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Peace, Love and Lies, Page 1

Oren Sanderson

  Peace, Love and Lies

  by Oren Sanderson

  Copyright © 2017 Itzhak Oren

  Contact information: [email protected]

  It is prohibited to copy, Xerox, photograph, record, translate, store in a database, broadcast or transmit in any form or by any electronic, optical or mechanical means any part of the material featured in this book. Any commercial use of said material is strictly prohibited, unless given explicit permission from the author in writing.

  Table of contents:

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  * * *

  Chapter 1

  The beeper went off, signaling the start of the three stormiest days of my life.

  I was sitting at my large desk on the twentieth floor of the Ne’ot Aviv building. The office was among the three best decorated in Tel Aviv. Decorating it was the first thing I had done on my second day. It had been a functional consideration. State of the art decoration improves your team’s self-esteem and as a result, they try harder. This was something I had learned from Theo, my step-grandfather. I was ignoring the original paintings and gazing at the sea outside the wide window and trying to follow the flight path of a seagull in the hazy sky. My head had been empty for quite some time, and all in all, I was calm and satisfied with no premonition of things to come.

  My beeper beeped and the adrenaline started rushing through my blood as usual. It was not supposed to. I was running the office and was supposed to stay calm no matter what, but I couldn’t help it. “A number of soldiers were shot at a bus station in Hadera, no casualties,” I read off the beeper screen. It wasn’t a story. Not yet. Only three soldiers; just a shoot by. This happened too often.

  “No story,” I told Haroush, who had appeared from nowhere and was standing by me, silently. He was the director of operations and didn’t even try to overrule me. Even the look on his face didn’t change to the usual doubtfulness he manifested most of the time. I was in a nasty mood. “The problem with this government,” I said, continuing a previous argument, “is that it always behaves wisely only once it has exhausted all other alternatives.” I was quoting the great Abba Eban. Haroush was not impressed. “Anyway,” I went on. “As long as you are going downstairs, bring me some pizza with anchovies and onions.”

  He gave me with a gloomy look, his sparse mustache pointing downwards. He tried to hide a sigh.

  “For a girl your age, you sure talk like an old woman.”

  This wasn’t the first time he had told me this. He was at least fifty years old. The sleeves of his white shirt were rolled up to below the elbow and his thinning hair was carefully combed back. He was the government’s lackey; any government’s lackey. He was certain that behind every dumb decision there must always be some deep and sophisticated thought. He had spent most of his days as a drill sergeant at the Schneller Camp in Jerusalem. But the sly glimmer in his eyes was proof that despite the obvious signs of aging, he was still a hard man to break. He had a good grasp of basic English, but couldn’t handle the bosses in Atlanta, nor the cameramen and sound crew who always complained about their pay. For me, it was easy to tell them that it is what it is, and if they don’t like it, they can leave. Haroush was highly efficient, but his heart was too soft.

  I needed him very badly. At all of twenty-two years old, and with three-quarters of a degree in communications I’d begun in New York and almost completed in Tel Aviv, someone once told me I was not much more than a little birdie with a lot of luck. I didn’t think so. It was certainly not just luck. Such things do not happen out of the blue.

  I may have landed the position of CNN’s office manager for Israel by a touch of luck. Nobody that I knew dared to doubt my skills, but for honesty’s sake, it was pretty obvious that I certainly benefitted from the strings that Danny, my mother’s husband, had pulled on my behalf. For him, it was an easy way to pay his fatherly dues. I was not impressed and didn’t care what his reasons were. I had an office car, a director of operations, and a driver—crazy Sigal—who was also the office receptionist when required. I wasn’t going to let anyone ruin it for me.

  Stanley, the bureau chief, who received the biggest paycheck in our office, was the network’s senior man on the ground but spent most of his time out of the country. He had once told Haroush that he had come to trust my good sense and my natural knack for order. He had once told the media advisor of Prime Minister Rabin that what impressed him the most was my honesty, which never ceased to amaze him. I never hid the truth from him, whether on major issues or minor things and including my own blunders.

  He preferred the meetings in Atlanta and loved going on special assignments to Africa, which was his true specialty. That’s how I could hire any cameraman I wanted and any soundman I liked. Many media professionals became my friends overnight. Other were waiting for my downfall, and I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them were in both camps at the same time. I didn’t mind. I managed to deliver results and I felt great.

  “Lots of onion on that pizza,” I concluded.

  I loved to look at the Tel Aviv skyline. From the twentieth floor, it looked a little bit like Nice, on the French Riviera. The sea appeared so close and yet so very far. From this distance, it always seemed so clean and wonderful. The night before, I had gone to sleep at four in the morning. There had been a reception at the American ambassador’s residence and then a bar crawl with a handsome Japanese Zionist, the local correspondent for Asahi Shimbun. I was all prepared to simply make sure that everything was alright in the office before returning at noon to my flat at the Officers’ Row, and to sleep, sleep, sleep.

