The Voice of Jacob But the Hands of Esau
INTRODUCTION: The newest installment in Israel365’s project of presenting the weekly Torah portion in a modern setting of creative fiction. Kobi thinks he is leaving Israel to backpack around the world but he is called upon to perform a difficult and dangerous mission: to impersonate an Arab businessman in the United Arab Emirates in order to pave the way for a future peace agreement with Israel. Though written as a spy novel, the Biblically minded will recognize the characters, the plot, and the Divine hand that guided Kobi back home.
Kobi sat down in the cafeteria, tired and hot from the climb. Jordan had just opened their borders to Israelis and though no one believed that politicians’ hype that the Jordanians welcomed Israelis with open arms, Kobi grew up in Bet Shean staring across the Jordan Valley, wondering what was on the other side of the Biblical river. As soon as he handed in his uniform to the IDF and filled out the paperwork, he began to plan his trip to every exotic place he had ever heard of. Raised in a small border town, penned in by poverty and later by army service, he ached to bust out and cross as many borders as humanly possible.
But after three years of mandatory service Petra had been magnificent; an ancient city that seemed to have grown out of the red rocks. It was the obvious draw but Koibi had taken his trip to Jordan off the official tourist path. He was a Kohen and though he had, like his father before him, rejected the religious lifestyle, family was important and he had always wanted to visit the Tomb of Aaron. Rather than return directly after touring Petra, Kobi paid the Jordanian guide a small bribe to look the other way while he set off alone to climb Mount Hor. The path to the Muslim shrine marking the site was clearly marked on his map but Kobi only followed it part of the way. He did not want to deal with any Jordanian authorities so a few kilometers before the peak, Kobi turned into a wadi that ran parallel to the path. He had served in a special unit that was trained to operate behind enemy lines without being detected. The training had included learning Arabic and Kobi’s Sephardic roots which meant that if caught, he had a good chance of avoiding complications.
The risk had been worth it. Though not religious, Kobi was deeply spiritual and his tour of Jordan, or the parts of Jordan open to Israelis, was his first stop on his way to India where he intended to spend some time investigating ashrams.
He purchased a large bottle of water and sat down to rehydrate. He strongly suspected that the restaurant filled the bottle directly from the tap but Kobi decided it was worth paying a little for deliciously cold water. Kobi sat, enjoying the air-conditioning, think about the world tour he was about to take and the path that had led to him sitting there.
Like most Israelis, he had spent his time in the army dreaming about a life without uniforms, order, officers, or rules. It was natural to stand at attention in formation with one hundred other young men, toning out the screaming officer while concentrating on dreams of freedom. But Kobi had not hated the army. Even more so the opposite. Though he would never admit it, he had loved his army experience. Twelve years of schooling taught Kobi that he was a loser and an outcast. Being undisciplined and a rebellious loner, he was entirely unsuited for any of the top commando units that were all about working as a group. As he advanced through the year-long rigorous selection process, Kobi watched as the top students and the jocks got channeled into the most appealing army courses. Just as he got used to being in the low-level classes in school, Kobi came to terms with the sure knowledge that he would spend the next three years as a jobnik, the army’s equivalent of minimum wage mind-numbing make-work. After a ridiculous meeting with a young woman who asked him silly questions supposed to determine his emotional suitability to carry a gun, a tough-looking young man in civilian clothes pulled Kobi out of line and took him into a side office. Kobi sat alone for twenty minutes until an older man in civilian clothes entered. He was at least thirty-five years old but Kobi had learned on the streets how to evaluate men at a glance and the look in the man’s eyes made it clear to Kobi that this was not a person to be messed with. He questioned Kobi about his childhood, asking him how many siblings he had, whether he ever did drugs, had he been in any fights. They sipped coffee and passed small talk. The only unusual aspects of the conversation were that they were sitting in an office in the IDF induction center and speaking in Arabic, the language Kobi’s Morroco-born parents spoke at home.
