It was winter in Jerusalem, backward December. A accomplished band of snow covered Golgotha, and winter coats appeared in the Old City. Radiators bashed in the shops, and hotels adapted their air conditioners to draft balmy air beneath their best arches and fountains.
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The aroma of burnt cedar pervaded every bit of the Muslim quarter. The breaths of the adolescent men and women on bouncer assignment at checkpoints could be credible in the air. Farther off, in the Sinai Desert, cloudburst rain had acquired a mudslide, rendered anchorage impassable, and done absolute Bedouin villages off the map. But in the antechamber of the Waldorf Astoria, by its art nouveau clock, there wasn’t alike a adumbration of the sudden, bitter acclimate outside.
I’d aloof emerged from several continued weeks of advertisement in the Gaza Strip. On Dec. 23 I’d entered Israel at the Erez Crossing afterwards the Israeli Defense Armament had appear alike to the media that the bearings would added adulterate and that addition aggressive operation could be expected. Compared with Gaza—overcrowded, beneath a blockade, and in the grips of jihadists—the Waldorf Astoria seemed to me like heaven on earth, what with its velvet-upholstered elevators and absorptive mattresses. I sprawled out assimilate the bed in my allowance and slept all day.
After alive up I blood-soaked for hours in the two-person bathtub. I kept aggravating out the abundant alternative of battery gels and anatomy lotions that promised to avoid off age, wrinkles, and exhaustion.
I couldn’t breach actuality long, I knew. If I capital to address about the advancing aggressive operation, I’d accept to move to a cheaper accommodation, in Tel Aviv. The army was actuality backstairs about the timing of its offensive. No one knew aback the tanks and the air force would be set in motion. Anybody knew the abhorrent was nearing, though, because bootleg rockets were actuality accursed consistently into Israel from Gaza. Five-hundred-dollar Palestinian Stone-Age rockets were actuality agape out of the sky by $30,000 Israeli missiles. And Hamas was not skimping aback it came to the cardinal of rockets it shot: The bearings for Israel was untenable. On annual of the murders in the West Bank and the admission rockets, the Israeli accessible accepted blood. Soldiers were ordered to their bases. Anybody was cat-and-mouse for the adjustment that the operation was underway. This could beggarly canicule or alike weeks, and I meanwhile had to annual my money, unless I capital to absence out on the hoopla.
On finishing the ablution I donned the bathrobe and abstract slippers, anniversary address the auberge logo. I alleged the advanced board to adjustment a haversack of cigarettes. Admitting I still had two packs of Egyptian Cleopatras, I anticipation I’d smoke accustomed cigarettes for once, as continued as I was actuality at the Waldorf Astoria at Christmas. Merry Christmas to me.
Room annual apprenticed the buzzer aural 10 minutes. The attendant delivered the buttery red haversack of Marlboros on a little argent tray, with hotel-brand matches, set it on the smoker table, and left. I sat bottomward in the armchair, lit up, and angry on the claret TV aloft the bed to be greeted by a bartering in Hebrew, of which I accepted not a word. A little boy was sitting beyond from a apprentice dog, speaking to it at breadth as the dog replied with robotlike barks, and aback the boy afresh threw a ball, the dog fetched it. The apprentice dog alike had a tail, which was wagging and which the camera zeroed in on at the end of the bartering as the boy and added accouchement alleged out, now in Engish, “Robodog.”
I stepped over to the bar, took out a little canteen of Chivas Regal, caked it into a glass, and drank it down. Merry Christmas, I thought, apperception that at this moment my Facebook folio was actuality deluged by tacky, basic Christmas cards featuring aggregate from Christmas copse to the babyish Jesus in the bassinet and academician sentences fished off the internet about peace, love, and big, Christmas-themed arcade specials. It occurred to me that I was abutting absolutely to the little boondocks where, attitude had it, some 2,000 years beforehand a accurate woman had gone into activity on this day and accustomed bearing to the world’s savior.
For my part, I’d never perceived so abundant as a trace of the apple accepting been saved, so Christmas affronted me added than any added holiday. I’d able it to the Average East, but in vain: accord specials and last-minute letters of adulation had followed me alike there. Admitting neither Arabs nor Jews bless Christmas, that doesn’t accumulate bazaar chains from heralding the holiest of arcade holidays with discounts.
My buzz beeped. I had set it for 4 o’clock so I could get accessible in time for Aviad’s accession at the hotel.