  The beeper buzzed again making me jump. I pulled it off my belt and looked. “Car bomb at Ben Gurion International Airport, probably twelve dead and an unknown number of wounded.” The time stamp for the event showed 11:45. I checked my watch. It had happened ten minutes ago. That’s almost real time. My first thought was, “Oh, those guys at the beeper center are really good.” That was followed by, “My noon nap is gone,” and then, “Where the hell is Ehrlich, our tipper?” Ehrlich, the police correspondent for the Yediot newspaper made a few thousand shekels extra each month behind the back of his editors—two hundred shekels from me for every tip—if he gave us the news before we read it on the wires.

  “Haroush,” I shouted, although there was no need, he was already in the room.

  “A coke with that pizza?” he said trying to be nice.

  “Two teams to Ben Gurion Airport now!” I tried to sound wry. “There’s been an explosion. And send a fax to the newsroom in Atlanta to let them know we are on our way. Where the hell is Ehrlich?” Haroush was well trained. In all honesty, it was he who actually ran the office, but he let me play manager and eased me into my job.

  “Leave Ehrlich alone for now. Let him get organized,” he said drily.

  In the elevator, on the way down I called my mother on the cell phone.

  “Have you heard?”

  She hadn’t. I heard her suck in her breath. “Have I heard what?”

  “The news;
a car bomb at Ben Gurion.”

  “What about Danny?” she asked.

  I hadn’t even thought about him; the cabinet secretary. In an hour and a half, a plane was about to leave, for the next round of peace talks in Cairo, with him on board. Departure would certainly be delayed. But as for him—nothing would happen to him. Nothing. Nothing ever happened to him and nothing ever will. He is immune. But she was still worried. She was, after all, married to him.

  My father for the past fourteen years, Danny Taylor, had been the foreign minister’s favorite boy and was now the new loyal servant to the prime minister and minister of defense. He was the newly appointed cabinet secretary, an all-powerful rising star so often quoted by the prime minister and so rarely credited by him. He was the man behind the scenes and mostly in front of the curtain; a master of the media, the magic maker of peace, the promise of the future, and the best was yet to come.

  “He’s OK, you have nothing to worry about,” I stated with confidence as if I knew something she didn’t.

  On the ramp down to the Ayalon Freeway, Haroush stuck to the tail of a police squad car zooming in and out of traffic in a wild chase with sirens blaring. In less than ten minutes we were at the airport entrance. Haroush, who knew all the cops, passed one checkpoint but was not allowed to get any closer. He turned abruptly crossing the emergency lane between two oil barrels and braking hard on the sidewalk. We hopped out of the car, flashing our press cards. Among the crews, we saw ours too. The second crew was on its way from Haifa, but we could start with just one.

  The scene was awful. A black crater as large as a compact car was torn open in the road in front of the arrivals hall. The layers of tar and cement under the road were blackened. Shards of torn metal and pieces of tin were scattered all around. The windows at the front of the building had all shattered and the sidewalk was covered with a glimmering patina of shredded glass.

  In an improvised first aid station set up by the army, stretchers were lined up and paramedics were setting up IV lines. Some were cursing and others biting their lips, trying not to avert their eyes from the horror and occasionally pulling a sheet over the face of someone who had passed away. Only the shoes protruded from beneath the sheets that covered the corpses. I saw a pair of mountain-climbing boots, a girl’s sneakers, and a pair of finely polished black shoes. I stared at them, as if in a trance. The death toll had risen to sixteen. Ambulances came and left in perfect order. There was a terrible silence. Hours, days, and months of training now kicked in for the caretakers.

  There was a small and ominous package where two terminal walls converged. Only when I approached it did I see an almost complete arm, from the shoulder down, covered in the torn sleeve of a white shirt, wearing a feminine wristwatch, and a ring with a green jade stone. It was a pile of body parts. The fingers were blackened and swollen. Was the hand holding something before being blown up? I felt a huge, choking lump in my throat. I thought I was going to be sick. Three elderly soldiers with beards, wearing white gloves, were working diligently and wrapping the body parts. I approached the pile. “Shira!” I heard the cameraman who had arrived with me call out. I didn’t reply.

  One of the bearded men was compassionately holding the severed head of an old man, half emaciated. Carefully, he turned the complete half of the face towards his colleague who was holding an old Leica camera and taking pictures.

  “It’s for identification,” he explained apologetically, like a young paramedic agonizing over the pain he was inflicting while wrapping a bandage on a patient.

  “Shira!” the cameraman shouted again, grabbed my shoulder and pulled me away. An old tourist wearing only one shoe and holding his head in both hands was walking in circles and mumbling in German.

  “Get him on camera,” I whispered to the cameraman, my voice choking, as I released myself from his grip. I was getting back to myself. The cameraman shot me a quick glance, hesitated for a moment and started following the tourist and shooting. I recalled my view of the sea twenty minutes earlier, or was it half an hour, or an eternity? The weather had cleared. The sky at the airport was blue and clear, the same as in Tel Aviv. I would have given much to go back there; to relax for a moment. The nausea in my throat had passed but the heavy smell of gunpowder and scorching continued to pound at my temples. The Border Patrol soldiers were keeping the crowds away with a firm hand. Ambulances continued to come and go in a slow dance, evacuating the corpses and driving them away. Grim workers with shovels began clearing the debris. There was the ticking sound of helicopters. “Top brass are arriving,” said a soldier and adjusted the hem of his uniform trousers.

