By Steven Greenberg
A chill dawn rose over Nazareth, sharp wispy orange beaks of clouds pecked the carcass of the landscape bloody. It was not much of a bus stop. Really just an old sign pole, the sign removed, the pole painted hastily in orange oil-based paint. The painter had obviously been less concerned with technique than with expediency – drips had congealed into solidified smooth lines of orange, frozen in time as they followed gravity to the ground, trusting its lead yet ultimately betrayed. A few rocks that had been caught in the orange deluge moped stickily at the base of the pole.
Daniel trudged up the stony road embankment, through dust-encrusted Rosemary bushes – multicolored plastic bags nesting in tangled branches – and over shards of broken glass that were just starting to gleefully catch, and play with, the morning sunlight. The asphalt was a grey skillet, still cool in the viscous morning fog, but waiting, biding its time until the sun heated it into a grease-spattering conduit, sizzling at the feet or tires of its conveyances.
Looking at his watch, a cheap digital thing he’d traded for in the market last week, Daniel approved his excruciatingly consistent, yet clearly pointless, promptness in arriving at the Dhimmi bus stop on Road 79, the Nazareth highway.
The remaining evergreens dotting the hills to the southwest drooped morosely, as if bemoaning their dramatic fall from pampered Jewish National Fund poster children to plain old future firewood. With his back to the once green hill, Daniel watched as the other Dhimmi men of Safuriya began to arrive.
Some were clad in threadbare, graying work clothes, lunches of bread, lubbaneh, and desiccated cucumbers in various-hued plastic bags clutched in their calloused hands. Some had on worn-out designer-label jeans and slick running shoes that had seen better days, brushed leather jackets over t-shirts brightly emblazoned with hi-tech company logos.
Backlit by the menacing orange sun, which had now started consuming houses in the east with a mouth of blazing shadows, they shuffled to the makeshift bus stop. As the rising sun clinched them from behind, the lines etched on their faces told the tale of the trials they'd endured these past months, much as the dull reflections of their eyes would do in the evening light, after this day’s trials.
All had lost loved ones. All had lost property – things, trifles. Some had lost all – humanity, compassion, self-respect, love. These moved mechanically, responding in monosyllables to any enquiry, enduring humiliation with bent back and lowered head. Post-Zionist Mussulmen.
The bus shelter, now reserved for Muslims only, shone in the morning sunshine – fading plastic roof an untouchable shrine, cracked wooden bench an unreachable luxury. The Dhimmis waited – alternating standing, sitting uncomfortably on the curbstones, walking back and forth, leaning on the lone orange signpost. As the hours passed, tense nonchalance gave way to subdued impatience, which morphed momentarily to disguised outrage, and then came to rest squarely in the realm of mute resignation.
Dhimmi regulations permitted inter-city travel only on pre-approved methods of transport – walking was not an option. And besides, nobody knew where they were being taken.
Three hours later, at 9:00am, with the sun already high and heating the asphalt, a diesel-belching bus – overloaded with travelers – came around the curve sluggishly, pulling over to allow the Dhimmis to embark. Daniel and several others made straight for the ladder at the back of the bus, which led to the roof luggage rack – preferring the dust and sun to the sardine-like conditions of the interior for the presumably short ride.
Heaving himself wearily up the rusty, rickety ladder at the rear of the ancient bus, Daniel threw himself like a sack of self-motile potatoes over the top rail of the luggage rack, alighting heavily on a cushion of worn suitcases in varying degrees of disrepair, and – to his surprise – a significantly less cushioned man, who had been lying prone across the luggage rack. Daniel’s elbow in the man’s stomach produced a “what the hell?” that Daniel was surprised to hear in English.
Sorry,” Daniel mumbled, sizing the man up briefly before casting his eyes downward, seeking, then finding a roosting spot from which he’d be less likely to tumble when the bus lurched forward. “Didn’t see you there.”
Well you bloody well would have if you’d been looking, wouldn’t you?” the man spit testily in a clipped British accent, sitting up and turning away from Daniel’s intrusion on what had been his personal space. “Like I haven’t got enough people figuratively stepping all over me on a daily basis, I need one of our own to do so literally.”
