ELAM BASSANI LIVED in the predominantly Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in Jerusalem under these beautiful skies of perpetual balm. The village, located along the eastern slope of the Kidron Valley, sits atop the necropolis of the ancient palace of King David. Every day the Israel Antiquities Authority works to excavate different parts of the ancient city. Young Elam moved to the village as a four-year-old with his parents, Alam and Jordane. They were there because the Ir David Foundation was helping young Jewish families buy up old Palestinian homes around the dig of Givati to help them settle there.
Although a bright boy, the now eight-year-old Elam did not understand the politics of Silwan or the City of David or the excavations or those Palestinians who perceived that they were always being pushed out around the excavation points where their modern homes were now built. He simply lived in an old Templar style house made out of Red-Slayeb limestone; living and breathing like most young boys do, wondering about his choice for breakfast tomorrow and what toy he was going to play with later that afternoon.
He usually waited outside his limestone walled home with an armed guard that the Ir David Foundation provided just in case trouble arose. Each morning Elam stood there behind a wroughtiron gate as his mother’s cousin, Taavi, would come and pick him up as his older second-cousin, Jaden, went to the same school as he did.
That day the sky over Jerusalem was this intense blue like the surface of an elegantly polished Lapis lazuli. Elam waited breathlessly as his mother’s cousin, Taavi, was late yet again. Elam hated being late for his third-grade class, because his teacher, Miss Devorah, as she liked to be called, made any boy or girl who was late stand before the class and explain to their classmates why it was so.
As Elam bounced his lunch bag atop his right thigh like a palmed soccer ball, he stared through the wrought-iron gate of his home across the street where there were five Palestinian boys around his age gathering around, picking up stones from the empty dirt lot and hurling them down the empty street up toward the hill. After a while this one boy, who had a shadow of dark hair shaved down almost to nothing atop his skull, a boy about the same height and weight as Elam, walked a little closer toward the wrought-iron gates. It was almost as though the boy on the other side of it was this rare specimen he had only heard adults around him whispering about.
Elam watched as the young Palestinian boy walked diagonally across the street, leaning all to one side as the two boys began to stare at each other.
First the Palestinian boy threw out his arm like he was taking a left-hand turn. So Elam did the same. And then the Palestinian boy jumped up and down twice. So Elam did the same. The Palestinian boy then spun wildly and crazy in a circle. So Elam did the same.
Both boys stood their laughing at each other, their faces smiling, the fear each had of one another gone like the wind blowing down the street and turning around the first corner up that hill.
Elam looked over at the security guard who stood there near him behind the limestone wall about ten feet away. He knew he could not see the young Palestinian boy outside through the bars of the wrought-iron gates. When he saw that the guard had no idea someone was standing right there, Elam snuck a hello-wave of his hand over to the Palestinian boy who dutifully returned the gesture.
When the security guard saw this he began to walk over toward the gate.
Elam bent forward with his right hand cupped up against his mouth. “Hey, what’s you’re name?” he yelled out of the gate.
Both boys intensely looked over at one another. The security guard rushed over, grabbed Elam by the shirt, and then looked suspiciously out the bars of the wrought-iron gate.
“Fadi Ali!” the young Palestinian boy yelled frantically.
When the security guard hired to watch the Bassani family threateningly motioned his torso forward, the young Palestinian boy ran like a wounded animal up the street and around the corner much to the dismay of Elam who knew there were no other boys around his home to play with; never mind another young Jewish boy like himself.
At dinner that night, Elam asked his parents what the difference was between Jews and Palestinians. “Aren’t we basically all from the same family?” Elam thoughtfully asked.
“Well they don’t want us to live here,” his father Alam tried to explain. “But this was our ancient home and it is our right to live here.”
Elam looked over at his mother. Jordane had copper colored hair and a gentle smile that made Elam confident right after bad dreams or whenever the thunder and lightning of a ruckus thunderstorm passed with great fury over Silwan.
“And is that it?” Elam asked no one in particular, but his young doubt-filled eyes cast their glare upon his mother.
Jordane looked at Alam who nodded as both parents began to smile.
