Yossi is an ideal agent for the Mossad—an Iraqi Jew, an idealist, and a charming loner, fluent in Arab dialects. Tajar, a brilliant agent, recruits and manages Yossi, code-named “the Runner.” Thus begins the longest-running and most successful operation in the history of Israeli intelligence. Yossi’s cover is Halim, a Syrian businessman who has returned home from Buenos Aires and whose charm inspires high-level friendships. His reputation leads to an opportunity that he can’t refuse: Tajar becomes a double agent infiltrating Syrian intelligence.
Meanwhile, in the desert oasis of Jericho, Abu Musa, an Arab patriarch, and Moses the Ethiopian, meet each day over games of shesh-besh and glasses of Arak to ponder history and humanity. We learn about the friendship of Yossi’s son, Assaf, an Israeli soldier badly wounded during the Six Day War, and Yousef, a young Arab teacher who, in support of the Palestinian cause, decides to live as an exile in the Judean wilderness.
Jericho Mosaic is the final volume of the Jerusalem Quartet, which begins with Sinai Tapestry, Jerusalem Poker, and Nile Shadows. Steeped in the history and landscape of the Middle East, it is a story of idealism and dreams, hope and despair, and life’s moments of breathtaking beauty.
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Book Four of the Jerusalem Quartet
By Edward Whittemore
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2002 Edward Whittemore Estate
All rights reserved.
Jerusalem in the early twentieth century was a vibrant little city only newly awakened from medieval obscurity by the coming of the British at the end of the First World War—a dream from antiquity suddenly stirring to life after four hundred years of slumber under the stupefying decadence of the Ottoman Empire. With their penchant for order and proper hygiene, the British briskly built hydraulic works and piped fresh water up to Jerusalem, but many people in the walled Old City still drank from the cisterns of the past, those underground reservoirs from other ages which never saw the light of day. For Jerusalem was a place where many eras still crowded together, and where no event from history was too remote for a morning's gossip, since the very ruins of that event might well be providing shade for the day's transactions of commerce and hope.
Stately Nubian doormen reigned in splendid solemnity at the entrances of hotels. Wily merchants hovered in dim shops fingering the purses on their sleek bellies, waiting with patience for fate and guides to bring them their quota of fools who would be as deaf as they were to the cries of beggars and holy men.
Preceded by a shabbily uniformed kavass clearing a way with his thumping staff, Turkish grandees in red tarbooshes swayed by to assignations in flowering courtyards, already glassy-eyed from a nargileh or two of hashish at breakfast. Fierce bedouin and European travelers haggled side by side over bunches of garlic and sacks of dates, and over ancient coins bearing pale green profiles of Alexander the Great or some heavy-nosed emperor of Rome or Byzantium.
Black-robed monks of a dozen nationalities swirled down alleys in peaked headdresses and round and flat hats, disappearing along arcane routes devised in the Middle Ages, the Red and White monks of the Russian church looking particularly frenzied as they delved ever deeper into the plots and counterplots of their twentieth-century revolution at home.
The poor and the blind wandered among delirious lost pilgrims seeking the sites of old. Cripples in carts peered up from the cobblestones as men chanted allegiance to obscure causes or dropped to their knees in an ecstasy of prayer, or shouted out the virtues of the pots and beads and rags they had for sale.
In the Muristan where the Crusader Knights of St. John had been quartered and where the Roman Forum had once stood, stringed orchestras played in front of shops to attract customers. And everywhere in the dark recesses of the bazaars there were reaching and gesturing hands and wild rumors of forgotten magnificence being whispered into eager ears, as Jerusalem seethed again with merchandise and fervor after a drowsy sleep of centuries.
For Tajar as a boy it was a time to run through alleys and over rooftops, to hide in corners and listen to old men recall distant memories and young men dream of new dawns of glory. In the early mornings he wandered down the narrow street called el Wad near the Temple Mount, once a Jebusite donkey path and the oldest road in the Old City. And in the cool of the evenings he tarried beside the Gihon spring, beyond the walls of the city since King David's time but the original source of Jerusalem whose perennial waters first caused a town to take root on the spot, the area around the spring later to become renowned as King Solomon's rose gardens, the sacred place where perfume and incense plants were grown for the king's grand new Temple on the hill above, from seeds first brought to the king and the land by the dusky Queen of Sheba.
And so Tajar wandered back and forth through history. Being holy, Jerusalem was an endless source of myth. There were legends of intriguing mystery, such as the tale that described the original Bible having been miraculously discovered in the nineteenth century buried in a monastery deep in the Sinai, only to be secretly reburied later in Jerusalem out of fear and piety in the cause of faith, because this original Bible had turned out to be a stunningly dangerous document which denied every religious truth ever held by anyone.
And there were stories of fabulous adventure, such as the shadowy accounts of a long-term poker game which had begun in Jerusalem after the First World War and was still in progress in the back room of an antiquities dealer's shop somewhere in the Old City, a game destined to run a dozen years, it was said, its three permanent members a Moslem and a Christian and a Jew, the secret stakes of the game nothing less than control of Jerusalem itself.
