave, but he realized that he had no other choice after what Fatimah had just said. He also didn’t want to cause Zeinab any more pain. He took one last look at Zeinab and wished her well. Ronen left room seven reluctantly and began heading toward the reception desk when suddenly he stopped, turned around and walked back toward Zeinab’s room. He gently opened the door. Zeinab’s eyes were closed. Fatimeh looked at him and Ronen raised his hand to let her know that he wanted to ask something. Fatimeh slowly released Zeinab’s hand and walked out of the room.

“Since I can’t talk to Zeinab today, could I at least talk to you for a few minutes?” asked Ronen.

Fatimeh didn’t expect this request and she didn’t want to leave Zeinab alone, but Mr. John had left such a positive impression on her that she agreed. Besides, Zeinab appeared to be asleep. Remembering what had happened to Sara, Ronen suddenly realized that Zeinab might also suffer a second heart attack and die unexpectedly. He turned back because he wanted to get answers to some of his questions and to get Fatimeh’s contact information just in case. Fatimeh slowly walked toward the visitors’ waiting room, which happened to be empty.

Ronen talked to Fatimeh for about ten minutes. He asked several questions about Zeinab and her family. Fatimeh offered some useful information about the whereabouts of Zeinab’s children. Omar, the oldest son who was now in his forties, lived in America. He was an engineer and his wife was an American of Egyptian decent who taught English in an American university with a long name that Fatimah had a hard time pronouncing.

“It’s called Sovatmar or Sovatmor or something like this. Zeinab says its one of the best universities in America.”  

The second son, Abbas, was a teacher in Ramallah, but he was killed in an anti-Israel protest in October 2000 when the Second Intifada was just beginning. 

“You see how much pain and suffering my dear sister has had to endure?” Fatimah commented. Zeinab’s only daughter, Farha, had married a Jordanian engineer and was living in Bahrain. She had a nine-year old son and a seven-year old daughter.

“Farha is coming to Ramallah the day after tomorrow if the occupiers let her enter the West Bank from Jordan,” said Fatimeh.

She then ended their conversation and returned to Zeinab’s room. As Ronen walked through the hallway toward the exit, he heard a voice calling to him in English.

“Excuse me sir!” said the same nurse that had earlier introduced him to Fatimeh. Ronen turned around and walked toward the reception desk. The police officer was still sitting next to the male nurse.

“Yes?” replied Ronen.

“Now that you have interviewed this Arab woman, would you like to meet an Israeli patient in our unit who also suffered a heart attack after her daughter was blown up in last week’s suicide bombing in Haifa?”

This question caught Ronen by surprise. He understood what the nurse was implying. “I would love to, but right now I have another commitment,” he responded. The nurse and the police officer gave him a cynical smile.

Ronen calmly walked toward the exit. He didn’t want to leave the hospital, but his role as a reporter didn’t justify him staying any longer. While standing near Zeinab’s bed, Ronen had managed to pick up a strand of hair that he assumed must have belonged to Zeinab. A DNA match between this piece of hair and his own would be the ultimate proof that Zeinab was his biological mother.   








Acknowledgement: I have received valuable editorial assistance from Marilyn R. Horowitz, Tiffany Roberts and Laila Batool. Tiffany and Laila also offered valuable suggestions for improving the segments of the novel that dealt with the national culture and local institutions in Israel and Pakistan respectively. 

Note: All characters in this novel are fictional. Any resemblance to real world characters is purely accidental.

All copyrights reserved (2014)