Daniel sat, clumsily clutching the luggage rack as the bus pulled away from the bus stop, jerking the roof passengers in perfect unison, like marionettes in a synchronized swimming meet. After a few minutes of uncomfortable silence between them, the man looked up. Daniel, casually swinging his gaze away from an invisible spot on the horizon, met his eyes for a brief moment, then looked away. “Name’s Daniel,” he said, holding out his hand.
I’m David,” he used the Hebrew pronunciation Daveed. “Used to be called David, once upon a time in the seat of the British empire,” said the man, trying unsuccessfully to again meet Daniel’s eye, and grasping his hand with a limp, almost effeminate handshake. “You a Yank, then?”
Way back when. I grew up in a little town in the Midwest, before I came to the Holyland to seek fortune and glory,” Daniel smiled ironically. “And look how far I’ve come.”
David was a slight man, so clearly an academic that “Property of Oxford,” or whatever institute of higher learning he represented, may as well have been tattooed across his forehead. Completely bald, glasses with lenses as cloudy as watery milk perched on an understated nose that seemed to exist for the sole purpose of diverting attention to a thick-lipped mouth with a set of crooked white teeth. Daniel’s eyes unconsciously locked on those teeth as he listened to the professor – which was how he immediately began to mentally refer to him.
Been here over twenty years, myself,” spoke the professor. “Taught over there, until the Fall, that is,” he gestured vaguely to the southwest, in the direction of the only university in the region, the now-ruined Haifa University. “Islamic History, believe it or not. A Christian, living in the Jewish state, teaching Islam to Jews and Arabs. I guess I had all my bases covered, religiously and ethnically. I’m staying now with my daughter in Nof Alonim. Not doing much but reading, these days.”
The bus driver had been instructed to proceed directly to the Jizya collection venue – the only destination of any Dhimmi traveling that morning. None of the passengers knew exactly where the bus was going, but the speculation was Nazareth. And, for once, the speculators ruled the day, as the bus took the right fork at the junction with Road 79, towards downtown Nazareth.
i figured they’d get around to putting on a show for the masses, one of these days,” David reflected, half to himself. “Looks like today’s the day, and you and I are going to be on center stage, my friend.”
Daniel nodded glumly. A student of Middle Eastern history, Daniel had known the term Dhimmi well prior to the Fall. Under Koranic law, a Dhimmi is a non-Muslim subject, afforded protection under the Dhimma, or protection pact. Never, even in the farthest reaches of his creatively pessimistic doomsday fantasies, had he expected to live as one.
I’ll bet you didn’t know that by donning that orange armband, we’ve joined the ranks of an auspicious tradition dating back to the Prophet Mohammed himself,” David continued, his voice taking on a bombastic, if somewhat monotonous, lecture timbre that must have bored generations of students to tears, Daniel thought. “It’s true. In the year 629, after his army conquered the oasis of Khaybar, which is in what used to be Saudi Arabia, Mohammed granted the Jews there religious freedom and security, in exchange for a yearly tithe. Of course, this was short-lasted freedom – the agreement was reneged upon by Caliph Umar several years later. But modern-day Muslim scholars, and especially our friends in the Hamas government, prefer to overlook this little blip in the storyline.”
Daniel had now turned, interest piqued, and was actively listening to the professor’s soliloquy.
You see, Muslims love using the Dhimmi system as an example of the historically enlightened nature of Islamic government. And I suppose it could be considered ‘enlightened’ by historical standards,” he mused. “I mean, Dhimmis were neither systematically massacred nor forcibly converted. They retained basic property rights, they were guaranteed basic freedom of worship, and they even had legal recourse against Muslims. It’s not a mystery why the status was even welcomed by Jews when the Muslims took over after centuries of Byzantine persecution. “
Something behind Daniel’s eyes caught fire. “Enlightened?” he snapped, just as the bus lumbered through a deep but smooth pothole, slamming his ass down hard on the luggage rack.
