It was back to the classroom the week after Rosh Hashana, but as always there was a late afternoon booking for them on the ranges. They waited for the first presentation to start, full of conjecture.
“What is it this morning?” Batya asked.
“It says Arab studies, according to the timetable,” Zelig told them.
Afarin put her head in her hands, “Oh God, not more Arab history. I lost the will to live after the last session.”
Two youngish women were led into the classroom by the course director, and he introduced them as make-up and continuity artists for Tel Aviv TV Dramas at the Israel Broadcasting Authority. Freida made them a coffee while the women told them the purpose of their visit.
“We will be here for the next two days and in that time, we’re going to make you look and think like Arabs. Let’s start with the basics.”
One of the women started to look at the course members, scrutinising their faces closely. She stopped and looked at Dan, “You will need to dye your hair. It’s too blonde. You will also have to wear contact lenses because your eyes are blue.”
She stopped went on and stopped at Freida, “Same for you I’m afraid, dear. You look like some bimbo from the country club.”
“Wait a damned minute…!”
“Figure of speech, dear. Don’t take it personally.”
She stopped at Afarin and looked at her, “You are an Arab.”
“No, she is Persian!” Dan said in a playful voice, “But she doesn’t like telling anybody…”
“All right everyone. We have brought along our dressing up trunk, so you can pick some clothes. In the meantime, I’ll hand you over to my colleague who will give you the history of Israel from an Arab perspective.”
The other woman fired up a PowerPoint presentation, “Israel has been a Jewish-majority country since its founding in 1948, and its treatment of religious and ethnic minorities – including some groups within the Jewish community – has persisted as a hotly debated topic throughout the nation’s history.
“That debate continues today. For example, the issue recently arose when Moshe Yaalon resigned as Israel’s defence minister. Yaalon said he had “fought with all my might against phenomena of extremism, violence and racism in Israeli society that threaten its fortitude,” but had lost faith in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. As most people have.
“And yet most Israeli Jews do not believe that intolerance is a major problem in Israel, even when it comes to their frequently tense relations with the country’s Arab population. For example, only about one-in-five Israeli Jews (21%) say there is a lot of discrimination in Israeli society against Muslims, who make up the vast majority of Israeli Arabs. By contrast, roughly four-in-five Israeli Arabs (79%) say there is a lot of discrimination against Muslims, according to a recent Pew Research Centre survey of religion in Israel.”
“We discriminate against the Arabs because they try to blow our children into pieces of offal, with bus bombs!” Zelig said in an agitated manner, “That’s why we built the fucking wall.”
“It’s good that you strongly debate these issues. Please believe me, we are not taking sides, just showing the Arab viewpoint. We come from Israel’s TV studios, so we are just lefty sh’giyah , aren’t we?” the woman said quietly, well used to hostile audiences.
“Arabs also are more likely than Jews to perceive Israeli society as discriminatory toward a variety of other social and demographic groups. For instance, about a third of Israeli Arabs (34%) say there is a lot of discrimination against gay men and lesbians in Israel, compared with 20% of Jews who say the same. And four-in-ten Arabs (versus a quarter of Jews) say there is a lot of discrimination against women.
“Indeed, Israeli Arabs are more likely than Jews even to say there is a lot of discrimination against secular (Hiloni) Jews (21% vs. 9%), Mizrahi Jews of Middle Eastern or Mediterranean descent (33% vs. 21%) and Ethiopian Jews (44% vs. 36%) in Israeli society.
“Israeli Jews are far more likely to perceive anti-Semitism around the world than discrimination in their own country. Virtually all say anti-Semitism is very common (64%) or somewhat common (35%) around the world, and three-quarters (76%) say it is not only common but increasing. The perception of rising anti-Semitism abroad is coupled with about eight-in-ten Israeli Jews (79%) saying Jews deserve preferential treatment in Israel. Could we have another cup of coffee please?”
Batya went to make two coffees, but Dan stopped her, “You couldn’t make a decent coffee if your life depended on it. I’ll do it.”
“Yes, but she does have other, endearing talents, doesn’t she, Dan?”
Batya looked down, suddenly mortified, her face flushing bright red.
“A survey also asked non-Jews in Israel whether they have faced specific instances of discrimination due to their religious identity within the past year, including being prevented from traveling, being stopped and questioned by security forces, being physically attacked and questioned or suffering property damage. Most Muslims in Israel (63%) say they have not personally faced one of these types of discrimination in the past 12 months. But the other 37% say they have experienced at least one of these things recently.
“At the same time, there are some positive interactions, too. About a quarter of Israeli Muslims (26%) say a Jewish person has expressed sympathy toward them because of their religious identity within the past year.”
“So, there is hope for the future. Jews and Palestinians need to just get on with each other, but that remains problematic when Israel is being used to fight a proxy war between Islam and the West. Well, that concludes the boring bit. Does anyone have any questions?”
There were none and they took a break, a few chatting with the women from the TV Company and eating cookies. Afarin went outside for a cigarette. She pondered on her strange life and the journey she had taken from Derby to Israel, suddenly feeling a pang of homesickness. Oh, Jean-Claude, I wish you were here with me.