  My crew worked well. They walked around looking for graphic stories. The ones that would be etched in the viewers’ memories during the next day or two; human tissue smeared on the ceiling, soot that was stuck to the walls, and shocked faces all around. This should give us some good footage. We were there together with another American crew. The third was lagging behind. There was no doubt that CNN would be the first on the air. The anchor in Atlanta had announced the bombing twice already, with an old slide of Ben Gurion Airport in the background. I started looking for Martin, our correspondent. “Footage is nice but it isn’t enough; we need a story,” I told Haroush.

  “Martin will be here in five minutes.” Haroush closed one eye, a clear sign that he was struggling to concentrate. “We should start climbing the control tower, get the full picture and try to cover the event. Nobody has the full story yet. Soon the kids from Army Radio will start shoving in with their mikes. It’s better to stick with them because, as you know, most of the time, they get the best stories first. I’ll see what I can do.”

  Rachely from the Government Press Office, that war-weary and overweight battleship, was pushing her way through while waving a cell phone, holding briefing papers, a folder, and a scarf. She was an old spinster, with a heavy, wrinkled face, and trying to be invited to the right meetings and parties. Most of the year she complained of being mistreated, underappreciated, or in bad health, but not now. She was at her best now, hollering orders, chasing away journalists, and explaining very authoritatively to whoever was ready to listen, what was happening.

  “Is there a press briefing?” I tried asking her quietly. I was CNN after all.

  “In twenty minutes, behind the VIP Lounge,” she replied and plowed on.

  “What about the foreign minister’s entourage?” I shouted as she walked off.

  She gave me her, “Who the hell are you anyway?” look and muttered her all-knowing burp, “The minister will brief you guys right after the homeland security briefing. It’s all tied together and one won’t stop the other.”

  I didn’t much like these briefings, even though I was pretty good at them. The need to rub elbows with the boys, the need to suck up and hobnob; and yet it was important for me to get the full picture, and find out more. To know, for example, how Danny was doing and perhaps understand where he was running in his infinite race, other than with the obvious goals of bringing peace for us and glory for himself.

  I took out my press pass and started climbing up the stairs of the control tower. From a temp job I once had, I knew that the tactical headquarters, or THQ, would be on the air traffic control floor. Three large-bodied security types, accompanied by a policeman, were blocking the corridor down the road. I looked through them as if they were transparent and sneaked into the ladies’ room. It was clear that they were about to evict everyone from the area. The mayhem was unbearable. Soon, someone would start putting order to this mess, but until then, I needed to grab as much as I could. Looking in the mirror, I stared into a pair of brown eyes, which were probably my best feature. The rest actually looked like a twelve-year-old girl: short-cropped, straight brown hair, a t-shirt from the Deauville Marina Club, two sizes too large for my body and hiding a tiny chest, and those eyes—“Warm, hard and magnetic,” in the words of Ronny, the one cameraman I loved. So be it.

  I snuck out of the ladies’ room, pushed a
door marked “Employees Only – No Entrance” and climbed the hard metal staircase one-and-a-half flights up to a narrow corridor lined with peeling linoleum. The third door down led to the security department’s briefing room. Four years ago, over summer, I had tried to work at airport security as a baggage searcher, sniffing through clothes, asking questions that were answered with a mixture of revulsion and panic even before the question was complete. I held that job for exactly two weeks before going to Eilat and never returning to that place, but I did know the security briefing room.

  A small, tight-faced, and very confident secretary was organizing the room; filling pitchers with water and trying to shove as many chairs as possible around the tiny table.

  “Getting ready for the briefing?” I tried to sound sweet and supportive.

  The short one looked at me for a long while, slowly chewing her gum. “You’re from NBC, aren’t you?” It wasn’t accurate but I wasn’t arguing.

  “Tell me just one thing. Which terror organization? How many people? What happened to the terrorist?”

  “How did you get in anyway? And that’s not just one thing,” she stated unsurprisingly.

  “Just tell me that.”

  “And then you’re out of here?” she suggested and chewed on.

  “Yes, sure. I wasn’t even here.”

  “It’s the Hamas, Izz ad-Din al-Qassam. We already received the tape. One terrorist blown up. Seventeen killed and thirty-two evacuated so far.”

  I escaped to the corridor. I went down to my ladies’ room once again, closed the door to the stall, and leaned my back against it. I tried to reach Martin on the phone.

  “Hi Shira,” he said in his soft voice and calm and quiet American accent. Nothing could faze this man. “What’s up?” he went on. “I’m going on the air in a sec; you’d better come.”

  “Izz ad-Din al-Qassam assumed responsibility. There is no official word yet but the info is gold. Seventeen killed, thirty-two wounded, the terrorist is decimated. Where will you do it? In front of the crater?”