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“Don’t say a word,” Kawaji replied. “Leave it to me.”
No one asked Udi any questions.
Beirut, with its tall buildings and stylish boardwalk, astonished Udi. An Arab city, and it’s nicer than Tel Aviv — He caught himself: even he had internalized Israeli contempt for the Arabs.
Kawaji took Udi to a relative’s home, where he’d parked his car. Before getting in, he checked under the chassis. “We have many enemies,” he explained.
They crossed the border into Syria. Streams, grapevines, lush valleys. But Damascus disappointed: faded shops, uniform dress of gray suits and housecoats, life-size posters of Hafez al-Assad.
Nationalists, thought Udi with distaste.
They drove to a house on the edge of the city. Aside from a refrigerator and cots, the villa was empty.
Kawaji took Udi to see the sights, the ancient covered market and the grave of Saladin, who defeated the Crusaders.
They visited the Jewish quarter. Only a few thousand terrorized Jews remained of a once-thriving ancient community. Forbidden to emigrate, they were under constant surveillance, subjected to periodic arrests.
In the quarter’s police station, Kawaji introduced Udi to the commander as an American journalist. Udi nodded and smiled, trying to say as little as possible in his Israeli-accented English.
The commander explained to Udi that the job of the police was to protect the Jews from provocateurs. We aren’t against the Jews, he said, only the Zionists.
“He’s one of us,” Kawaji said to Udi.
At the synagogue, they met the community’s young rabbi. Udi approvingly noted his trimmed beard. A modern man, not like Shlomo Goren and the other fanatical rabbis in Israel with their wild beards — Speaking in the presence of policemen, the rabbi assured the American journalist of the Syrian government’s benevolence. The government, he said, protects us.