Khaled Assah literally stumbled
onto the hidden cave. In fact, he came within a whisker of falling into it.
An honors student at the
University of Jordan, he had been chosen to work on an archaeological dig at the
ancient settlement of Bethany in the Hashemite Kingdom. On this late October
day, a broad strain of curiosity had prompted him to stroll across the qattar
at sunset, a time when the chalky, whitish hills flanking the Jordan River north
of the Dead Sea took on an eerie luminescence. Khaled had been attempting to
half-walk, half-slide down a steep hillside when he reached out to steady
himself on a scrubby green bush and plunged his leg into a crevice.
After elbowing the bush aside, he
found the narrow entrance to a cave tucked into the rock formation. The
archaeology team had identified two caves in the area as sites occupied by
Christian monks over the centuries. They had found another cave that contained
writing instruments and other signs of possible use by Jewish scribes in New
A slim youth, Khaled could easily
slip through the opening in the sandy stone. But first he took the jacket he had
brought along to wear after dark and draped it across the scrubby bush. He
removed a flashlight from his pocket, switched it on and pointed the narrow
white beam into a small rectangular room, not unlike a Nabatean tomb he had
visited at Petra. The rough-textured walls appeared bare. As he stepped inside,
sweeping the circle of light around the cavern, he spotted an opening about two
feet square in a far corner. He thought it might be the entrance to a passage
that penetrated deeper into the marl formation, but when he moved closer he
found it extended only about six feet.
As he stooped to peer into the
opening, the flashlight beam bracketed a dark shape in the back corner. He
scrambled on his stomach into the crypt, then slowed his pace as the dust set
off a coughing spree. The object was a reddish-brown clay jar, a smaller match
for the pots that held the priceless horde of documents known as the Dead Sea
Scrolls, dating from the first century A.D.
Stretching out, he grasped the
jar, which stood nearly a foot tall, its distinctive lid wedged tightly into
place. He backed out of the chamber on knees and elbows, clutching flashlight
He struggled outside with his
find and plopped down in the darkness. Could it be, he wondered, that a
nineteen-year-old novice from the West Bank had discovered an ancient relic
missed by all the Ph.D.ís and professional archaeologists who had combed the
area over the past several years? It had happened before. Dead Sea Scroll
researchers working near Cave 4 at Qumran were completely unaware of the
treasure-packed siteís existence until Bedouins discovered it in 1952. A sly
grin enlivened Khaledís face.
He knew he should take his find
to the head of the team that had developed the Bethany site. But the excitement
of discovery overpowered Khaledís better judgment. He took out his pocketknife
and pried off the lid. Shining the light inside, he saw a coil of something like
paper or fabric. He inserted two fingers and slipped out the jarís contents.
From the feel of it, he was sure the material was parchment, or "leathers," as
some called the materialĖanimal skin, probably sheep or goat, used for writing
documents in ancient times.
Propping the flashlight against
the bush, he peeled back a covering layer that protected a rolled-up scroll.
Then he pulled the parchment open enough to see some of the lettering. Khaled
had studied Hebrew and English, as well as Arabic, and immediately recognized
what he had found. The writing was classical Hebrew, in a style similar to what
he had seen at Jerusalemís Shrine of the Book, a repository for some of the Dead
As Khaled stared at the faded
writing, he anguished over what to do. Now he was certain he had made a real
discovery. But was it something of substance, a document that would throw new
light on a period of antiquity, or was it just a piece of historical trivia? In
the end he made a practical decision. He had gone this far; he might as well
finish the job. He returned the clay pot to the cave and slipped the scroll
inside his jacket.
Khaledís room in the buff-colored
communal structure was quite small. He hardly had space for more than a bed, a
table with a lone chair, and a few shelves piled with stacks of books and
clothes. The ceiling fixture provided plenty of light, however, and the table
was large enough to hold the document. He locked the door, pulled off his dusty
clothes and tossed them in a corner. He had met one of his fellow students on
the way in, drawing a smirk and a query. "Who have you been wrestling out on the
qattar?" The observation struck him as far too close for comfort, and he
had hurried to his room.
