Two schoolyard bullies stand face to face in a darkened parking lot.
“Nice shoes, chump.”
“Nice mom, dickweed.”
The two crack a hint of a smile, remembering their rank intimacy of headlocks, the busted lips they’ve licked. In this city, cubicled by chain links and the barbs above, there is only so much room for a boy to swing his elbows. The schoolyard is not big enough for both of them. Still, after two grades and two summers of attrition, neither of the boxy, dark-haired boys had managed to upend the other.
“You got it?”
“Yeah. You got my cat?”
“He’s in the backpack.”
The taller of the two pulls a worn blue knapsack from his shoulder as his thicker rival produces a gleaming slingshot. The two put down their spoils and swagger towards each other heavily.
“You ever come near my house again and I’ll kill you.”
“Eat me. And stay away from my locker.”
The two pass almost chest-to-chest and back towards their reclaimed prizes. The tall boy grabs his slingshot and runs. His nemesis bends towards the knapsack, noticing a long dark stain along the stitching of the plasticized bottom. He unzips the bag, and finds the head of a calico cat resting like a cherry atop a mangled knot of crimson fur.
I reiterate: Israel is a very small country.
Yesterday, after Hezbollah traded the remains of the two kidnapped soldiers for the murderer Samir Kuntar (among others) and the omnipresent TV newscast cycled footage of the carnival in the streets of Beirut, there was more than just a tension in the air. People on the streets were visibly shaken, despondent, and sometimes furious. “The trade” was on people’s minds and in their mouths, and their mouths were generally twisted in a grimace. As always, the politics is personal.
Detractors claimed that the country had made a mockery of justice and strengthened Nasrallah, or that the deal would herald a new golden age for Arab kidnappings of Israeli citizens. Proponents pointed to the need to reassure our young enlisted men that they will never be abandoned under any circumstances, and lauded the near-familial bond with which Israelis look after one-another. Both sides, however, hung their heads at the news that we would receive only caskets from Lebanon.
In these times of popular outrage, the gross popular perception of the conflict reveals itself. In living rooms around the country, violent, racist jokes spawned sardonic grins. Rumors of assassinations slithered through the alleyways. Last night, I was at a wonderful but poorly timed performance of “Gypsy” music here in Haifa. The band’s name was “Machsan Balkan” (Balkan Basement) and the compositions hailed from as far afield as Romania, Serbia and Morocco. At one point in the set, the band began playing a popular tune in Arabic, only to be muted by the crowd. “How dare you sing an Arab song on a day like today” the hecklers yelled, and the band was forced to redraw its set list on the spot.
Simple thinking breeds simple tragedies.