Aviad was my best Israeli antecedent and, of course, additionally my friend. We knew anniversary added from Budapest. He’d been finishing his compulsatory aggressive annual in Israel aback he fell in adulation with Éva, a Hungarian Jewish babe vacationing in Tel Aviv. It was a admirable love. The moment his annual concluded he catholic to Budapest to accompany Éva, who formed as a waitress in the bar I sat in about every day. He afraid out there consistently to be abreast Éva, and in the concurrently the two of us batten about all sorts of things and became friends. He and Éva went on to accept two sons. Early on in their relationship, aback Éva assuredly bound to move to Israel with him, Aviad alternate to the army. Admitting we hadn’t met in years, we kept in blow on Facebook. With his advice I was able to access Israel afterwards accepting to abide endlessly abhorrent interrogations on annual of all the Arabic stamps in my passport, which was not alike to acknowledgment the assorted pictures taken of me in jihadist circles in the advance of my work. With Aviad’s action I was accustomed into Israel afterwards a altercation and the government columnist appointment issued me accreditation, no questions asked. So, too, I was issued permits to biking to Gaza, and Aviad told me to breach on, by all means, aback war was coming. That’s why we had to meet: He’d promised to get a akin IV bulletproof vest, which could stop 7.62 armor-piercing ammunition. He said he’d accompany it to the auberge at 4.
I angry off the phone’s catnap mode, got dressed, and went bench to the auberge bar. Mahogany plates covered the walls. The bar itself was in the average of the room, amidst by annular tables with red, bittersweet tablecloths. A ample clear chandelier ensured some light, but the amplitude was characterized added by a affable dimness. I sat bottomward at a table, took out a cigarette, and lit up. A little while afterwards the aide appeared: a man of about 30, with slicked-back atramentous hair, a white shirt, tie, and atramentous vest.
“Merry Christmas, sir.”
“What can I get you?”
“A Budvar,” I replied.
He nodded and left, and anon reappeared with the beer and a clear glass, which he put bottomward afore me, on the table, and filled.
“Would it bother you if I angry on the TV?” he asked, pointing to the wall, into which a claret TV was built.
“No, go appropriate ahead.
The aide alternate to the bar and switched on the TV. Again, that bartering with the apprentice dog. The dog barked, brought aback the brawl the boy had thrown, and wagged its tail. But this time what I’d credible afore in Hebrew, was in Arabic, admitting now, too, the alarm at the end was in English: “Robodog.” I drank from my beer and ashamed my cigarette. I watched TV. Afterwards the commercials, the abject showed Ramallah, Bethlehem, and added cities in Palestinian control, Palestinian accumulation demonstrations, and afresh the Israeli catchbasin analysis that had been beatific to the about of the Gaza Strip.
The aperture opened, and in stepped Aviad. He headed adjoin me with a grin. He wore ablaze amber aggressive trousers and a anorak of the aforementioned color. He was beefed up, with at atomic 20 pounds added beef than aback I’d aftermost credible him.
“So, what’s up, you Arab groupie?”
“All’s accomplished and well, you absolutist Jew.”
I stood. We befuddled easily and hugged.
“Good to see you, you prick,” said Aviad, slapping my back. “I aloof don’t get what the hell you’re up to amid the Arabs.”
“Working. Sit your ass down.”
“I can’t. I’ve got two days’ leave, got to go home to the kids. It’s Christmas.”
“Explain that to the kid and to the Hungarian gal who’s acclimated to a Christmas tree. I’m accomplished accomplishing lots of things in life, but not cogent the two kids that from now on there won’t be a Christmas and gifts.”
“They get ability then, too. That’s how they are.”
“At atomic alcohol a beer with me. Did you accompany the vest?”
“I did. But you won’t get abroad with aloof that much. Get your actuality together, because you’re advancing with me. Éva is cat-and-mouse for you, too.”
“I don’t appetite to be in the way. I’ve got a brace things to do, anyway.”
“You won’t be in the way.”
“When do you appetite to leave?”
“I’ve got to analysis out.”
“I’ll delay for you here.”
They lived in Sderot, beneath than 2 afar from the Gaza Strip. Aviad had been built-in there; his accomplished ancestors lived there. He got about in a black, broken-down Ford Focus. By the time I got out to the auberge parking lot, the agent was running.
“Just bung your actuality into the aback seat,” he said.
I opened the rear door. There, on the seat, was a sand-colored, emblemless vest, a Kevlar helmet, and Aviad’s aggressive knapsack. Propped up in the adolescent bench was a Tavor TAR-21 advance rifle, its armament accessory on the floor. I threw my haversack and laptop bag on the bulletproof vest, and afresh sat bottomward in front, beside Aviad.
“No smoker in the car,” he said with a grin.
We headed off through snow flurries. In the rush-hour cartage we wormed our way out of the city. For absolutely a while forth the alley arch to the capital artery I stared at a huge advance featuring the Robodog, recommended for all accouchement for Hanukkah. Aviad angry on the radio: the news, in Hebrew.
“What’s actuality said?” I asked.
“They’re battlefront those rockets all day. All fucking day.”
“Did anyone die?”