Back inside the classroom there were two large trunks full of Arab clothing. They each chose two outfits and went to try them on for size. They also gave them assorted make up and contact lenses for Dan and Freida.
“OK you men. You may have to darken the areas on your face where you shave and the ladies may have to slightly darken your skin,” The woman looked at Afarin, “Try to go for this lady’s colour.”
Dan and Freida were fitted with contact lenses, then trooped out to dye their hair. Afarin helped the others with makeup, showing them the results in a mirror, “Too much I think, Heyfa. You look too dark.”
She went up to have a word with the women visitors, “I’ve done this before. It’s important to point out to them that Arab women have a different gait when they walk. I can demonstrate if you like.”
“Do it this afternoon after lunch.”
“Do you want to join us in the mess hall?”
“That would be good thank you. Do you have Arabs in the IDF?”
“Oh yes. Watch them and you’ll see what I mean,” Afarin told them, “Especially the new recruits. The problem is that after a few weeks, they start to walk like the men. It’s a military thing.”
The two women did join them for lunch and spent most of their time people watching in the mess hall. They seemed fascinated by the Jews, Arabs and Christians and their comings and goings, the way they greeted people. Afarin explained:
“At the moment they have affinity to their different ethnic groups. Once they join their units, their Affinity will change, as they bond with others in their section, platoon, or tank crew. Have you never done military service?”
“We are pacifists. The Israeli High Court of Justice ruled in 2002 that refusal to serve was legal on the grounds of unqualified pacifism, but “selective refusal” which accepted some duties and not others was illegal. So, you see, we’re refuseniks and both of have served time in prison, until our cases were approved. They do not treat refuseniks well in prison. Do you disapprove of our stance as an Israeli citizen?”
“I am not an Israeli citizen. I am British. All our armed forces are volunteers, so you see, I couldn’t give a toss. You are serving your country in a way that suits your beliefs and have given up your time to help us and for that, we thank you.”
The woman smiled in relief and asked: “Do you mind having to cart those rifles around with you all the time?”
“You do get used to it, but it’s a bit of a bind to be honest.”
Back in the classroom that afternoon, the course members went in for some serious dressing-up. Dan had gone for the Muslim cleric look, complete with beard and Keffiyeh headscarf, although his eyes were watering with the contact lenses. Efrayim went with the prosperous Arab look, wearing a suit with a Keffiyeh. Gad was a Palestinian doctor, again complete with keffiyeh and a stethoscope round his neck. Zelig had gone for the workman look, complete with safety equipment and a hard hat.
Afarin turned out as a working-class Palestinian woman, complete with a wicker basket of shopping on her head, as a prop. Both Heyfa and Batya had decided to go full Arabic, in long jilbabs with a niqab.
“Don’t have to worry about my hair,” Batya explained, a statement her course members found most amusing and lacking in self-awareness regarding her hair.
Freida had decided to be a shop keeper, dressed in bright clothes and a black niqab that showed her face. Aisha was dressed as a prosperous Arab woman, dressed in a suit with a briefcase and a loosely wound Shayla resting on her shoulders. The women from the TV studios inspected them closely.
“All of these disguises are very good, but you must remember you will be playing a part,” she looked at Gad, “My friend has collapsed in the street. Please help me, doctor. What would you do?”
“Tell her to get undressed,” Dan said, once again playing for laughs.
“And I have a matter regarding the holy Quran for this great, Muslim cleric. Now Persian lady. You were going to show us the way Arab women walk.”
Afarin stood up and went to the front of the class, “The problem for we females in the military have, is we don’t walk like women, especially Arab women. We carry arms the masculine way. Now Arab women being shrouded in hot, shapeless clothes have few ways of expressing their sexuality. So, when they walk, they shimmy their arses, like so.”
She hoisted the basket on her head and walked up and down the room.
“Oh my,” said Zelig.
“I have a canoe in my trousers,” Efrayim said to no one in particular.
“I may be a holy man, but have her washed and brought to my tent,” Dan offered, unable to take his eyes off her arse.
“OK ladies. Your turn.”
Heyfa and Batya got the hang of it straight away. Freida took a little longer and Aisha would never pick it up. They spent the afternoon discussing Arab traits, such as clearing their throat and spitting in public and women walking behind men. It was time for their range practice. They thanked the two women, changed, and headed out. One of them called to Afarin as she left.
“Can we see you tomorrow morning? We are staying in the apartments.”
“That’s where I am accommodated.”
“Fine. I’ll wait outside for you.”
The next morning, the class was assembled apart from Afarin.
“Where is she? I saw her talking to the Arab recruits in the mess and then no sign.”
“Probably telling them that she is Persian and not Arabic,” Dan said with a chuckle.
Heyfa was the last in and they all asked her where Afarin was.
“She said she had to change some kit at the stores and will be in a bit later.”
The two women from the TV company came in, “Good morning, all. Your accommodation is a lot better than we thought it would be.”
“They spoil us,” Efrayim said.
“Well, we’re so lucky today to have an Arab gentleman who fought in the six-day war and the Yom Kippur war. He is quite frail and a bit deaf, but we thought he could give you a perspective from an Arab viewpoint.”