After that meeting, Kobi’s army experience took a turn, morphing into something entirely different than any of his mates from high school. They were taken on grueling hikes, taught how to disassemble and shoot M-16s, how to make their beds and clean their uniforms. Kobi was taken into Arab villages to mix with the locals, taken out into the desert to sleep on the rocks, given a Russian-made pistol, and taught to use a knife. One of their desert hikes took them on a meandering backtrail that led them deep into Syria to observe a convoy crossing over into Lebanon. Their equipment on these hikes was non-IDF for what his officers called ‘plausible deniability. Radios were never used but this one time, his officer, Yitzik, had a satellite phone. They remained in place that night, watching as hellfire rained down, leaving a smoldering hole where the convoy had been. His graduation at the end of six-months of training was marked by a week of interrogation in a cold cell culminating in a physical beating which, though it didn’t break any bones, left him covered in purple and green bruises.
He had signed up for an additional year added to his three-year mandatory service. This gave him a shoulder bar for the uniform he never wore plus a big bonus for when he left the IDF. Kobi had no plans for college, no plans for the future at all, other than his tour around the world, and the bonus would make this dream come true.
Kobi was halfway through the bottle of water when a middle-aged Arab sat down across from him.
“Assalamu Alaikum,” the man said, waiting for Kobi to give the proper response. “Welcome to Jordan. Did you just come from Petra?”
“Of course,” Kobi answered. “It is amazing, alhamdulillah.”
“Your accent is not from Jordan,” the man said. “Where are you from?”
“I was born in Morrocco but my parents moved to South Africa when I was young,” Kobi said. Though far from fluent, his English could pass for fluent to a non-English speaker and few Jordanians could identify a South African accent. “It is a blessing to be among believers again.”
“Aaaah,” the man said. “That is nice. It is good to meet an Alaoui brother. Are you on your way home?”
“I am on my way home to South Africa,” Kobi said. “I just finished the army. I could have gotten an exemption because I live out of the country but I am proud to be Moroccan. I also wanted to take some time off because I didn’t know what I wanted to study at university.”
He had thought about just such a conversation while hiking back from Mount Hor and prepared a plausible back story. When teaching him about this in the army, his officer told him to use elements from his own life. This made it less likely for him to be caught in inconsistency and also made it feel less like lying.
“Forgive me for prying but I am so pleased to meet a brother from Morocco,” the man said, finally introducing himself. “I am Moussa Saleh. I own a guest house here in Wadi Petra. Are you looking for a place to stay? My rooms are clean and very reasonably priced. I can give you a discount because I do not like to rent rooms to kafir.”
Kobi considered the offer. He had not returned to the group and their itinerary had them at a tourist-trap hotel not far from here. The tour guide was expecting Kobi to rejoin the group at the hotel for dinner. In the meantime, Kobi could start his world tour with a little off-the-beaten-adventure that bent the rules and would show him an insider’s slice of what the world looked like across the river from Bet Shean.
“We can drink some coffee and eat some food,” the Moussa said. “You look hungry. My daughter can serve. She is not for you since she is just eight years old but she will be a great beauty one day. The food, is, of course, Halal. I do not know what it is like in South Africa but here in Jordan, there is only the best halal food. If you do not want the room, I will bring you right back here.”
“Y’allah,” Kobi said. “Let’s go.”
Moussa’s house was nice by Jordanian standards. The room was a small house separated from the main house by fifty meters. It had probably been used by Moussa’s father for a second, less-favored wife. Moussa led him to the front door and handed the key to Kobi.
“I must go to see that the food and coffee are prepared,” Moussa said. “You can see the room by yourself. When you have seen enough, come to the house and we can eat.”
Kobi watched as the Arab man walked back to the house. Some people claimed to have a sixth sense about danger but street violence and army training had taught him that danger followed rules, and being prepared didn’t require magic. Here he was, alone in Jordan, somewhere he shouldn’t be, and the man who brought him here had just conveniently stepped out. On the other side of the door was either a shabby room for rent or something else substantially less welcoming. Kobi waited until Moussa had entered his house before slipping around to the back of the shack. The window was old, its wood frame crooked, the two sides open to air out the room. Kobi made a visual check. The room was empty. He stepped up over the sill and into the room. Something slammed into his kidney, sending him to the floor, bent over in pain.
