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January 15, 2010

Zeek’s Hebrew translation initiative kicks-off its fourth year with a slice of alternate history from author Etgar Keret. Nearly every month since January 2007, Zeek has published some of Israel’s best fiction in translation by some of the finest translators around. If you are new to this feature, there’s no better way to begin than with Keret. His ironic, disturbing, and oddly romantic short-short stories cut to the heart of the contemporary Israeli experience. This story, perhaps the first of its kind in modern Hebrew literature, was published in Keret’s debut collection, Pipelines (Am Oved: 1992) and bears the imprint of the First Intifada. “Patrol” is newly revised by the author for Zeek, and appeared for the first time in English in our Fall 2009 print issue.
– Adam Rovner, Hebrew translations editor


Samir was driving the patrol jeep and Halil, Mohammed’s father, sat next to him with the tear gas rifle cocked. Fatma and I sat in the back. We drove slowly; the street was quiet. “… Too quiet. Those dirtbag Israeli soldiers are planning something.” As if to confirm his words, a stone came flying from a rooftop. Samir slammed on the brakes and the stone hit the hood. I caught a glimpse of the stone-throwing soldier’s helmet just before he dropped out of my line of vision behind a roof railing. “Halil, there.” I pointed to the roof the stone had been thrown from. “Okay, you and Fatma grab him, and remember what Mohammed said, I don’t want another dead Israeli soldier. The last thing we need is another investigation. The media are just waiting for something like that.” Fatma and I climbed the stairs cautiously. On the roof, we saw a scared Israeli soldier. He was young, about twelve, and he was trying to hide behind the laundry lines. Fatma went over and smashed his face with her club. He fell to the ground bleeding. “I didn’t do anything, I love Arabs, I swear to God on the Torah, long live Yasser Arafat, damn the Zionists,” the scared soldier yelled. Fatma started kicking him savagely. “A minute ago you threw a rock at us, almost split my head open, and now all of a sudden you love Arabs, you little shit!”

“Leave him alone, he’s just a kid,” I said. “He’s just a kid, he’s just a kid,” Fatma mimicked me and kept on kicking him. “I’m fed up with bleeding hearts like you and Samir. It’s ‘kids’ like this who put Nabil in the hospital. These nice kids of yours turned him into a vegetable.” I grabbed her hard. At first, she struggled wildly, but slowly her resistance died and her hysterical screams turned to a sobbing that blended harmoniously with the bloodied Israeli boy’s weeping. My grip on her turned into a hug. “I don’t want to be here,” she whispered, “I’m sick of the curses and the stones, of beating them all the time. Believe me, we should leave them their crappy cities. Let them drink beer in their disgusting pubs and make their baby Israeli soldiers. Why do we need any of this?”

I let her go and went to check the kid. His face was a bloody pulp. If he hadn’t been wearing a helmet, he’d be dead. I hoisted him onto my back and we went down the stairs. He weighed less than forty kilos. That’s how light our enemies are. The whole way down we heard Israeli women soldiers screaming through the slatted shutters. Everyone here hates us, from the youngest baby recruit to the oldest Israeli woman soldier. And what hurts the most is that they’re right to hate us. “Go back to your villages, you Arab assholes,” a shout came from one of the windows. I want so much to go back to my village, to the wildflower-covered hills, to the shepherds and their sheep in the wadi, to the land of the jackals. I put the kid down in the back seat of the jeep. “We have to take him to the hospital,” I said. “Leave him here!” Halil ordered. “He needs urgent medical attention…” “You heard what I said, Rafik, leave him here. That’s an order.” I laid the kid on the ground and gently removed the helmet from his young head. I ran my hand over his blood-soaked hair and mumbled an apology in the little bit of Hebrew I knew. What was the point? He was unconscious anyway. “Get into the jeep right now!” Halil commanded. Honestly, what was the point? We started driving. “Let Israelis treat Israelis,” Halil said in a conciliatory tone. I wiped my face with my keffiyeh.

We passed abandoned restaurants, locked pubs, empty parks. I tried to picture how that city had looked before we arrived: little soldiers playing in the road, pretty girl soldiers in shiny helmets sashaying down the street… “They hung a flag again, the bastards,” Halil hissed. And there it was, hanging from the electric wires, an anemic blue-and-white sheet, a harmless bedcover. We pulled up and Halil forced an elderly local soldier to get a ladder and climb up to take down the piece of cloth. The old man shook with age and fear as he climbed the ladder while Halil shouted at him in Hebrew to move his sorry ass . The poor man was afraid he’d fall, and so was I. Don’t the Palestinian people have enough enemies without having to fight trembling old men and colored rags? With the flag in one hand, the old man began climbing down the ladder. He held the flag away from his body as if it were a carcass. His foot slipped off a rung and he fell to the ground. Samir ran over to help him up, but Halil stopped him. The old man got to his feet painfully and began limping slowly away from us. And I, armed with rubber bullets that bounced back at me from every wall, with tear gas canisters that made no one cry but me, leaned silently on the hood. “Your mother fucks Zionists,” came the familiar cry in Arabic from one of the rooftops. And I thought about the hill and the sheep, about the small clay houses, about the muezzin calling us to morning prayers. The old man kept limping away.

About Sondra Silverston

Sondra Silverston is a native New Yorker who has lived in Israel since 1970. Among her many translations are works by Israeli authors Savyon Liebrecht A Good Place for the Night, Aharon Megged Mandrakes from the Holy Land, and Eshkol Nevo Homesick, forthcoming 2010.


Zeek’s Hebrew translations are made possible by a grant from the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses, supported by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency.

“Patrol” (“Siur Memunah”) was included in Pipelines (Tsinorot) by Etgar Keret and is copyright © 2010 by Etgar Keret. English translation by Sondra Silverston. Published by arrangement with the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature. All Rights Reserved.

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