He unfolded the parchment. Though
somewhat brittle, it was in fairly good shape. The jar had been tightly closed
and secreted deep inside the dry cave.
Hebrew was a difficult language
at best, without vowels, and, in early times, without punctuation. The document
was not lengthy, but he pored over it for hours, checking and re-checking his
reference books. What he wound up with was the fascinating account of a first
century Jew, a follower of the Jewish mystics known as kabbalists. The writer
was among a group of Jews who conspired to retrieve a cache of golden lampstands
from Solomonís temple found concealed near Babylon. The group returned to
Jerusalem but encountered Roman troops and promptly hid their spoils. Soon
caught by the soldiers, the Jews were sentenced to die. Only the writer of the
scroll had managed to escape.
Studying the document, Khaled
felt his excitement build as the scrollís message became clear. He was well
versed in the Old Testament as well as the Koran. According to the Book of
Jeremiah, the gold and silver fixtures from Solomonís temple were carted off to
Babylon when Nebuchadnezzar ravaged Jerusalem in 587 BC. Those lampstands were
the seven-branched candelabrum now known as the menorahĖthe sacred symbol of the
current Jewish state. If such artifacts could be found today, Khaled reasoned,
they would be worth a fortune to the State of Israel, or to some wealthy Jew who
would surely ransom them for the Israelis.
Khaled returned to the passage
where the writer had dealt with the hiding of the lampstands. Then he noticed
the cryptic statement: "the location will be found within." His reference books
told him the kabbalists had worked on some sort of secret writing.
Before drifting off to sleep in
the early morning hours, he knew precisely what his next move would be.
The following day, Khaled Assah
nervously lied to the project director that his mother was seriously ill and he
needed to make a quick trip home to Ramallah, in the West Bank territory near
Jerusalem. He promised to return two days later. Packing a small bag with only
enough clothes for a weekend, he boarded a bus headed for the Jordan Riverís
Allenby Bridge border crossing. He did his best to ignore the pounding in his
chest and even coaxed a bit of sympathy with his cover story of a sick mother.
But he encountered no trouble moving through the crowded Israeli border control
facility just beyond the bridge. Wandering past the row of low date palms
outside, he spotted his cousin Abdullah Kafi waiting in a dusty green Ford.
Khaled noticed a young female security guard watching as he climbed into the
car, but it appeared no more than idle curiosity.
After they cleared the last
checkpoint, Khaled gave a boyish whoop and carefully stripped off his heavy
brown cotton shirt. He draped it across the back seat, then retrieved a plain
white T-shirt from his bag and pulled it on.
"Now explain to me what you have
done," Abdullah said with a smile. He was the same age as his cousin but stocky
and self-assured. He hadnít hesitated to follow through after receiving the
phone call from Khaled. "I find it hard to believe youíve done anything
"Iíve sewn inside my shirt an old
parchment scroll that could make us rich."
His cousin gave him a skeptical
frown. "Oh? And what if they had done a pat-down search at the border?"
For a moment, Khaledís face
paled. But his smile quickly returned. "Praise Allah, they did not. And now you
have to help me find someone who can solve a riddle. If my hunch is right, weíre
about to embark on a fabulous treasure hunt."
Sergeant Levi Katz, a husky,
dark-haired veteran of the Israeli Defense Force now working for the border
police, was returning to his post when he noticed the young Palestinian removing
his shirt in the Ford headed up the highway toward Jericho. It seemed an odd
thing to do so soon after the youth had apparently crossed over from Jordan. He
got only a slight glimpse of the license plate, but it was enough to identify
the car as belonging to a Palestinian from the Ramallah area.
Katz was quick to report what he
saw on arrival at the heavily-armed check point, where vehicles were searched
inside and out, including underneath with large mirrors mounted on poles.