“Good, but not great,” a familiar voice said. “I would have been entirely disappointed if you had come in through the door. That would have gotten you scrubbed from the mission. Coming in through the window was good but you should have checked out the sides before entering. I thought I taught you that.”
Yitzik helped Kobi to his feet. Kobi hobbled over to the bed, sitting down on the edge while Yitzik made coffee over a tiny gas stove. He handed Kobi a small glass of bitter brew before settling down on a cushion on the floor.
“What are you doing here?” Kobi asked.
“I thought I’d finally see Petra legally,” Yitzik said. “I came here once when I was in high school. Of course, that was illegal. One of my buddies got caught and spent a year in a Jordanian jail. That stunt got me noticed by Ariel Sharon who put me into the IDF unit 101. But after that, the IDF didn’t trust me to be an officer. Until they needed a lunatic and that’s how I became your officer. And now they need a new lunatic for a new job so they sent me to talk to you.”
“Petra’s nice,” Kobi said.
“Sure,” Yitzik said. “But Aaron’s Tomb was overrated.”
Kobi stared at his coffee. “You followed me,” he said finally.
“Of course, I did,” Yitzik said. “But I have to admit that it wasn’t easy. You must have had a great teacher.”
“Why?” Kobi asked finally.
“How’s the world tour going so far?” Yitzik asked.
“I was enjoying it until about ten minutes ago,” Kobi answered.
Yitzik shrugged. “How about a job?”
“What kind of job?” Kobi countered.
“Army intelligence works on a need to know basis. I was always one thousand percent open and honest with you guys because when you are going into harm’s way, you need to know everything. And this job will take a bunch of years. We don’t know how many. If it implodes, the IDF never heard of you.”
“Is this the sales pitch?” Kobi asked. “Because if it is, it stinks.”
“That was the disclaimer,” Yitzik said. “The sales pitch is that if this works, and that is a very big if, Israel won’t be alone in the Middle East. We will have friendly neighbors. And your younger brothers won’t have to train so hard to kill terrorists.”
“I think you’re crazy,” Kobi said. “Friendly neighbors? We have a peace agreement with Jordan but I understand what the locals are saying when they think I can’t hear. They hate us.”
“I am crazy, and you better be as well, or I will need to find someone else to do this job,” Yitzik said. “Did your travel plans include Dubai?”
“My visa application got turned down,” Kobi said. “They said something about ‘death to Zionists’.”
“Okay,” Yitzik said. “It’s time to get serious. We need someone to go to Dubai. Things are beginning to move there. As always, it starts with money. There are some businessmen with interests in Israel who are building connections there. There is a group of Emirati businessmen who are open to doing business with Israel. They recognize that dealing with us is a lot better than dealing with regimes that believe more in gassing their own people than they do in helping high-tech startups. But there is another group that opposes this. They have a big influence over Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.”
“The one who hates Israel?” Kobi said.
“That’s the one,” Yitzik said.
“That’s bad,” Kobi said. “He’s been around a while.”
“You paid attention in class,” Yitzik said.
“I slept through history class,” Kobi said. “Our last time wandering through the desert, we had a lot of downtime waiting for the airstrike to happen. You spent a lot of that time talking to me about politics and history. A lot of that was about the Emirates. I should have known you were working on something.”
“Extra credit points to you,” Yitzik said. “That’s when my officers recruited me for this project. I’ve been setting it up since then. All the pieces are finally in place. The only thing I need is a man to go in. Boots on the ground.”
“In Dubai?” Kobi said. “We don’t go there.”