Arabs and Jews and Greeks and Armenians and Europeans—Tajar learned all their languages and glimpsed all their visions of the Holy City where the patriarch-shepherd Abraham had come four millennia ago to seek the blessing of Melchizedek, mythical priest-king of the ancient Jebusite city of Jerusalem.
Tajar spied out the hidden byways of the bazaars and the dazzling silences of the great sun-washed courtyards with their towers and domes and minarets, endlessly exploring the multitude of worlds around every corner and the multiplicity of ways and tongues and costumes which were the very heart of his ancient walled city. Above all he loved being different people at different moments, imagining secret lives for himself, imagining himself to be all the men whose paths he crossed.
He had a game which he called listening to the stones of Jerusalem. He would stop somewhere and turn his back on the crowds and close his eyes and rest his hands on a weathered stone, a wall or an abutment or arch, and soon he would find himself slipping back in time to some distant era, feeling its life surge around him and hearing its sounds and tasting its smells, so clearly the stones seemed to be whispering to him through his fingertips.
Anna smiled when he described that childhood game to her years later. She smiled and nodded in recognition at those sensations of his from long ago.
So that's where your sensualism began, she said to him, laughing. And it was true that Tajar always took enormous pleasure in textures and tastes and colors. He loved to touch things with his hands, to feel them with his fingers.
Once when he went to make coffee in Anna's house and she waited and waited and too much time had passed, she found him in the kitchen dreamily dipping his hand in and out of the jar of coffee beans, stroking the beans and letting them run through his fingers, oblivious to where he was and what he was supposed to be doing. So perhaps it was as Anna suspected, and his mystical love as a boy for the stones of Jerusalem gave him a vision that guided his entire life.
In any case, Tajar's sensual pleasure in textures and colors and his love of ideas, his delight in multiple ways and languages and especially his boyhood games of pretending, all were to provide him with a very special role in the building of his homeland. The grand rabbi of espionage, Yossi would one day call him, at a meeting of theirs in Geneva. And although Yossi laughed when he made the remark, it was no less true.
Tajar was the first director of the Mossad, its founder, and in fact his exceptional talent for secret worlds was wholly natural to him, a result of having grown up in Jerusalem at a time when all its races and tongues mingled freely, before the strife of later years caused the various communities to withdraw and isolate themselves one from the other.
Tajar had been born in Jerusalem, the son and grandson of rabbis who had also been born in Jerusalem. From the beginning ideas filled his days and Tajar could never escape them. A desert windstorm of ideas was forever swirling inside his brain and hurling him this way and that, obscuring the sun and revealing its brilliance and tossing up bits of stinging sand, tearing loose the tents of shelter and carrying off certainty and reshaping the hard wounded lines of the Judean hills from one day to the next, a never-ending struggle in his heart for recognition between man and nature, between man and his own nature, between the world and an immutable divine presence which never stopped changing.
A struggle called history, the human soul, God. A way of wrestling with life, deep in his heart, which was also his own way of rejoicing in the gifts of his fathers, those erudite men who had struggled for air in the real Jerusalem of oppression and squalor under the Turks, while dreaming of a heavenly city.
Not surprisingly, Tajar found his vocation early in life. His first foray into professional secrecy was as a very young man in Baghdad in the 1930s. He went there ostensibly as a teacher and journalist but actually he was working for Shai, the Zionist intelligence network run by the Haganah in Palestine. He traveled widely in Iraq and also crossed over to Iran, picking up more Arab dialects along the way as well as learning Kurdish and Persian. By chance he even visited the dusty little town near Baghdad where Yossi, as a very young bookkeeper, was to add up figures in a ledger after running across the desert every afternoon. Tajar knew it was a life meant for him. Before the Second World War he served in different roles in Syria and Turkey and Lebanon. When the war came he was in Cairo, working with the British to organize Jewish commando operations in the Balkans and Jewish agents behind German lines in North Africa, but also serving Shai's interests all the while.
It was then that he had been in contact with Anna's brother, although Anna had never been aware of the connection. It was also then that he had come to know the one-eyed British officer with the disfigured face who was so helpful to Anna after her brother was killed. And Tajar had gone on many special operations himself during those years, in Greece and Turkey and as always in Arab countries, carrying out missions for the British while pursuing his own work.
When the Second World War ended Tajar was an important man in Jewish Palestine. No other native of the Middle East had more experience in intelligence than he did. He traveled in America arranging for arms to be smuggled to Palestine, then negotiated secretly in Arab countries during the struggle for independence. But when Israel was founded, Tajar was chief of its intelligence service for only a short time. His preeminence slipped and soon the son of another rabbi, from the Ukraine, became the head of the Mossad.
In a way it was precisely Tajar's brilliance with ideas that caused him to lose out. He was a superb agent but quite hopeless when it came to administering a government agency. His mind ranged in every direction at once and he tended to run his office out of his pocket and memory. Field work and improvising on the spot were what he understood, not budgets and committees and overseeing an arm of the civil service among competing bureaucracies.