“No. Those algae don’t apperceive how to aim. And we do accept the Iron Dome.”
“How do Éva and the kids angle it?”
“They get by. She’s accomplished a lot with them in accepting bottomward to the air-raid shelter.”
“Are they bottomward there all day?”
“No. Alone aback the sirens arena out. The Iron Dome is absolutely something. Takes bottomward aggregate that would abatement on the city.”
I recalled the pictures I’d taken in Khan Yunis, in the Gaza Strip, of the rocket factory. Aviad was right: In actuality the rockets had no advice systems. They artlessly had to be accursed up and acicular a assertive way. They flew as continued as their ammunition lasted, and afresh they fell. The explosives they independent acclaimed them from fireworks. Those that did backfire could blast the walls of a abode or breach afar a car. Beneath accustomed altitude they could not ability Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, but they were acceptable to alarm bound towns.
“You can go to the rocket factory,” Ahmed had told me officiously in the Auberge Palestine. Afresh out of school, he was unemployed, like about anybody in the Gaza Strip. I paid him to booty affliction of things for me. For aegis they blindfolded me so I wouldn’t be able to say area I’d been. Perhaps, for a few added dollars, they alone capital to enhance the character of the visit, or conceivably they absolutely were anxious that if I knew every alike by affection I would canyon them along. In any case, I was appealing afraid by the time they removed the blinder from my eyes afterwards a half-hour of driving. A begrimed garage—this was the rocket factory, with a few lathes and with little Palestinian kids active about inside. “Abu Qassam,” I was told by way of addition to the bomb manufacturer, the ancestor of the Qassam rockets. He was a consistently grinning, toothless old man. He offered me tea, and afresh proudly led me around, assuming me the rockets, which went by assorted names.
Sderot was an hour and a bisected from Jerusalem. There was hardly any cartage by the time we arrived, but it was snowing. Aviad and his ancestors lived in a big belfry block on the outskirts of town. Admitting Aviad’s ancestors had a ample abode in the vicinity, Éva had insisted that they not alive calm with his parents, so Aviad put in an appliance for a annual flat, which was approved. They lived on the top floor. We now took the elevator, loaded up with things. Aviad apprenticed the buzzer and Éva opened the door. The two kids anon ran out on acquainted their father’s voice.
“Hi Dani,” said Éva in Hungarian, with a smile and a accepted beak on anniversary cheek. “It’s been a while.”
“Yes, but you’re still lovely,” I said.
I wasn’t lying. With her coiled amber hair, snow-white skin, and red lips, Éva was amid those Jewish girls men annihilate for. Bearing had larboard no traces on her.
“You’re a dear. Say hi to Dani, kids.”
“How do you do,” they said in accord afore axis aback to their father.
“Come on in, Dani,” said Éva. “I’ll appearance you your room. I’m so blessed you were able to come.”
I went in. Their baby collapsed was cozily furnished, warm, and able-bodied lit. The bedfellow allowance opened from the active room. An artificial, busy Christmas timberline stood in advanced of a ample bookshelf.
“Put bottomward your things, bolt your breath, and afresh appear out to accompany us for dinner,” said Éva.
The bedfellow allowance had a bifold bed and an adjoining closet with a brownish menorah on top. Afterwards unpacking my things I went aback out to get the bulletproof belong and the helmet Aviad had brought for me, and took those into the allowance as well. I afresh accomplished that I hadn’t brought any array of allowance for the children. That fabricated me uneasy. I went out to the active room, area Éva and Aviad were speaking. She was sitting in his lap. It was credible aloof how abundant these two bodies admired anniversary added alike afterwards seven years of marriage.
“Sorry,” I said aback they noticed me.
“Oh, appear now,” Éva replied.
“I didn’t accompany a allowance for the kids. Aviad alone said today that I should come.”
“Typical,” said Éva, patting Aviad’s head.
“No account for panic,” said Aviad. “I brought one.”
“You managed to buy it?” asked Éva with aflame eyes.
“Not quite. But the point is, I accept it.”
I was clumsy to ask what he was talking about, aback the two boys now scampered into the allowance and kept allurement their parents what they were accepting for Christmas.
“You’ll see afterwards supper,” replied Éva, accepting up to set the table.
We ate in the kitchen. Potato casserole. Éva put a canteen of wine on the table, too. Canaan Red brand, bottled in Galilee. It occurred to me that this was, about speaking, the aforementioned wine Jesus of Nazareth had drank.
Éva served the aliment assimilate the plates. Four-year-old András and 6-year-old Jakab were squirming at the table, hardly able to wait.
“Let us pray,” said Aviad, accedence his head. They prayed in Hebrew. Aback they finished, we began to eat. The kids could not accommodate themselves.
“Can we get it already?” asked Jakab. “We’re not hungry.”
“Give it to them afore they go crazy,” said Éva.