“No,” Yitzik agreed. “But we need to. They are the richest country in the region and the only one that has the inclination and ability to stand up to Iran. If we have someone on the inside, letting us know which businessmen and members of the royal family are more open to opening their doors to us, which ones we can talk to, it could make the difference. The US has a big air force presence in the UAE since the Gulf War and the Emiratis are getting a taste of what freedom means for business. We want to set you up doing high-tech consulting for Emiratis who want to do business with the West. The Americans will be able to help from their end but we want to keep them out of the loop as much as possible. They cannot know about you working for us. We had a guy burned last year because a Senator on a sub-committee overseeing military spending in the Middle East wanted to be a hero to the pro-Palestinian crowd.”
“What about our folks?” Kobi asked. “What if I get exposed?”
“Plausible deniability,” Yitzik said. “We don’t know you exist.”
“It’s like you taught us when we crossed the border into Syria,” Kobi said. “Until we come home, it’s just me, with God looking over my shoulder.”
“Is that a yes?” Yitzik asked.
“When do I leave?” Kobi said as an answer.
“You’re already there,” Yitzik answered, pointing to a pack in the corner. “Everything you need is in there and you are already trained in how to use the communication device. Documents and letters of introduction, bank account, all in there. You have a plane ticket to Dubai and an apartment in a fancy building. An American businessman will meet you there in one week. He isn’t Israeli and isn’t even Jewish but he has Jewish relatives. He isn’t willing to go too far but we can trust him to bring you messages. There is a nice suit of clothes and more at the apartment. We already told the tour guide that you went back to Israel.”
“Already? You were that sure I would say yes?” Yitzik laughed and just nodded his head. “My folks…,” Kobi said.
“I will tell them,” Yitzik said. “They are the only ones who can know. But we can’t tell them any details. They won’t know where you are.”
“Ok,” Kobi said, resolving to settle in. He put the suitcase on the bed and began to inspect the contents. The more interesting items were in a hidden section. His new Emirati passport was stamped on departure from the Dubai International Airport and upon arrival at JFK Airport in New York. More recently, he had a stamp showing his arrival last week at Queen Alia Airport in Amman.
“One last thing,” Yitzik said. “I need your pack, including your Israeli passport.”
“What’s the matter?” Yitzik asked. “You have something in it that I should know about? Did you bring drugs into Jordan? That is so stupid.”
“Not exactly,” Kobi said. He reached into his backpack and pulled out a small cloth bag.
“What’s that?” Yitzik said.
“It’s the tefillin my grandfather gave to me,” Kobi said. “I’m not religious but…well….I figured that if I was going to tour the world, I needed something to keep me connected and safe. Like a satellite phone but better.”
“There’s no way you can take it into Dubai,” Yitzik said. “Come to think of it, I’m not sure you can have it in Jordan, even with the peace deal.”
Kobi put his hand on Yitzik’s shoulder. “So, do me a favor,” he said. “The rest of the stuff, you can give to the army. But my saba gave me those tefillin just before he died. I want you to keep them for me. I need you to promise that you will take care of them.”
Yitzik nodded grimly, understanding that small gestures like this had great significance for soldiers. It was like at his graduation from basic training when his officer took his winged snake unit pin off his blouse and pinned it on Izik’s breast pocket, pounding it painfully into his chest with a full-fisted punch. His officer was killed in a raid in Qalqilya the next year but Yitzik still had his pin.
Yitzik and Kobi stayed in the Arab’s guest house for four days, training for the mission. The young daughter brought the meals but the Arab father had doubly lied. She was at least fifteen years old. And she was undoubtedly one of the ugliest females Kobi had ever seen.
Yaqoub was sitting in the VIP lounge of the Dubai Airport, waiting for a flight to London. His business was doing well but he had not come to the UAE to become rich. He had met with Yitzik three times in the past two years and each time, his official boss, or handler as the folks in the Mossad liked to say, assured Kobi, or Yaqoub, as he was now known, that he was performing wonderfully. He had just cut a deal selling an advanced cybersecurity system to a major bank based in Dubai. The bank managers were thrilled though they might have been less thrilled to know that the company that made the system was based in Texas but the technology was from Israel. Kobi smiled, thinking about how Emirati banking was now being protected by technology that was first used by the IDF.