“No, there is really no difference between us. They have families like we do. They have jobs. They want good lives. Almost everything is exactly the same.”
“But they don’t want us here?” he asked rhetorically. And then asked: “All of them?”
Alam, his father, a blond haired man of thirty who had intense gray eyes and these particularly large biceps from lifting dirt and stone on the weekends when he got away from his job at Hadassah Hospital and volunteered to help on the Herodian Road excavation at the nearby City of David.
“Most of them,” Alam explained credibly to his son.
Elam happily nodded as though this was a good enough answer for now. He then went on to finish the good smelling cholent full of beef, potato, and barley that his mother had prepared for dinner that evening.
Two mornings later his mother’s cousin, Taavi, was late yet again picking him up for school. He had a different security guard than he had two days earlier when he had met the young Fadi Ali who Elam was pleasantly surprised to see hanging around across the street outside his gate.
When Elam saw Fadi playfully stick his head around the corner, this ridiculous “hey,” whispered off of his lips like a bit of drunken wind, he reached back into his back pants pocket and pulled out two toy ambulance cars that he had taken down from his room with him that morning. They were both brilliant white with a blue strobe light atop their roofs.
Fadi moved straight in front of the wrought-iron gates as soon as his light-colored blue eyes with these brown spots in them saw those two toy ambulances.
Elam reached his hand through the gate and motioned for Fadi to take one of the toy cars. “It’s okay.”
Fadi smiled. Nodded. Took the toy car and artfully drove it through mid-air as though it magically could fly sideways and upside-down.
Both boys stood there on opposite sides of the gate and quietly played with their matching toy ambulances along the limestone wall where there was some vine growing; and then down on the concrete ground where an entire army of ants was littering the sidewalk with fine, minute hills of gold sand; and then up the black bars of the wrought-iron gates like they were roads traveling up to the heavens.
Each morning there was school it went on like this. Fadi would sometimes bring Elam guava fruit, which the two boys shared with each other from the other side of the wall as they expertly figured out how to hide that Fadi was present from the security guard who always had to be hanging around close by. Other days Elam would give Fadi one of the chocolate raspberry bars his mother Jordane would make every now and then.
Everything was fine until one day the guard caught Elam talking to Fadi when both boys didn’t notice him quietly sneaking over.
The guard swore at Fadi in Hebrew, grabbed his gray shirt through the bars of the wrought-iron, opened the gate, and then gave little Fadi a swift kick in the rear-end as he went running away.
“There’s no need for that type of behavior!” Elam exclaimed to the surprised face of the security guard.
The guard, who had a rifle hanging over his shoulder with a beret on his head and this rotten coffee-cigarette breath, knelt down and looked at the boy right in the eyes.
“Nothing good can come of that,” he told Elam as though these words had been written on a scroll and he knew Yahweh personally and they had just had coffee at the corner café where all the other security guards could be found before and after their shifts guarding those Jewish families who had their homes in Silwan now.
Elam looked at the guard like he didn’t even know what he was talking about.
“I’m not you,” he said to him like an adult; but a huff of breath came out of the guard’s noise and he pushed Elam outside rather stiffly as Taavi pulled up in the blue sedan to take him to school.
A week passed. On a Friday when the sun was occluded by these dark storm clouds, some Palestinian youth, shubabs, from Silwan began to throw Molotov cocktails at one Jewish settler’s home right up the street from where Elam lived, because the press had reported that 3 more Palestinian homes in the village and the empty lot across the street from Elam’s home had been sold to Jewish settlers. Tires began to be burned in the street as road blocks. And then the Israeli Army arrived and shot rubber bullets into the crowd of young men who were hooded with their black, blue, and white T-shirts wrapped around their heads in disguise.
Elam tried to look out the top floor window of his house, but his mother had to pull him back, because she was afraid.
That evening when they watched the news on television a story broke that a 16-year-old Palestinian teenager had been shot during the riot. Palestinians insisted a security guard from the rooftop of one of the settler’s homes shot at the teenager. The Israeli Army stated they were investigating and didn’t know what happened. Everyone else didn’t know a thing.