"Young guy in a brown shirt,
heavyset driver dressed in khaki?" asked a tall, dark-haired border guard,
originally from Chicago.
"Right. Thatís the one."
"They checked out okay. We didnít
examine his shirt, though. You think he was hiding something?"
"I donít know," said Katz. "I
just thought it was strange. I think Iíll call the immigration people."
After listening to Katzí
explanation, an employee at the passport control office told him to hold while
she checked into it. She came back a few minutes later. "Irina remembers him.
She saw him get into the car that was waiting. She thought he walked sort of
funny . . . stiff-like. As if he had a board up his back."
"Do you have a name for him?"
"Khaled Assah," the passport lady
said and spelled it out. "Palestinian. Attends the University of Jordan, but his
home is Ramallah."
Katz thanked her and turned to a
comrade holding a clipboard. "What was the license number on that green Ford?"
After scribbling it on a sheet of
paper, he lifted the phone again and checked his watch. They were probably close
to Jericho by now. That meant Palestinian control. He dialed an unlisted number
in Jerusalem, identified himself and described what had happened.
"Thanks for the tip, Katz," came
the reply. "But with no more to go on than that, Iím afraid thereís not much we
can do at the moment. We canít go raising hell around that area without an okay
from the Prime Ministerís office, and theyíve put out the word not to rock the
boat right now."
Katz frowned. "Okay."
"If heís a runner," said the
voice, "heíll be heading back soon. Put him on your watch list. If he shows,
call us and weíll have a chat with him."
Three days later Khaled Assah
arrived at the Allenby Bridge checkpoint in a taxi. When he stepped out of the
vehicle, Sergeant Katz instructed him to get his bag and come inside the small
building. It contrasted sharply with the structures across the border decorated
with likenesses of the King of Jordan. The taxi was sent on its way.
"Whatís the problem?" Khaled
After patting him down, Katz
nodded toward a chair. "Have a seat. Somebody wants to talk to you."
Khaledís knees felt a bit wobbly
as he lowered himself onto the plastic chair. What did they know? he wondered.
There had been no hint of trouble during his brief visit home. He was a day late
getting back to the Bethany project. Had the university people somehow found out
about the scroll? Were they looking for him? That seemed unlikely.
As he watched the uniformed guard
speak into the phone, he began to sweat.
They came for him in a
dust-colored van with darkened windows. Two hard-eyed men with solemn faces got
out. Neither was large, but both were muscular. They were dressed casually, with
open-collared shirts. One with black hair and skin almost as dark as his own
ordered him into the van. He was instructed to empty his pockets, then
handcuffed and seated beside a third man who looked even tougher than the other
As the van sped off down the
road, the interrogation began.
"What did you do with the dope?"
the third man asked. He had a bald head, large arms and a scar on his cheek that
appeared to be from a knife wound.
Khaledís mouth dropped open.
"It was hidden in your shirt when
you came across three days ago," the other man said. "Who did you sell it to?"
He had a guttural voice and an accent. Maybe German.
"I . . . I didnít have any dope."
Scarface leaned forward until
their noses were almost touching. "Donít give me that shit, boy! Do you know who
youíre dealing with?"
Khaled shuddered. They were
undoubtedly from Shin Bet, the Israeli security service.
"Honest, sir," he said. "I didnít
bring in any narcotics."
"Then what the hell was it? Youíd
better talk, boy, or we just might have to beat you to a pulp."
Khaled began to babble, his story
spilling from his lips. "It was a scroll . . . a parchment. I found it in a cave
near Tell Mar Elias. It was written in Hebrew. I brought it over here to get
somebody to help meĖ"
"You expect us to believeĖ"
"Itís true . . . itís true. May
Allah strike me dead!"
As the Shin Bet agents probed, he
told it all. After explaining his role as an archaeology student, something they
could confirm with the papers he carried, Khaled described the slide that had
caused him to stumble onto the scroll. And he related the story told in the
document, winding up with word that his cousin, Abdullah Kafi, was helping him
look for someone with knowledge of the kabbalist secrets.
