The Last Secret Of The Temple

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Authors: Paul Sussman
Sabra and Chatila? Rafah? This is a war, Miss Madani, and in war bad things happen.'
    'So if al-Mulatham approached you—'
    'I would consider it an honour. To become a shaheed, to martyr myself for my people, my God. I would consider myself lucky.'
    He was a handsome man, with large brown eyes and the hands of a piano player, long-fingered and delicate. She was interviewing him for an article about antiquities plunderers – young Palestinians who, because of the Israeli economic stranglehold on the Palestinian territories, had been reduced to stealing and selling ancient artefacts in order to make ends meet. The conversation had, as it always did with these sort of interviews, moved on to a wider discussion of Israeli military oppression, and thence to the subject of suicide bombing.
    'Look at me,' he said, shaking his head. 'Look at this.'
    He circled his hand, indicating the cheap, three-room cinder-block house, with its couches that doubled as beds and small primus stove in the corner.
    'Our family used to own a vineyard down near Bethlehem, two hundred dunum. Then the Zionists came and drove us out and all we are left with is this. I have a degree in engineering but cannot find employment because the Israelis have revoked my work permit, so I sell stolen antiquities so we can eat. Do you think this makes me feel good about myself? Do you think I have high hopes for the future? Believe me, if the chance to martyr myself came along I would jump at it. The more of them I kill the better. Women, children, it makes no difference. They are all guilty. I hate them. All of them.'
    He smiled, a thin, bitter expression that cracked the lower part of his face, revealing an immensity of fury and despair within. There was a silence, broken by the sound of children playing in the alleyway outside, then Layla closed her notebook and slipped it back into her bag.
    'Thank you, Yunis.'
    The man shrugged, but said no more.
    She joined her driver Kamel outside and together they bumped their way out of the camp, the car slaloming down a potholed road and onto the main Ramallah-Jerusalem highway where they joined a queue of traffic stacked up behind the Kalandia checkpoint. To their left the drab camp buildings spread away across a hillside, grey and ramshackle, like a bed of decaying coral; to their right the runway of Atarot airport lay flat and lifeless, as if someone had slashed a line of dirty yellow paint across the landscape. Ahead, four lanes of stationary traffic stretched off up the road like dusty ribbons, tapering to a single lane at the Israeli roadblock two hundred metres further on, where documents were being checked and vehicles searched. It was a pointless exercise – anybody who didn't have the requisite papers could simply skirt the checkpoint on foot and pick up a lift on the far side – but the Israelis insisted on doing it, less for security reasons than to humiliate the Palestinians, show them who was boss. No-one fucks with us, that was the message. We're in control.
    'Kosominumhum kul il-Israelieen,' muttered Layla, dropping her head back and staring up at the car ceiling. 'Fucking Israelis.'
    Twenty minutes passed, the queue remaining exactly as it was, and eventually, throwing open the car door, she got out. She walked up and down, stretching her legs, then reached back into the car and pulled out her camera, a Nikkon D1X digital, removing it from its case and switching it on, fiddling with the lens.
    'Watch it,' said Kamel, his head leant forward on the steering wheel in anticipation of the long wait to come. 'You know what happened the last time you took photos at a checkpoint.'
    How could she forget? The Israelis had confiscated her camera, spent an hour taking apart Kamel's car and, just for good measure, given her a strip-search as well.
    'I'll be careful,' she said. 'Trust me.'
    A large brown eye swivelled towards her.
    'Miss Madani, you are the least trustworthy person I know. With your face you say one

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