The following day there was a huge funeral procession carrying the dead Palestinian teenager up to the Temple Mount.
That night the spring weather turned cool and Elam had to wear long pajamas instead of the shorts that he had been wearing over the blankets as he went to sleep every evening.
When his mother and father walked by his bedroom door around 11:30 to check in on him, he playfully waved to both of them as they peeked their heads in not thinking he was awake.
“You can’t sleep?” his father asked.
Elam nodded his head no.
Both mother and the father came over and sat down upon their son’s bed. Alam gently stroked his son’s hair while Jordane held his hands.
“Poppa,” Elam finally asked, breaking the tension that had engulfed the room. “Did that Palestinian boy deserve to get shot yesterday?”
Without hesitated Alam took his son’s hand from the grasp of his mother and held it up to his heart.
“I see boys get shot all the time at the hospital,” Alam said. “Jews. Arabs. Christians. Everybody. No boy deserves to get shot.”
“I think the same thing too,” Elam said; and the young boy pulled his hand back and rubbed the side of his father’s cheek, because his father looked so disturbed by what was going on all around them.
After that night things around Silwan seemed to calm down.
On Monday morning Elam went outside with his lunch patiently waiting for his mother’s cousin, Taavi, to drive him to school that day. Curiously, he did not see Fadi or the other boys who were usually hanging around in the empty lot next door or the sidewalk going up and down the hill where they usually would walk and amuse themselves and taunt one another in their perennial childish play.
But then a silver sedan, a sedan that Elam recognized as being owned by one of the executives from the Ir David Foundation, came rushing down the hill at full speed as all these young boys came chasing after it with fury in their eyes.
Suddenly at the bottom of the hill where Elam’s house was he saw Fadi and his friends come running out from behind a wall.
All five boys stormed out into the road, holding up rocks like they were going to throw them until the silver sedan roared down right upon them, striking Fadi and one of his friends, Fadi bouncing onto the silver hood, up the windshield and then straight down off the car, where he landed face up in the empty dirt lot that was right there.
As the silver sedan went racing off, Elam dropped his lunched, unlatched the wrought-iron gate, and ran down the street to the barren field where Fadi’s body lie there completely still with his blue and brown spotted eyes staring straight up at the heavens like he was looking at God.
The security guard who was supposed to be watching Elam came running. He tried to force the boy back to the safety of his house, but he adamantly refused.
Fadi began to hold his arm up and Elam took his broken hand. “Friend,” Fadi whispered to Elam right as his eyes closed, and his face and body became completely still.
The security guard forced Elam back as a brilliant white ambulance came screeching up to the scene—an ambulance exactly like the toy ambulance the two boys had been playing with together only weeks earlier right down to the blue strobe light that went flashing around atop its roof.
As everyone in the neighborhood began to come down and gather around the accident, Jews and Palestinians alike, Elam sat crouched like a frog, staring at the taillights of the white ambulance as its siren’s blared and it drove away with Fadi’s lifeless body inside, back up the hill where all the boys had come down earlier to chase that silver sedan.
With a silent hush Elam knew would only grow into a hysterical caldron overnight, he sat crouched in the empty lot, picking up bloodstained fistfuls of loose dirt, holding it up with his hand right, letting it sift down through his fingers, reaching down, picking it up, and repeating this cycle mindlessly over and over again.
-- Jéanpaul Ferro is a novelist, short fiction author, and poet from Providence, Rhode Island. An 8-time Pushcart Prize nominee, Jéanpaul’s work has appeared on NPR, Contemporary AmericanVoices, Columbia Review, Emerson Review, Connecticut Review, Portland Monthly, and others. He is the author of Essendo Morti – Being Dead (Goldfish Press, 2009), nominated for the 2010 Griffin Prize in Poetry; and Jazz (Honest Publishing, 2011) nominated for both the 2012 Griffin Prize in Poetry and the 2012 Kingsley Tufts Prize in Poetry. He is represented by the Jennifer Lyons Literary Agency. He currently lives along the south coast of southern Rhode Island. Website: www.jeanpaulferro.com