The Daily Bongo

Short Story 1

The sun glinted off of Nira’s cat-eyed glasses, flashing in Moshe’s peripheral vision. Moshe turned his head to look at Nira as she stood there off to the side of the ID table watching every move, observing every interaction. Nira was part of the Machsom Watch, and she took her job very seriously, ready to pounce on any errant word or action as though it were a mouse poking its head out of its hole. The Machsom Watch was a group of women, most of them older, grandmotherly types, who would frequent the Israeli checkpoints to make sure that there all of the Palestinians were treated fairly and with dignity. The women were there as voluntary observers and their presence for the most part was appreciated by the reservists and soldiers who manned the checkpoints. It was after all a way to ensure fair and responsible treatment of all people who passed through the checkpoint. Nira was especially welcome because whenever she came to the Shim’a checkpoint where Moshe was stationed, she would bring along potato burekas and baklava for the soldiers to eat.

Moshe looked down the long line of people in the waiting area. The oppressive heat of the day was noticeable, and there was a shimmer in the air from the heat coming off of the sand and the paved walkway. The people waiting to cross from the Palestinian area near Hebron into Be’er Sheva were a cross section of types. Some were in modern dress while others wore more traditional Muslim garb. Some wanted to come in to Israeli to shop, to work, to visit with relatives, and some came to kill. It was important to catch those with the killing agenda before innocent human life was sacrificed. Moshe looked closely at the individuals in the group closest to the ID table. There were many things to look for, individuals who seemed nervous, or whose clothing seemed more bulky than was warranted by the sultry temperature, or those who just seemed to look out of place. The people were held in the waiting area, and then one by one could approach the ID table, crossing a twenty foot open area before going through a metal detector. The metal detector was surrounded by sand bags to prevent the possibility of someone entering the detector and detonating a bomb that would send shrapnel flying in all directions.

What did a terrorist look like? The problem that now faced Moshe was that a terrorist could look like anyone. The man who was helping the woman sit down in one of the folding chairs could turn around and blow himself up in front of a coffee shop full of gossiping teenagers. The woman in a burka who was cradling her baby might leave the child with relatives, climb on a crowded bus and blow herself up. No one was beyond suspicion because even children were used to ferry explosives across the border so they could be used by others already in Israel. The goal was to be ever vigilant and not to let any emotions color perceptions either positively or negatively.

Moshe's eyes scanned the crowd before him. The temperature was nearing 100 F and the heat was starting to affect everyone. Hands were fanning faces and brows were being wiped. The cat-eyed glasses that watched him mercilessly appeared to be fogging on the edges. Moshe turned his attention back to the crowd. One man in particular caught his eye. The man was dressed in casual modern garb, white shirt, beige pants and sports coat. The man held a cell phone and was constantly juggling it from hand to hand and glancing at it. “Nervous” Moshe thought to himself. There were tiny beads of sweat on the man’s head, not that it was unusual, but the man made no move to wipe the sweat or to take off his jacket to cool himself. Moshe leaned forward and tapped the table to get the attention of his partner, Arik. Moshe didn’t take his eyes from the man, and knew that he had Arik’s attention by the tension that emanated from the muscles next to his. Arik was an older man, in his fifties, but he was a hardened soldier and had fought in the Yom Kippur War as a young man thirty years earlier. Moshe continued to watch the man in the sports coat while Arik finished with the paperwork for the woman and three children who were at the table. Nira ushered the family past the table to the Israeli side of the checkpoint.

"What do you think?" Arik whispered to Moshe as he shuffled the papers in his hands.

"I’m not sure," Moshe replied. "It could be perfectly innocent, but the man fits the profile, on his own, nervous mannerisms, maybe not dressed quite right for the temperature. Maybe he ’s just nervous because he ’s late for an appointment and has been waiting an hour at the checkpoint. Maybe something else."

"I'll alert the others." Arik pushed the button that would alert the regular army soldiers that were stationed in the bunker building several yards away that there might be a situation at the checkpoint. The soldiers would take their positions in the building, pointing their guns at the possible target, ready to storm the area if necessary. Moshe got up from his seat and waved off Nira who was coming back from her guide duties. Nira was not to be waved off. "What's the matter now?"

"Keep your voice down," Moshe commanded. "We just want to check into some things."

"Meaning you want to harass some poor person who just happens to fit your narrow racial stereotypes on what constitutes a troublemaker?"

"Nira, please! No one will be harassed. We just want to make sure that things are okay." Moshe gently took Nira’s arm, and turned her away from the ID table.

Arik moved around the table and raised his voice so he could be heard by the waiting crowd. "We have a few things that we have to check out and we would like your cooperation. Would the man with in the beige suit please step forward to be processed next? Please raise your arms above your head and step towards the metal detector."

"Please? Problem?" The man smiled and started to walk forward towards the metal detector as he stuffed his hands into the pockets of his sports coat. The others in the waiting area started to move backwards away from the scene.

"I said to raise your hands. Stop and raise your hands now," Arik shouted.

"Is there a problem?" the man continued to walk forward, hands in pocket and a puzzled smile on his face.

"Stop and raise your hands now!" Moshe and Arik both pulled the guns from their holsters and pointed them at the man.

The man stopped. "OK, OK." The smile on his face broadened as he pulled his hands from his pocket. As the right hand cleared his pocket, Moshe saw that the man still had the cell phone in hand and the man's fingers were moving towards the buttons. "Allahu Akbar," the man cried and Moshe pulled the trigger on his gun at the same instance. The bullet hit the man’s hand, making him drop the cell phone. The man fell and scrambled toward the phone with his left hand. Moshe shot again, hitting the sand between the man's hand and the cell phone. It was just enough time for Arik to leap onto the man's back and pin him to the ground.

Nira was screaming and crying. "I can't believe it. I am going to report this to your superiors. This is definite abuse. Can't you see the man was doing what you wanted?"

Moshe hurried over to help Arik. They pulled the man to his feet while soldiers hurried over from the barracks. Arik shouted to the soldiers, "I think there is something on his back. I felt it when I grabbed him." As the man squirmed and shouted at them in Arabic, and Nira shouted that she would be reporting the lot of them for their actions, the soldiers helped Arik and Moshe remove the man's sports coat and shirt. Taped to the man’s back was a package with a wireless device attached on top. "It looks like a Bluetooth receiver that could possibly be triggered for detonation from a device like a cell phone," the sergeant in charge of the battalion on guard said. The soldiers then led the man away so the bomb could be safely detached and detonated to the boos of the on looking crowd.

Moshe could see Nira's eyes through her lenses as she shaded them with her hand. Tears welled in her eyes, her lips trembled. She sat down in the chair, silent, shaking. Moshe squeezed her shoulder and called out for the next person to now step forward and come through the metal detector.