"The scroll did not say where the
menorahs were hidden?" asked Scarface.
"No. There was only a statement:
ĎThe location will be found within.í"
"The document, I suppose. All we
knew about the kabbalists was that they had developed some codes for secret
"Where is the document now?" the
black-haired agent asked.
"Abdullah was taking it to
Jerusalem to meet someone who could steer us in the right direction."
"Who was he taking it to?"
Scarface had turned surly again.
Khaled shook his head. "I donít
know. He left Ramallah before I did. He said he was meeting somebody from the
Guardians of Palestine. Somebody who would know somebody..."
Khaled knew it was not what they
wanted to hear.
Scarface turned to his partner.
"Guardians of Palestine. That bunch of young punks Nathaniel reported on."
The other agent nodded. "An
offshoot of Hamas, as I recall. Ties to Hezbollah in Lebanon. It might help to
check out this Kafi boy."
As Khaled slumped in the seat,
Scarface pulled out a cellular phone and punched in a number.
"Run this through the computer,"
he instructed the voice at Shin Bet headquarters. "Subject named Abdullah Kafi,
nineteen years old, Palestinian from Ramallah. See if we have anything on him."
He stared at Khaled as he
listened to the wearying silence.
After an interminable wait, the
voice on the security service phone came back apologetically. "Sorry it took so
long, but something just came in. I had to check it out. Seems youíre a little
late on this one."
"Young Kafiís body was found
about half an hour ago near the Damascus Gate. Apparently heíd been rammed by a
car. Not a pretty sight, they say."
The Hostage Takers
The Mediterranean shimmered in
the morning sun as I swung the camcorder in a slow pan of the Jaffa waterfront.
Gulls circled above the worldís oldest working port. A steady breeze bore the
smell of salt and dry seaweed.
"Come on, Greg," Jill called.
"Keep playing with that little black box and youíll miss the bus."
I smiled at her. "Just so I donít
miss the bus for dinner. Besides, youíre the one who made sure I brought plenty
I popped a stick of Mr. Wrigleyís
famous Spearmint into my mouth. Iíd quit smoking a few months earlier and was
suffering the inevitable withdrawals.
"Maybe so. But I didnít intend
for you to use the tapes as if they were going out of style."
I let it go. For a man who had
survived sixty-five years on his wits, that was a concession.
"Are you going to put together a
film for the next class party?" Folds of dark hair above an arched brow belied
her sixty-plus years.
"Iíll limit it to epic
proportions," I said.
All kidding aside, I had counted
on this trip to separate me by time and distance from the agonizing predicament
making my life unbearable back home. My situation seemed as insolvable as the
standoff between the Palestinians and Israelis. Here it was played out with
rocks, bullets and bombs. In my case, I felt the entire Metro Nashville Police
Department was lined up like some Civil War regiment, glaring down their barrels
at me. For the moment, though, my problems seemed remote.
Grasping Jillís hand, I strolled
beside her out to where our group stood on a large open plaza. Clustered around
us were entertainment places, restaurants, an art gallery and one of Israelís
countless churches named for Simon Peter, the Galilean fisherman Jesus chose to
lead the early Christians. We were mostly seniors, on a tour organized by our
Sunday School class from Gethsemane United Methodist Church in Nashville. I
would give long odds that we had not missed a single St. Peterís since our
arrival on a hot November morning two weeks ago. Some had questioned our sanity
in traveling to this battleground of the Jews and Palestinians. But we had
landed during a lull in the unpleasantness.
By now the weather had cooled,
making my yellow cardigan feel good when we started out from Netanya after
breakfast. But the sun was nudging the mercury toward a high in the seventies. I
was pulling off the sweater when I heard a cheery voice from nearby.