Enlightened, indeed,” the professor continued, shifting uncomfortably, enjoying the parley. “You see, you and I understand – in 20-20 hindsight – that the Dhimmi system legitimized disenfranchisement, segregation, arbitrary violence, and disproportionate taxation. However, history is nothing if not relative. Some scholars compare the Dhimma status to life for ex-slaves in the southern United States, from the end of the Civil War until the 1960s. And, the very fact that these people were no longer slaves made their treatment more ‘enlightened’ – even though by our standards it was abysmal,” David continued. “Enlightenment,” he postulated, “is in the eye of the enlightenee, so to speak.”
Daniel looked up. The Dhimmi bus had already crossed into Nazareth from the northern checkpoint – no hassles getting in today – and was working its way through slow-moving traffic on the main streets of Nazareth. As David finished speaking, Daniel noticed the hush that seemed to fall over the street as the bus passed – the way a blanket draped over your head at the beach dulls out the sound of waves just enough so you can focus on each watery crash. Bypassers stopped, pointed, stared at the bus, with its hastily painted but distinctive orange stripe. Daniel watched their faces – some eyes just curious, some mocking, even a few pitying – but most hardening like red-hot metal cooling in a blacksmith’s water bath.
The Hamas-led government of Northern Liberated Palestine, with the enthusiastic support of its Iranian masters – who had a long history of zealously embracing the Dhimmi system – had enacted Dhimmi legislation soon after taking power in the previous August. The Christians and Jews that remained in Northern Liberated Palestine – those who had not fled to the Egyptian-held territory south of the Carmel, secured a coveted ticket out prior to the Fall, or been slaughtered in the post-Fall Terror – were now officially Dhimmis.
To sum it up,” the professor broke the silence, jolting Daniel back into focus. “The Dhimmi system was – is – a codification of the discrimination and subjugation of minorities under Islamic rule. It ensured basic rights, true – but far more for the financial gains of the ruling majority than for some greater humanistic ideal. For,” David ’s voice became less oratorical and more conspiratorial, “as we are likely to soon find out firsthand, at the base of the Dhimmi system was the collection of the poll tax – the Jizya.”
Imposed only on Dhimmis, Daniel recalled, the Jizya was not just a crushing tax – ostensibly to cover the cost of the protection pact – it was an opportunity to ceremonially demonstrate the Dhimmi’s subjugation to Muslim rule.
There are moments when life becomes a movie, a flimsy celluloid veil which – if only pushed aside – could reveal the actual. It is as if the human psyche throws up a translucent scarf as it retreats to a safer haven – attempting perhaps to delude itself that the phantasmagoric is only the surreal.
A filter of this sort descended over Daniel as the bus stopped at the Nazareth municipal stadium, not far from the new government compound. Tires crackling on gravel, the bus turned into the parking area, and it was like when the ophthalmologist clicks the wrong lens in place – the letters on the chart go just blurry enough to become unidentifiable, but still clear enough to be recognizable as letters.
Their rooftop perch afforded David and Daniel a view of the scene in the soccer stadium. There, the Jizya officials had set up a stage at one end, and marked out two paths in lime from the parking-lot gate to the stage.
Recognizing individual aspects of the scene, yet still unsure of their holistic meaning, Daniel’s eyes found and focused on the first item they could identify. It was to remain the defining image of the entire experience. Industrious municipal employees, lacking plastic garbage bags to serve the refuse needs of the substantial crowd in the stadium, had diligently created an environmentally-friendly, reusable alternative. From simple steel frames located every several meters around the stadium hung grease-stained cloth trash bags, hastily fashioned from sewn Israeli flags.
The Jizya had been fixed at PD 2000 for this first collection, around US $500 at current exchange rates, and was to be payable in any currency, including the now-defunct Israeli Shekel.
For Safuriya residents, the early-morning bus-stop meeting took place on less than a day’s notice, following receipt of notes in Arabic deposited in the mailboxes of all residents the evening before. A thoughtful local Arabic-speaking resident had quickly posted a Hebrew version of the order by the mailboxes, which sent Daniel and the other Dhimmi residents scrabbling to gather or borrow enough cash to meet the household tax. According to the notice, a Dhimmi bus would arrive at 6:00am to transport the male taxpayers. Attendance was, of course, unquestionably and unpardonably mandatory.