There were also some who thought he might have lost the top Mossad position because he was an Oriental. Those in power in Israel were almost all from Eastern Europe, and perhaps they felt more comfortable with someone of their own background in charge of the country's intelligence service. But Tajar himself, with characteristic generosity, refused to see it that way. The man who replaced him, whom he along with everyone else respected, had worked entirely within the country over the years while Tajar had served mostly abroad. So Tajar felt it was a case of familiarity. Intimacy couldn't help but count within a small leadership. It was only human nature that it should, particularly when it came to the man who controlled the country's secret intelligence service. And of course Tajar knew he had always had a reputation for being out there somewhere, alone, working by himself in the Arab world.
All the same he was deeply disappointed and there was no way he could deny his profound sense of failure, at least to himself. With others he made a great effort not to show his disappointment. Only Yossi would one day know the truth, and that was years later.
Not that Tajar's feeling of failure mattered, as it turned out.
Worry's useless because we always have the wrong thing in mind, he once said to Anna. That day, which was a fine spring day of sunshine, I was worrying about whether we'd get just a little more rain before the summer arrived for good. Because if not, would there be enough water for the tomatoes to grow? Tomatoes were on my mind, you see.
That day was the day a few years after independence when a decrepit vegetable truck wandered into the path of Tajar's oncoming car on a road near Tel Aviv, destroying the car and smashing Tajar below the waist. They had to cut him out of the wreck with an acetylene torch and for a time it was doubtful whether he would live. Then it was a question of what there would be left of him below the waist. But the doctors worked miracles and salvaged his legs, partially. While recuperating, he pursued a childhood dream by teaching himself ancient Greek in order to hear the words of Homer.
Eventually he was able to go back to work in the Mossad as an operations officer. But he moved with difficulty, a cripple who walked mostly with his arms, bent forward from the waist, supporting himself on aluminum crutches that he held with his hands. Thick braces reached up above the hand grips and encircled his forearms to balance his weight.
Now he trained and directed younger men in the Mossad to do what he had once done. His specialty was penetrating Arab countries and in that kind of operation no one could match his skill. Tajar had been there, after all, and knew exactly what his agents had to face. Without a second thought he could describe the street corners in a Syrian town or the cast of a remote stretch of hills in Iraq at twilight, or the homely manners of a farmer who kept an orchard on the outskirts of a village in Jordan. Because of his great knowledge he bred a special confidence in his men. Their reverence for him as a leader went beyond trust and was more like faith in a religious mystery, which led to exceptional daring on their part. Your mind is your weapon, Tajar told them, and with it you can do anything.
Tajar loved his agents and lived their dangers and fears as his own. His agents were truly extensions of him, part of his heart and part of that wrestling with life which for him was the only way a man could know he existed. And of course it was on the strength of his teaching that his men were able to cross borders and cultures and carry out his daring operations with so much success.
As for Anna, she knew nothing of Tajar's other life in espionage. She knew only that he had some quietly confidential role in the defense ministry which he never talked about, that he worked extremely long hours week after week and year after year, that he seemed conversant with everything under the sun, that he was often impish and playful and given to droll merriment, that he loved to laugh and was easily moved to tears, that he ate huge quantities of raw vegetables and fruit and leban with enormous gusto, that he revered the soups she had learned to make as a girl in Cairo, and that no matter how busy he might be he was always there if she needed him, with encouragement and strength and wisdom, with kind words and thoughtful smiles.
Being with Tajar was being with many men, because he was exuberant and sensitive and lived life to the fullest. Anna found him a rare and immensely lovable friend, simple and complex at the same time, a man who had learned to reach deep into his days and draw great riches from them. Oh yes, truly spectacular riches. The simplest things glittered in Tajar's hands.CHAPTER 2
The street where Anna grew up in Cairo was so crowded and narrow the roofs nearly touched overhead. The houses were also narrow and of the nineteenth century, their upper stories serving as living quarters for the families who ran the cavernous shops below, Egyptians and Greeks and Syrians side by side, and Armenians and Jews and an occasional Italian or Persian or Turk. During the day there was a constant clatter of donkeys and carts on the cobblestones, men shouting and hawking wares and a bustle of people poking and sniffing goods in the half-light of dust and raucous cries. But then at night the alley became a dark silent tunnel, where the shops were locked and the families retreated to their back courtyards and the shuttered upper rooms of their private lives.
Sounds that lived in the shadows were the memories of her childhood. Because it was Egypt, perhaps, where the sun never wavered and the sky was unchanging and featureless, forever a flat brilliant light without echoes which hid nothing and therefore gave nothing. In a land where rain never came and no cloud wandered there were hesitant scrapings beneath the eaves and the creak of shutters, a shuffle of wind and the distant whispers of corridors. Or the mysteries of a key stirring in an invisible lock.
Excerpted from Jericho Mosaic by Edward Whittemore. Copyright © 2002 Edward Whittemore Estate. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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