Sam Gannon strolled over,
pointing across the plaza. "You wonít believe what I saw in that gallery over
Gannon stands half a head taller
than my five-foot ten, and heís depressingly slim while I bulge in all the wrong
"I just peeked in the doorway,"
he said, "and saw this painting of an old C-47 in the desert. Boy, I havenít
been in one of those jewels in many a year."
A retired multi-engine Air Force
driver, Sam had been the point man in organizing this trip to Israel and Jordan.
I glanced at my wife. "Iím glad
it was just a painting. If it was real, sheíd probably want to buy it."
Jill smiled. "A C-47 would
look nice in the backyard."
I should point out that I am also
a retired Air Force officer, but not a flier. I spent my time in the OSIĖOffice
of Special Investigations. I pursued such evils as overpriced wrenches and
stolen toilet paper, plus chasing down drug-pushing airmen, communist spies and
terrorist groups that posed a threat to Air Force personnel and installations.
Jill was the pilot in the family. She had held a commercial license for many
years, once running her own charter service.
Just then two scruffy looking
boys came racing across the plaza on bicycles, jabbering away in Arabic and
paying no attention to where they were going. One of them cut just in front of
the tour group and the other skidded to a halt, nearly colliding with Jill.
"Idiot!" I shouted.
I stepped around Jill in a move
toward the boy.
She grabbed my arm as he stood
there, glaring. "Cool it, Greg."
"Damned juvenile," I muttered. As
I spoke, the boy peddled away at full speed.
During my OSI days I was noted
for a volatile temper. Retirement and Jillís patience had mellowed my
disposition. But my troubles with the Nashville cops, plus the burden of no
smokes, had begun to trigger old habits. As a voice called out at the front of
the group, I caught Jill casting me an unhappy glance.
"Okay, people," our tour guide
said. "You have about twenty minutes to look around, shop, whatever. Then we
have to be back on the bus. Weíll drive through some of Tel Aviv, then head
Jacob Cohen gestured to the
southeast with the long olive wood walking stick he referred to as his "staff."
Ever quick with the pun, he had introduced the stick at the start of the trip
with, "Thy rod, my staffĖa little Twenty-third Psalm humor." Originally from New
York, Cohen had lived in Israel the past twenty years. He looked a typical
bearded synagogue worshiper. Unlike most Israelis, however, he was a Messianic
Jew, a member of a congregation that believed in Jesus Christ as the promised
Messiah. He was also a walking encyclopedia of the Bible.
I remembered something I needed
to take care of and moved over to where Cohen stood with two of the younger
women. They were gazing at the towering spire atop the Franciscan Monastery of
"Jake, you were going to give me
the name of your Messianic Jewish friend in Nashville," I said. "Youíd better do
it now before I forget."
He rummaged around in his shirt
pocket. "Sorry about that kid on the bike. Some of them donít have much respect
for their elders." He pulled out a scrap of paper. "Okay, itís David Wolfson.
Hereís his name and phone number."
"You said he was a computer nut?
I might get him to give me some advice on an upgrade."
"Heís good with advice. Another
ex-New Yorker. Funny thing, his father was an Orthodox rabbi. They had a pretty
heavy falling out when Jake turned Messianic. He inherited some of his dadís
biblical curiosity, though. Heís into all this Bible codes stuff."
I gave him a puzzled look. "Bible
codes? Never heard of it."
"It has to do with the letters in
the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. Supposedly concerns hidden
messages God placed in the text. Itís too far-fetched for me. I guess it came
natural to David, though. He was a computer hacker in college. Then he went
legit and signed with the National Security Agency."
Jill grabbed my arm. "You look
calmer, thank goodness. Letís head on toward the bus. Look at Wilma over there
at that van. Iíll bet sheís buying more knickknacks."
A dusty gray minivan had parked
not far behind our red and white Middle East Tours bus. Its tailgate was swung
up, displaying an array of olive wood figures and other trinkets. Dealers like
this made us run a gauntlet to reach the bus. At our hotel in East Jerusalem, a
Palestinian had greeted the ladies out front each morning, peddling souvenirs
from the trunk of his car.