Clambering down from the bus rooftop, Daniel and David found themselves in a sea of Dhimmis, and were quickly separated in the throng of kippah-wearing religious Jews, white-capped Druze elders, and Christians or secular Jews who wore nothing definitive except their fear. Music was blaring festively from the stadium’s tinny loudspeaker system, and the giant TV screen on the scoreboard was alternating between white-on-green Arabic text, video of children making the “V” sign climbing on burnt-out Israeli tanks, and live action shots of the Dhimmis themselves, thronging in the parking lot.
The Muslim crowd had taken advantage of the government-declared holiday and turned out en masse to witness the spectacle. Daniel could see the crowd from his position in the mass of Dhimmi s – these people who had been nothing to him previously, and with whom he now shared a common, uncertain fate. How ironic that the people in the stands, many of whom he undoubtedly also knew, had meant equally little to him in pre-Fall Israel. For now, they held the power over his life, or were at least part of the power that controlled his life. Had he once held such power? If held, had he abused it, and would he have come when bidden to gloat in their misery, even that of former enemies?
The Dhimmis shuffled forward toward the crowded stadium, where the Jizya collection had already begun. Pushed and herded by heavily-armed Hamas guards into a chain-link chute, which had been erected outside the gate, they awaited their turn to approach the Hamas official on the stage.
Despite a fundamental disregard for international convention, a tight communications and media blackout, and the Western powers’ profound silence and inaction in the face of the events leading up to the Fall – the Nazareth-based Hamas government was not entirely inept at public relations.
Objectively, Daniel had to admit that they had initially implemented the anachronistic practices of the Dhimma – fundamentally unjust and warped as they were – in an intelligent way. As CNN looked on, Dhimmis had been mandated to pay the Jizya (at a yet-unspecified time and place), to maintain separate residences from Muslims, to study in separate schools, to limit public religious displays, and to carry their blue Israeli ID cards as a temporary Dhimmi identification.
Some of these requirements differed little from de facto practices in the former Jewish state, where segregation had existed, albeit undeclared. It was easy, therefore, for both the world media and the local Dhimmi populace to accept the changes – the former because the regulations so closely resembled past practice, and the latter out of pure gratitude for not suffering the outright slaughter that many of their ranks had met during the Terror.
It was only with the second round of Dhimmi legislation – passed quietly in January, without media fanfare, and slated for gradual implementation – that the true nature of the Northern Liberated Palestine Dhimmi system was revealed.
From the beginning of February, all adult and child Dhimmis would be required to wear the orange Dhimmi armband. Separate public transportation was mandated, as were strict rules of conduct in Muslim- Dhimmi interaction – notably forbidding Christian and Jewish Dhimmis from operating motor vehicles on Muslim roads, forbidding interaction of Dhimmis with Muslims except in necessary business matters, delineating Dhimmi behavior upon meeting a Muslim, and setting up the first annual Jizya collection.
To assuage the international media's occasional scrutiny, and the occasional Red Cross outcry, the Hamas government spun the new regulations as part of its magnanimous campaign to protect the minorities that had fallen under its care. The armbands – to assist security forces in differentiating law-abiding citizens from insurgents. Segregation – partially a natural result of wartime emigration and population movement, and partly to alleviate sectarian frictions. It all made perfect sense, given the mitigating circumstances and recent upheaval. Curiosity appeased, passing pangs of guilt eased, the world moved on to the next human-interest story.
As the bizarre and terrifying scene before him resolved itself in Daniel’s reeling mind, it became clear that the Hamas government was making the most of the Jizya collection. Traditionally, collection of the Jizya had both financial and symbolic significance. On one hand, collection of the Jizya was a serious boon to Muslim economies; on the other hand, it was a very public affirmation of the Dhimmis’ state of absolute subjection – saghir.