He was leafing through a travel magazine when, out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that all of the other travelers in the lounge were heading for the exit. Yaqoub continued to leaf through the magazine while mentally preparing himself for action. A man in traditional Arab garb entered the lounge and sat down on the sofa across from Yaqoub. Two especially large men wearing dark suits with strange bulges under the shoulders took up position behind the man.
“Excuse me, Mr. Alami,” a gravelly voice said. “I would like a few moments of your time.”
Yaqoub put down his magazine and saw a face every Arab in the Gulf recognized; Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, the Ruler of Bahrain.
“Sheikh Al Khalifa,” Yaqoub said in awe, scrambling to his feet instinctively. “It is an honor.”
The old man nodded briefly. “Please, sit down. I have no time for formalities. I need a favor from you of a highly personal nature but this meeting must remain discreet. I must be on my personal jet in ten minutes or there will be rumors about where I have been. This meeting must remain a confidence between us.”
Yaqoub sat down. “Of course, your highness. Anything.”
“My eldest daughter, Princess Fatima bint Khalifa, is ill,” the sheikh said. “We came here to Dubai because we were told that there was a physician who could help her. Unfortunately, we just found out that he cannot. To be frank, the doctors say there is no hope for her to live much longer.”
“How can I help you?” Yaqoub asked. “I am not a physician.”
“No, but I have heard rumors that you have friends, connections, that might be able to help. There are better hospitals, different doctors.”
Kobi thought fast, trying to come up with something. He thought of the American base. If he could contact Yitzik, this opportunity might be sufficient reasons to break cover and contact their big-brother ally.
“I may have some contacts with the Americans that would prove useful,” Yaqoub said.
One of the bodyguards place a cup of coffee in front of the prince and he took a sip. “My daughter is from the new generation,” the prince said. “She has ideas of her own. I have no time so I must come right out and say what I want. Fatima wants to go to a hospital in Israel. There is a doctor who has been successful in treating this disease. The hospital is in a city called Nesher. It is near Haifa. Perhaps you have heard of it.”
Kobi’s blood froze. The prince had stopped short of calling him out for being an Israeli spy but the implication was there, hanging in the air between them.
“You will do this for me, arrange it,” the prince said. “No one must know.”
The guard put a business card on the table.
“This is my personal contact information,” the prince said. “If you are not discreet and someone finds out that we were in contact, I will simply say that I was interested in your new cybersecurity product. It is what I believe you call plausible deniability.” The sheikh stood. “Do this quickly and we may both get what we want.”
Yaqoub had been invited to the palace on Sheikh Al Khalifa’s private island. The display of wealth was staggering. A flotilla of yachts filled the marina and gazelles and peacocks roamed the grounds freely. Visitors were sequestered in private guesthouses and Kobi strongly suspected that the random meetings were orchestrated by the sheikh. Kobi, or, rather, Yaqoub was invited to tea with Sheikha Fatima. He imagined this was to offer a discreet ‘thank you’. Her visit to the Israeli hospital was a success. She was healthy and no one knew about the royal visit to the Jewish state.
Yaqoub was invited to tea. A bodyguard came for Yaqoub at the appointed hour and led him to an area set a discrete distance from the main house where a small pond had been constructed, surrounded by palm trees, designed to look like a fantasy oasis in the middle of a desert. A gazebo was decorated to look like a tent and the sheikha was sitting inside, waiting for him. The red-headed sheikha was seated, wearing modern dress. Tea was served in the British style but the pastries were Bahraini. Kobi had a secret love for the date-filled maamoul which reminded him of the Medjoul dates grown in the Bet Shean valley.
The princess politely waited for Yaqoub to serve himself before speaking.
“Thank you for coming,” she said. Kobi noted her pale skin and the weakness around her eyes. She was still weak but apparently recovering, though no media had reported on her miraculous recovery. “I wanted to thank you personally. The doctors were wonderful and I am feeling much better. As you may know, I share the sheikh’s vision of a modern Bahrain. I have a personal interest in the role of women in Bahrain. I was very impressed with how this was managed in the medical facilities in Haifa.”