As we paused beside Sam Gannonís
wife, Wilma, another tour bus edged past. It fouled the air with its diesel
exhaust. I fanned the stench away with my Titans cap. Just then a husky man with
black hair and a black beard approached me. He wore a dark suit, no tie. He had
a round face and white teeth.
"Perhaps your last chance to buy
souvenirs," he said. "I show something just for you."
As he leaned into the van, I
wondered how he knew we were on the final leg of our tour. Our bus driver or
another passenger had probably mentioned it. Also I had a vague impression I had
seen this face before. He appeared to be Arabic, but Jews and Arabs had
descended from the same Semitic line. I had been trained to remember facial
features, and memories of September 11 had kept me alert during our two weeks in
the Holy Land. I watched as the souvenir seller held out a miniature Dead Sea
Scroll jar, opened the lid and lifted up a paper scroll.
"Just like parchment . . . real
Hebrew writing," he said. "The one you get is all packed secure. Because I need
to make haste home, everything is now bargain price."
I shook my head. "No thanks."
"Normally is twenty-five dollars.
For you, only ten. Yes?"
"Itís bigger than those we saw
before," said Wilma Gannon. She studied the reddish clay jar. "And they cost
that much or more." Tall and lean like her husband, she had a grandmotherly
swirl of white hair.
"What would I do with a Dead Sea
Scroll jar?" I asked. It looked like a flower vase to me.
"You drive some hard bargain,"
said the man, frowning. "Five dollars."
"Heís not going to let you get
away without buying it," Jill said. I had given her a hard time a couple
of days before about buying so many souvenirs. A lot of them had to be stuffed
into my bag.
The man reached back into the van
and pulled out a box a little larger than the clay jar. It was sealed tightly
with clear plastic tape. "This one ready to pack in your bag. No way it can
break. Only five dollars. Okay?"
I had to admire his persistence.
And it did sound like a good deal.
The man held out the package.
"Americans are good people," he said. "I like you. Four dollarsĖmy last offer."
Jill whispered in my ear. "For
Godís sake, buy it."
I shrugged and pulled a money
clip stuffed with dollar bills out of my pocket, peeled off four and handed them
over. "Youíre quite a salesman," I said.
I donít know why, but I had an
odd feeling that I might have bought more than I had bargained for.
Back on the bus, Jill leaned
across to listen to a pixie-eyed woman who always had a joke to tell. I debated
what to do with my new souvenir. I finally stuck the box in the webbed pocket of
the seat in front of me, next to my water bottle. We had drunk the water in the
hotels with no problem, but on the road I figured discretion was the watchword.
I wasnít interested in a visit from Montezumaís circumcised cousin, Mordecai.
When Sam Gannon wandered up the
aisle a few minutes later, he stopped to lean against my seat. "Wilma told me
about the way you took that Dead Sea Scroll guy to the cleaners. I didnít know
you were such a haggler."
"Iím not," I said. "And I donít
know that I got the best of him. When you think about it, some Palestinian
potter probably got no more than a buck for that jar. The piece of paper with
some Hebrew scratching couldnít have cost more than fifty cents, and the box
maybe another buck. The guy still made a decent profit."
As the bus began to push through
the crowded streets of Tel Aviv, the sights quickly put salesman and souvenir
out of mind. We passed Ben-Gurion Airport with jets roaring overhead, then
traveled through the stark, desolate Judean hills. Nothing grew there and
certainly nothing could live there. It made you wonder why this was called the
We took a rest stop at an
isolated service station with a small market. Our Palestinian driver refueled
the bus and the rest of us picked over an assortment of drinks and snacks. I had
some reservations about hanging around in isolated areas of Israel, but the tour
company was owned by Arabs, and we had been told the Palestinians knew this and
would give us no trouble. There had been car bombings during the past week, but
so far no threats had come our way.