One of ladies went into another room and led an old Arab man into the classroom and sat him down at the front of the class.
“Can I get you anything?” she asked the old man.
“Could I have a glass of water?” he asked in a thin, raspy voice.
The other woman went to fetch one, while the other woman introduced him to the class.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is Mr Ahmed, who fought on the Arab side of the two major wars last century.”
They looked at him curiously. He was wearing an old thawb, sandals and a typical headdress. He had a white beard, and his hands shook when he took the water from the other woman. He had liver spots on his hands.
“Perhaps you’d like to tell us about the Six Day War, Mr Ahmed.”
His bloodshot eyes had a faraway look, “I was a member of the Jordanian Legion, a commando. We were defending the Holy City of Jerusalem and my unit was dug in on ammunition hill. Their paratroopers attacked us, coming up the hill. We killed the Jews’ commanders, and the fighting was hand to hand, in the trenches and bunkers of the hill. We killed so many that day, their bodies piled on the parapets of our trenches. It was good. We liked killing Jews, so many but not enough.”
The members of the course looked at each other in disbelief. They certainly weren’t expecting this.
“Well, err, thank you Mr Ahmed. That was most instructive…”
“I like fighting Jews. I would like to fight you all, especially you…” he said pointing a shaking finger at Dan.
Dan stood up, “I’m not listening to any more of his offensive rubbish.”
The old Arab stood up as well, “Are you scared Brave Mr Paratrooper?”
His voice was now a higher pitch. Dan was ready to lead a class walkout.
“Cowards!” the Arab said. He pulled off his headdress and shook out a shock of luxuriant, black hair. Then he? Pulled the white beard off, grimacing at the theatrical glue. Then the trousers and sandals, revealing a small, tight pair of women’s briefs. She undid the shirt.
“You’ll forgive me for keeping the breast bindings on. A girl must have some secrets.”
They stared at Afarin Khan, who gave a deep bow, “You can hire me for bar and bat mitzvahs. Very competitive rates.”
“Fucking hell!” said Heyfa. Dan was laughing at her as well as himself. Zelig started to clap, while the others stared on in shock.
“Excuse me, but I need to get these bloody contact lenses out and let my tits have some freedom, after being trussed up.”
“She has a way with words and went off script a little,” One of the TV women said. “But it very capably illustrates those simple disguises, makeup and the right clothing can change a person’s age and gender. For the rest of the morning, you can have a try and we’ll help you with the makeup. This afternoon you can show everyone your efforts.”
Hoffman came out of the course director’s office, and he was extremely worried. He had asked the question three times and, in the end, insisted on the orders in writing.
“I’m no happier about it than you are, Staff Hoffman. But the go ahead comes from her boss. I don’t know why, but there it is. Look on the bright side. It will give your team a good opportunity to train. Two birds with one stone.”
He had taken the rest of the afternoon off and took Kalev for a long walk through the pine woods, unhappy thoughts swirling around in his mind. When he got back his wife picked up on his thoughtful mood.
“What ails you, Azriel?”
“I have been instructed to do something that I class as cruel and immoral. Something to do with the course and two of its members.”
“Would that be your little friend, Afarin and her Lebanese friend?” Abila asked with a hint of sarcasm.
Hoffman had never seen this side of his wife before. And then he understood. She was jealous, jealous of a mere girl young enough to be his daughter.
“You have no idea what they are going to do to her. I can’t understand it.”
“There must be a reason and I’m not stupid. I know what goes on, supposedly in my name, but I don’t like it.”
Hoffman sighed, “Don’t worry with dinner tonight. I must go out for a meeting, and I’ll bring some Chinese noodles when I come home.”
The room was full of cigarette smoke and aromatic tobacco. There were eighteen of them and the briefing officer. On the table in front of him were blown-up photographs that each member of the course had taken in the first week. They were sober and in uniform, photographs that would go into their personal files, nine pictures.
“Good evening, gentlemen. These are the individuals you will be dealing with, and I’ll start with these two,” Hoffman held up the photographs, “He is tough, and a fighter so be careful. She is extremely brave, so don’t be fooled by that cute little face and her fetching bedraggled hair. The two of them are an item for leverage. He will stand it, but perhaps it will be different when he sees her being worked on.
“The next two are both air force and have done something similar before. This one is a soldier, Golani Brigade and very tough and he will try to fight you. This one is in Intelligence and very much an unknown quantity. Don’t break him, he is valuable to us.
“This is the one we’re worried about. Please don’t hurt her too much and stop if she starts to spill the beans. Then we will know. These two are an item. They are not Israeli, and both are extremely tough. This one I have been told and given written orders, can be processed no holds barred. You can do what you do as much as you like, with two provisos: No leaving any marks and no permanent disability.”
A man scrutinised the photographs of two women, “Are you sure?”
“I’m not sure, but I have written orders with a copy for you and your team. I really don’t like this.”
“Me neither. Let’s hope it won’t come to that.”
“You don’t know them. It will.”
sh’giyah – Tits (As in useless).
© Blown Periphery 2022