As each Dhimmi arrived from the crowded chute to the stadium gate, two guards, one on either side, forced him to his knees at the origin of the lime-delineated path. Daniel had the sinking rollercoaster feeling he always felt when entering a situation utterly lacking control – an operating room, a dentist’s chair, the army induction center, a trans-Atlantic flight. He was pressed forward by the crowd, which was being herded – yes, herded was the right word, Daniel thought – like sheep by whip-wielding Hamas soliders, and then kicked or prodded in the direction of the stage.
Daniel watched the line of Dhimmis on the field waddle forward slowly, clumsily – like a wounded worm writhing earthward, away from a marauding child. Every now and then, a roar went up from the crowd as a Dhimmi tripped or fell, often causing a domino effect that knocked down several meters of the line, or when the Hamas official on the stage delivered a particularly resounding blow with his cane.
Arriving at the stage, still on painful knees, each Dhimmi was forced to kiss the holy Koran held out to him. Each then handed over ID card and the tax, and – following a careful counting and rubber stamping of the ID card – received either a blow to the back of the neck or a kick in the buttocks, depending on the whim of the Hamas soldier. Due to the large number of Dhimmis, several officials, and a small group of soldiers, were working on processing the arrivals.
Daniel was swept forward, rollercoaster feeling supplanted by something more removed, yet more ominous in its distance. As he watched, a young man – perhaps 25 – arrived on his knees at the stage. Ignoring the threats, shouts, and blows from the Hamas guards, and the pleading from the other Dhimmis – he defiantly rose to his feet. The crowd fell silent almost immediately, anticipating. Staring directly at the officials on the stage, and then looking around to ensure the eyes of the crowd were upon him, the man ripped off the orange armband, and then turned and spit luridly onto the Koran which had been waiting, extended, for him to kiss.
Absolute silence. After several seconds of collective shock, the crowd, soldiers, and Hamas officials broke the silence simultaneously with a roar that filled the air like a flock of birds scared off a smooth African lake by a predator – voices beating the air, arms flapping like wings, as if struggling to break gravity’s stifling hold over their outrage.
They took him to the side of the field, within full view of the crowd, and beheaded him without ceremony. At the Hamas official’s bidding, soldiers crossed from both sides of the field, closing in on the line of Dhimmis. An officer came forward, and counted off the next twenty Dhimmis in line. Marching them to the sidelines, the soldiers lined them up, backs to the line. Bearing a still-dripping bloody sword, the executioner and his assistant, who held the heads, worked their way down the line. The sword bearer was visibly panting from exertion and covered in gore by the fourth or fifth head, but persevered to the end of the twenty. While this was going on, the crowd remained respectfully, perhaps fearfully, silent.
The line began to move forward again. An hour had gone by since Daniel had arrived. Another thirty minutes passed. The guards became bored, the blows became more and more theatrical – growing in crowd-pleasing and humiliation value, if not in pain infliction. Still the Dhimmis kept moving forward to the stage, then shuffling back slowly, still on their knees, to the gate. After that, they were free to go.
Daniel had grown up in a culture that veiled its underlying distaste for Jews, cloaking it in guises ranging from curiosity to disinterest. Having survived the Fall, the Terror, and the following months in the ranks of the Resistance eating stringy wild Carmel boar – hardship, suffering, and fear were no longer strangers to him.
However, as he eased forward with dew-damp grass soaking his gravel-racked knees, he saw the hard eyes of the guards tracking their progress with the aloof bemusement of schoolchildren watching a line of ants. He saw the line of still twitching orange-armbanded bodies to his right. And he saw in the spectators’ eyes not silent outrage, not indignity, not pity, and not even mild surprise at the extremity of the abasement – but rather, pure, undeniable Schadenfreude. As he approached the stage, bent his head to kiss the Koran, and handed over his money, Daniel realized that fear has an older brother – one who, in the absence of mitigating motherly hope, is far more powerful in the family of emotions. As he felt the stinging slap of the soldier’s hand on his cheek, he met, and truly came to know, despair.
from the June 2012 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
Material and Opinions in all Jewish Magazine articles are the sole responsibility of the author; the Jewish Magazine accepts no liability for material used.
|All opinions expressed in all Jewish Magazine articles are those of the authors. The author accepts responsible for all copyright infrigments.|