When we turned north again around
Jerusalem, Jake Cohen jabbed his stick at a steady stream of sights, including
the Arab town of Bethany just east of the Holy City. As we whizzed past, he
pointed out the supposed site of Lazarusí tomb and the inevitable church
connected with it. One thing that strikes you on a visit to the Holy Land,
whenever you come across a spot believed to have been related to Jesusí life or
ministry, somebody has built a church on it.
"Thereís another Bethany in
Jordan," Jake said, "not far from where youíll cross over. Itís the place where
John the Baptist did his baptizing, according to John one, verse twenty-eight.
It was also around there that Joshua led the Israelites across the Jordan River
into the Promised Land. Also, Bethany has a tel called Mar Elias, or Elijahís
Hill, where the prophet is said to have ascended to heaven in a whirlwind,
riding a chariot of fire pulled by horses of fire."
"Thatís from Second Kings,
chapter two," said deep-voiced Arnold Demontbreun. He was our class biblical
authority, but I sometimes wonder about him. Arnold can quote the Bible verse by
verse but canít remember his wifeís birthday.
"Are we going to stop there?"
This from a small, white-haired woman on the front row named Martha something or
other. She was from what we uncharitably called the Old Ladies Class.
"Sorry," Sam Gannon said. "By the
time we get through Israeli customs and immigration, cross the river and get
checked out by the Jordanians, weíll do well to reach Amman by dark."
I popped another piece of gum and
wondered if this might not turn out to be a three-stick bus ride.
We were soon passing through a
barren, rocky section of Judean desert. There were several Bedouin camps nestled
among the sand-colored hills. The small settlements back away from the highway
were marked by long, rectangular tents. Some had wheeled water tanks, and in
most the crafty Arabs had traded their "ships of the desert" for pickup trucks.
At the Jordan River border post
we were herded off the bus. We were warned to bring everything with us, since we
would be boarding a Jordanian coach as soon as we cleared immigration. I decided
to give Jill the scroll box to put in her carryon since mine was bulging with
camera equipment. Thanks to Jake Cohen we moved quickly through passport checks
and visa slip returns. The Israelis were preoccupied with a large group of
departing Palestinians, giving us Americans only a cursory look. I noticed the
Arabs got a thorough checkout. One of the customs officers, a friend of Jakeís,
told him they got frequent alerts about attempts to smuggle guns and bomb-making
materials into the country. But a warning bulletin had them on the lookout for a
Palestinian attempting to smuggle something out. He didnít say what.
Back in the parking lot, we were
instructed to identify each of our bags from the Israeli bus before they could
be loaded onto the Jordanian coach. Such security precautions brought no
objections as we recalled the explosions and bloody confrontations seen on the
nightly news. And the sight of Israeli soldiers everywhere armed with rifles
during our trip had served as a grim reminder of the uncertain conditions.
After a lengthy round of hugs and
kisses and handshakes and good-byes, we left Jake and the Land of Israel,
finally rolling across the Allenby Bridge, named for the British general of
World War I fame. On the other side it was called the King Hussein Bridge. As
with the scrawny Jordan River, the bridge looked more like something from the
Tennessee backwoods than an international border crossing.
In Jordan we sat on the bus while
our guide collected passports and hustled them into the immigration office. He
returned in the company of a stoop-shouldered man with shifty eyes and an
unsmiling face. I had encountered enough of the type to know if heíd had on a
badge it would have read BUREAUCRAT.
"Where is Mr. McKenzie?" the man
Jill and I were seated near the
front. I held up my hand. He strode over, stared at me, then focused on my open
"You are Gregory McKenzie?"
"Thatís right," I said, wondering
what I had done to merit such distinction.
He suddenly gave me an improbable
smile. "Welcome to Jordan, Mr. McKenzie," he said. "Enjoy your visit."
Our guide was a young Jordanian
with a confident air. In textbook English he assured us this was only a routine
I was not so certain.