The border police had rounded up about two dozen men, nearly all between twenty-five and forty-five, and mostly dressed for construction work. A few carried metal lunch pails and tool belts. Most carried nothing, only some cigarettes peeking out of a shirt pocket. They were lined up along the guardrail, several layers deep. When one of the older men tried to sit down, the tall Druze* waved his gun at the old haj and screamed “Kum!” Stand Up! in Hebrew. Rania hated it when Druze spoke Hebrew to the people, as if they were too good to speak their native Arabic.
“Why can’t they sit down?” she asked in Arabic.
“Usquti,” shut up, came out of his mouth in a bored snarl. She walked straight up to him and looked up into his face. Her head would just fit under his chin.
“Why shut up?” she asked. “What did they do? It is hot, they are old, they want to sit down. Why should you care?”
“Mush shuulik,” he snarled. It’s not your business. At least she had succeeded in getting him to speak Arabic.
“Get lost, or I will beat you,” he promised, waving his gun slightly to show her how, “even if you are a woman.”
Rania was irrationally amused by his emphasis, not sure if he meant to suggest that she might not be a woman. She put all her concentration into not laughing, which would probably really push him to violence. Chloe raised her video camera. He noticed and turned toward her.
“Close the camera,” he said in English.
“CLOSE IT!” he bellowed, starting to lunge toward her.
Chloe snapped the screen shut and lowered the camera, although Rania noticed that the red recording light was still on. As Rania had the thought, Chloe covered the light with her thumb.
The other soldiers lounged nearby, watching the interaction as if it were a soccer match. The tall one kept up a running commentary, punctuating his words with chuckles. Chloe strolled over to him. Rania moved to where she could hear their conversation without being drawn in.
“That man is very violent,” Chloe said. “Can’t you get him to calm down?”
“He is the commander,” the young man responded. “The Arabs call him ‘Top Killer.’”
“Why do they call him that?”
“He says he killed three Arabs in one day, for no reason.”
“That’s terrible,” Chloe said. “You know, these men are only trying to feed their families.”
“They have to learn that they cannot work in Israel,” he said with a shrug.
“Well, you’re working in Palestine,” Chloe said. He laughed. Chloe pulled a pamphlet out of her backpack and handed it to the soldier.
“What is it?” he asked.
“It’s written by soldiers, for other soldiers, to tell them why they should not fight in the Occupied Territories.”
To Rania’s surprise, he started reading it right away. He didn’t speak again until he had read every word.
“Where are you from, America?” he asked when he was done.
“What’s the matter,” he said. “You don’t have enough problems in America, you have to come here? Look what you are doing in Iraq.”
“I agree,” she said, “that’s a problem too.”
“Why don’t you go there?” he asked.
“It’s too dangerous right now. I hope maybe when I am done with my work here, I will be able to go there.”
“What is your work here?” he asked.
“I work for peace,” Chloe said.
“I am also working for peace,” and he rattled the gun that hung by his side. Chloe’s pamphlet didn’t seem to have had much impact.
“Peace will never be won with guns,” Chloe said. “In my country and yours, we all need to understand that.”
“Please go to Iraq as soon as possible,” he said and walked away.
* Druze are the only sect of Palestinians living in Israel who have historically joined the Israeli armed forces.