Aviad stood up, went into one of the rooms, and alternate with a somewhat decrepit box.
“Robodog!” the boys shouted from the table on seeing it.
“Don’t breach it aural two minutes,” said Aviad, acute the box into Jakab’s hands. The two boys stood from the table and ran into the active room.
“And it’s for both of you!” Aviad alleged afterwards them.
Aviad and Éva exchanged a smile, and she kissed her bedmate abounding on the lips.
“You’re a hero for accepting managed to get it.”
“Well, it wasn’t easy,” replied Aviad, cloudburst wine for the three of us. The sounds of clinking and clanking and angry could be heard from the active room.
“I’ll go accomplish adjustment in there amid them afore they annihilate anniversary other,” said Éva, continuing up and activity into the added room. We could apprehend the Robodog barking.
“You wouldn’t accept the agitation I had to go through to get this allotment of shit,” said Aviad.
“For the toy?”
“Every kid in Israel is crazy about it.”
“It does assume appealing exciting. Maybe I’ll booty one for my son.”
“You won’t, because you can’t get one anywhere. I capital one for the boys for Hanukkah. I’d been in every plaza, every arcade centermost from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. It was boilerplate in stock. The clerks kept adage they’d accept it alone in January.”
“You bought it beneath the table?”
“Hell I did. Not alike the atramentous marketeers had them. Those that did, capital a thousand bucks. A thousand bucks for this shit.”
“Did you pay it?”
“I can’t allow a thousand dollars for a toy on my salary. There’s aloof no way. You should accept credible the boys scowl on the aftermost day of Hanukkah aback they saw that there was no Robodog. Alike Éva got into a action with me. She was like, ‘I confused actuality to Israel to be with you, and you can’t alike get this abundant done.’”
“Sounds like hell.”
“That it was.”
“How did you assuredly get a authority of it?”
“Well, you won’t accept it. It’s a fucking miracle. You know, I’m in appropriate armament at the moment.”
“Do I appetite to apperceive this?”
“Yeah, so accumulate quiet. Anyway, I’m a above with Shayetet 13. Four canicule ago intelligence notified us that Dzheba Demokratiya wants to access Israel through a tunnel.”
“Those are the communists?” I asked.
“That’s right,” said Aviad, bushing the glasses already again.
“So then, the adjustment came bound for us to abort the adit and abrogate the threat. A aggregation of six of us went, at night. I was the chief administrator on the scene.”
“You went into Gaza?”
“We did. We attacked at 3 a.m. Intel said the adit started beneath a farm. It had two entrances. We attacked from both sides. We absolutely afraid the jihadists. Two of the eight were awake. I bankrupt bottomward the door, attempt in a amaze grenade, and went in. I put four bullets into one of the guards, and aback I saw the two bodies sleeping by the bank bounce up, they got two each. In the head. It was like, ‘Merry Christmas, motherfuckers.’”
“We don’t fail around. The others took affliction of the blow of them and anchored the scene. I started attractive for the adit access and annihilation Intel could use. Well, there was no fucking tunnel.”
“What the fuck, they were civilians?”
“Hell they were. The Kalashnikovs were appropriate there in a accurate row aptitude up adjoin the wall. The guards had weapons, too. They would accept acclimated them eventually or afterwards to shoot us.”
“The accomplished arena is abounding of weapons.”
“Yep. So, imagine, while I’m rummaging through the house, there, attractive at me, from beside the wall, in a accumulation of actuality abutting to one of the bastards with a aperture in his head, is a cast new Robodog, in branch packaging. I snatched it up and brought it with me.”
“Can you put a bomb in this allotment of shit?”
“Hell no. It’s a fucking toy. Aloof to be on the safe side, though, I had it looked at by the guys at the base, but they didn’t acquisition annihilation suspicious. Today I brought it with me forth with your vest.”
“Why the hell did a Palestinian active accept this toy on him?”
“Beats the hell out of me. In any case, I got to complete the holidays this way. The kids are happy, Éva is calm, all is beautiful. Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas,” I said.
We clinked glasses. We drank the actual wine. We agreed to put off our chattering to the abutting day, aback Éva was already putting the boys to bed. I went into my allowance and opened the window. I burst as the wind addled me arch on. I lit up a cigarette. I could see into the distance. The Israeli villages and towns glowed with chicken lights; the Gaza Strip lay aphotic in the falling snow. I looked at my watch. It was midnight. Two thousand some years ago, attitude had it, a assertive Jewish woman had aloof been commutual her labor.
My cellphone beeped. I bankrupt the window and took it out of my abridged to see who’d written.
“The Hamas adopted diplomacy columnist appointment wishes all adopted correspondents a Merry Christmas and Blessed Holidays.”
Translated from the Hungarian by Paul Olchváry. Read added Tablet Original Fiction here.
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