“I am happy the sheikha is feeling well and the experience was positive,” Yaqoub said.
“I appreciate the help you gave to me,” she said. “My experience in Israel has led the Sheikh to believe that perhaps there may be benefits for Bahrain to do business with Israel. Perhaps even more than business. The role of women should be more modern. This would benefit the country, as would being more pluralistic, allowing other religions to worship as they wish. I learned that there are many ways that normalizing relations with Israel could benefit Bahrain.”
“Inshalla,” Yaqoub added instinctively.
The princess paused. “Yes, or as the Israeli doctors taught me, b’ezrat hashem.” Yaqoub felt his blood freeze in his veins. This cat and mouse game with the royal family was worse than his time in Syria. At least in Syria, he had a weapon. “I would like to introduce someone to you. She is an old friend who is helping me to introduce some of my ideas to the royal family in Saudi Arabia. She is from the house of Saud but not from one of the wealthy and powerful branches of the family. Her name is Rashil Abdulaziz.”
A young woman stepped into the gazebo as if she had been waiting for the cue from the sheikha. Kobi’s breath caught in his throat and he spilled some of his tea onto his lap. The young woman was the most beautiful he had ever seen. She had pale skin and jet black hair to her waist but what took his breath away were her eyes. Dark, the irises were a color that seemed to change the more he looked. But what caught and held his attention was a softness that surrounded her eyes, expressing a sadness that drew him in. His heart ached the more he looked at her.
“Rahil has been trying to bring some of my ideas to Saudi Arabia but I am afraid my experience is not sufficient,” the sheikha said. “My father led me to understand that you have much experience with how women’s rights are handled in the West. I was hoping you could speak with Rashil about this.”
Princess Fatima stood up and excused herself, leaving Kobi alone with the beautiful young woman. Rashil poured herself some tea, refusing to meet Kobi’s stare.
“I have never met a Saudi princess before,” Kobi said. He regretted the inane opener as soon as the words were out of his mouth but she didn’t seem to notice.
“I am from the royal family but I am not a princess,” Rashil said.
“I’m sorry,” Kobi stuttered. “I didn’t mean…”
“Please do not be sorry,” Rashil said. “Not being favored has benefits. My older sister is slightly more favored so her suitors are being carefully considered before they are allowed near her. We are not wealthy but we are related to the royal family so many men in similar circumstances want to marry my sister, Lya, in order to bolster their own position. Since I am not the eldest daughter, they don’t really care who marries me so long as I do not dishonor the family. This allows me freedoms that are denied to my sister. I was permitted to learn at university and even spend one semester in London. I have my hobbies that do not disgrace the family, like the projects Sheikha Fatima is kind enough to help me with. And so long as I do not dishonor the family, I am permitted to drink tea with strange men from…other countries.”
She finally looked up, just in time to catch a hint of fear as Kobi wondered whether she knew his secret. Her face broke into a mischievous smile and Kobi suddenly didn’t care if she knew. For five years, he had controlled his emotions with an iron will, hiding the truth while crushing down the terror he constantly felt that he would be discovered.
“So, please tell me how women are treated in other countries,” Rashil said, the smile still on her face. “I saw a bit of it in London but I was an outsider. Princess Fatima tells me that you were born in Morocco but grew up in South Africa. That explains your accent. It is softer than the accent in Saudi Arabia. So tell me, what was it like where you grew up?”
She took a sip from her tea, holding the cup in front of her face for longer than she had to. The bottom half of her face was hidden but her sad eyes were twinkling with an unmistakable smile. Kobi took a deep breath. She was silently laughing at him and his heart was melting. He knew that this was dangerous territory, that he had too many secrets that could slip out if he spoke too long or too much with this woman. But he also knew that was precisely what he was going to do. He knew that he would do anything to keep those eyes looking at him.
