In this scene from The Syrian Sonia has taken on an Israeli lover who also heads a spy network inside Lebanon.
Breakfast was still being served when they walked into the dining room.
“Let’s sit on the terrace,” suggested Sonia. “We’ll have it to ourselves and…”
“Good,” interrupted Kamal, “because I intend to tease out the truth about a mysterious lady who abandons her lover without a trace and then suddenly reappears the following morning.”
She laughed and squeezed his arm against her ribs.
“So, Aida…” he began after being seated.
“Sonia’s my name, Sonia Rizk. I use Aida when I’m not sure I want to give out my real name.”
“The lady’s even more mysterious than I thought. I’m listening.”
“This game is only interesting if two people play. I begin, but you follow. Agreed?”
“Okay, fair enough but only if I can continue calling you Aida. It suits you, oh lady who casts spells over men.”
She smiled, pleased.
“Silly man, I’ve already told you. I’m Lebanese. I’ve lived in the States for the last twenty years or so, between D.C. and New York. I was a foreign journalist for many years, covering war zones mostly, but I gave up that job three years ago. Now, I freelance occasionally for magazines like The New Yorker and Harper’s. It’s much safer and comes with regular hours. I’m in Lebanon to write an article about two women, and hopefully, interview them.”
“What’s the article about?”
“Two Lebanese, both Christian, and both from Marjeyoun in south Lebanon, one supported the Israelis during their occupation, and still does; the other killed an Israeli agent.”
When she detected no reaction on his part, she continued, “Most Lebanese adopted a form of collective amnesia after the war, but these two women chose strikingly different paths. I want to explore when these divergences took place and why, and learn more about their political ideologies. My editor at The New Yorker loved the idea. It seems people would rather read this stuff than learn about a world going to hell.”
“What are your politics, Aida—about Israel and the war?”
“I understand why Israel invaded in ’82. We all wanted the Palestinians out of Lebanon. We had Yasser Arafat proclaiming that the road to Jerusalem went through Beirut. He was an arrogant son of a bitch, and too willing to destroy a country that wasn’t his. Did we associate all Palestinians with Arafat? Yes, and that was wrong. Nonetheless, I welcomed the Israelis. Did they overstay their welcome? Yes, and am I glad they withdrew? Yes, but I’m relieved the Syrians finally withdrew, too. As for the civil war—all wars are senseless. We destroyed a beautiful country and created divisions within Lebanese society. Why? To what end?”
“What about Hezbollah? How do you feel about the powerful role they now play?”
“You sound like an intelligence operative. Are you sure you don’t work for the Mossad or the CIA?”
“Hezbollah is a natural outgrowth of an illegal twenty-two year Israeli occupation of south Lebanon. Half of all Lebanese think of them as a national liberation movement, me included. The Sunnis see them as a threat to their dominance in Lebanon. Anyway, the Israelis should have been more careful about how they treated the people in the south. When they invaded in ’78, the villagers greeted Israeli soldiers with flowers and rice because they thought they were coming to rid them of Arafat and his PLO. Instead, the Israelis treated them with brutality and became their enemy.”
Kamal didn’t appear to be offended or disturbed by anything she said. She had, after all, carefully chosen her words, trying to maintain balance and credibility.
“One last question, who are these women you plan to write about?”
“The first is Zina Melki. She runs a right-wing NGO in Europe. The other lady, Leila Chakar, killed a Shin Bet officer and got thrown into Khiam prison for eight years. Have any other questions?”
Kamal shook his head.
“Good, now it’s my turn.”
He frowned as I putting himself on guard. “If you insist,” he replied.
“Well then, I’ll try to make them easy. When we met yesterday, I asked if you were a spy, foreign contractor or arms dealer. You are which of the above?”
“None, I’m a telecommunications expert. I represent a cellular network. I’m here to make sure the system is working properly.”
“What’s the name of the company you work for?”
“It’s Alpha Telecommunications.”
“Apparently the system isn’t working very well. Didn’t several of Alpha’s employees just get arrested for spying for Israel? It was in the newspapers here a few days ago.”
“That’s why I’m here—to correct the problem so security breaches like that won’t happen again.”
“You must be a computer genius. It’ll take one to figure out how Israel tapped into their system.”
“Yes, it’ll be a challenge.”
“Well, given the crisis you have on your hands, I should feel guilty. I’ve consumed much too much of your time.”
“Not at all, I’ve enjoyed every minute.”
“Me too, but I have some work to finish this afternoon and so do you, apparently. Shall we meet for dinner this evening?”
“Yes, I’d like that.”
“I’ll see you around 8:30. I have a driver. I’ll ring your room when I arrive.”
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