Kobi was once again in the VIP lounge in the Dubai airport. Rashil was roaming the airport’s shops with three-year-old Yussuf, checking to make sure he had all the modern toys, bar none. They were going to London, hopefully never to return to Dubai. Asking Rashil’s father for his daughter’s hand in marriage was surprisingly easy. The father had been happy to part with the younger daughter and soon after their engagement, the preferred older sister had gotten engaged to an up-and-coming member of the Saudi royal family. The only hitch had been Rashil’s brother, Abyad, who hated Yaqoub for reasons he couldn’t himself understand but which Kobi suspected were founded in the truth. He never openly accused his brother-in-law of any misdoing but he was constantly calling on Yaqoub for favors, tapping into his business connections, manipulating Yaqoub to co-sign business loans, or sometimes even asking for interest-free business loans. Yaquob assented to all his requests without question or conditions.
Life had been good to them in Dubai and Yaqoub’s business flourished. A long string of favors provided by the Moroccan-South African businessman opened doors for him. He had business connections with the West that only he could provide. Everyone benefitted but it came with the unspoken condition that no one asks too many questions about how Yaqoub came upon these connections.
But the US president had just announced the astounding Abraham Accords and all of the mutually beneficial arrangements that had been made in the shadows could now be made out in the open. Yitzik had actually come to Dubai for his final meeting with Yaqoub, finalizing the arrangements for him to come home, along with his wife and son.
Yussuf’s birth had been difficult and the doctors informed them that there would be no more children. But these were Emirati doctors and after the somber consultation, one of the older doctors had taken Yaquob aside, telling him that the best fertility clinics in the world were located in Israel. The gray-haired doctor suggested that in the near future, it might be possible for an Emirati businessman to visit Israel with his wife.
Yaqoub was planning on staying in London just until the Abraham Accords were finalized. Then, under the pretext of now-permitted visits to Israeli specialists, Yaqoubi could remain in Israel, gradually re-incorporating Kobi into his life.
His business trips had introduced Yaqoub to the culture of magazines and he was leafing through the latest edition of European Vogue when he sensed that the room had just emptied out. He had never entirely lost his internal alarm system but the siren had become muted over the years. Unlike his previous encounter with Sheikh Al Khalifa, the current intruder chose to remain standing with his bodyguards flanking him, their flexed muscled arms across their chest, testing the silk stitching of their suits.
“As-salamu alaykum, Abyad,” Kobi said without looking up. He turned the page of the magazine. “I was unaware that you were traveling. You should have told me. Perhaps I have a friend who could lend you his personal jet.”
Abyad snatched the magazine out of Kobi’s hands. “Do not act superior. You do not know it but you are about to be exposed and then all your wealth will be mine. I can take my sister back from your filthy hands and my men will kill you.”
“I understand,” Kobi said calmly. “I would suggest we sit and talk about this first. I have half an hour before I board my plane. Could you have one of your friends make our coffee?”
“Stop this play-acting,” Abyad yelled, veins sticking out from his neck. He was thin, gaunt actually, and had not yet acquired the western habit of deodorant. The armpits of his silk jacket were soaked.
“Very well,” Kobi said. “We shall do it this way. What you came here to tell me was that I am an Israeli spy. You are going to expose me and have me killed. Am I correct?”
Abyad stuttered before regaining his composure. “Yes. You are a Zionist pig and you are not going to fly home to your Zionist pig heap. You are coming with me to Saudi Arabia where you will lie forever in an unmarked grave in the desert.”
“I think not,” Kobi said calmly. “How are you going to take me out of Dubai? I am here with the favor of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. I have done him some favors and he is a man of honor.”
“When he finds out that he was doing business with a Zionist pig….”
“YOU were doing business with a Zionist pig,” Kobi said calmly. “In fact, you owe this Zionist pig a great deal of money. If you accuse me, do you really believe you can avoid blame? People will say you are accusing me just to wipe away your debt. You are, in fact, related to this Zionist pig. But you really shouldn’t worry. It is now permitted, even praiseworthy, to do business with Zionists. If it becomes public knowledge that I was a spy, what will people think of you?”
Abyad stood in front of Kobi, breathing hard, the patches under his armpits growing darker. “You are a Zionist pig and you dare to touch my sister.” He smirked. “I learned all this from a friend who sold you something that he now regrets selling. It is small, contained on a thumb drive. I had your luggage searched and it is not in any of your bags. This is something very important that your Zionist leaders would love to get their hands on. I am sure you have it on you.”
“You can search me if you like,” Kobi said.
He turned to the bodyguards. “Do it.”
Kobi stood and they began to pat him down, producing a metal detector wand, passing it over his body.
“Where is it?” Abyad said.
“I don’t know what you are talking about. But I am actually glad that you came to see me off,” Kobi said. “I have something to tell you. But it is quite private. We need to keep this in the family if you know what I mean.”
Kobi looked at the two bodyguards and waved his hands as if shooing off some birds. Abyad hesitated before nodding, sending them away.
“Find Rashil and search her. She must have it.”
They walked across the room and as they opened the door, Rashil stepped in carrying packages and holding Yussuf’s hand. She looked at Kobi with questioning eyes and, as he did every time she looked at him, fell in love all over again. The two goons searched the shopping bags and gingerly began to pat her down, naturally ashamed at handling a woman. The wand also produced no results. Abyad stomped across the room, grabbing her handbag. He reached in and pulled out a small book, a Qoran that was a present from her father. Abyad began to rip out the pages and pulling apart the binding. Finally, he threw the shreds to the carpet and stood glaring at his brother-in-law.
“You came back just in time, my dear,” Kobi said to his wife. “Your brother came to say goodbye.”
Rashil put down her packages and made a quick plate of food to silence Yussuf. She prepared a cup of tea for herself and a cup of strong Turkish coffee for her husband. When she sat down, Kobi thanked her before turning to Abyad.
“There is something Rashil wanted to tell you,” Kobi said. “When we met, she was working on several projects that I was able to help her with. Most were connected to business and government but one project was personal. She was very interested in your family. With my connections at foreign universities, I was able to connect her with prominent genealogists. She discovered the Saudi Wahabis have many Jews in their roots, particularly your family and particularly through the women in the family. We have the proof in our computer.”
“This is a lie!” Abyad yelled, jumping to his feet.
“It is actually the truth,” Kobi said calmly. “You see, it gets worse. We performed genetic tests. We said it was for Yussuf’s benefit, to make sure there were no genetically transferred ailments. The thing is..” Kobi hesitated for effect, watching sweat drip down Abyad’s face. “According to Sharia, the faith of the child goes according to that of the father. You are Muslim because your father was a Muslim. But genetic testing is performing wonders today. They can trace your father’s line back to Mohammad but they can trace your mother’s lion back to Hawa. The strange thing is that Jewish rabbis determine the faith according to your mother. So even if your father was a Muslim, if your mother’s mother’s mother was Jewish….”
“Silence!” Abyad yelled. He glared at them for a few moments before stomping to the door. As he pulled it open, Kobi called out to him.
“Abyad, I am a hospitable man and was glad to help my brother in law. One day, I may call in all the favors I did for you. I recommend that you honor your debt. But whatever you do, do not come to visit. The day you next see my face is the last you will experience in this world before being judged by Allah. And I promise you that I will not visit you.”
Abyad left, slamming the heavy door behind him. Rashil sat down next to her husband, allowing him to kiss her cheek. They watched Yussuf play with his food until it was time to board their flight to London.
“Where did you put it?” Kobi asked as he helped her with the bags.
“A good wife knows that there are some things husbands are better off not knowing,” she said as she walked towards the door, saying over her shoulder, “After we get on the plane, could you do me a favor and change Yussuf’s diaper?”
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Though most of this story is fiction bolstered with as much fact as I can muster, the story of the sick Bahraini princess being treated in an Israeli hospital is actually based on a true story that you can read here.
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