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infiltrating the enemy

The gunman was not home.

"Come in," his mother said. "Would you like some orange soda?" She smiled, waving me out of the sun and through her front door. She drew me into a dimly lit living room, the curtains closed against the heat.

"That's him," the woman said, pointing. I followed her finger to the wall, to the shooter's photograph, saw his face for the first time, and sank into the couch.

"He tried to kill someone," she said in an easy voice.

"Who?" I asked.

"Some Jew," said the woman's twelve-year old grandson, shrugging.

"He was a person from the outside, the head of a municipality in New York," said a man with a well-plowed brow, leaning against the far wall. "We heard he was doing something against Palestinians. Why else would they choose him to be shot?"

This was Saed, the shooter's oldest brother. He served in Yasser Arafat's security forces in Ramallah. He wore an olive-drab shirt and army pants, had an eagle tattoo and a snakeskin scar etched below his collarbone.

I lifted my eyebrows, encouraging him from across the room.

"It happened inside the Old City, near the Western Wall," he said. "He shot the man one time in the head."

"Why only once?" I asked.

"It was in the marketplace."

"After the shooting, he threw the gun in the air, and it fell in the marketplace," said his mother.

We all started to chuckle at the comic scene: one bullet, a cowering Jew, the gun pinwheeling out of reach. The mother, laughing, smacked my thigh.


The shooter, it seemed, had bad aim. He fired at the American man half-an-inch too high, grazing his head, missing his brain and sparing his life. Some of his partners had more success with their victims. They were Palestinians in their twenties and early thirties, some of them ex-cons, all of them members of a radical faction of the PLO, backed by Syria. Their leader had blown out his eyes while wiring a bomb to the bottom of a Palestinian informer's car.

The winter of 1986 had been a quiet time in Jerusalem. People walked through the Old City without fear. In March, that changed. The gang began gunning down tourists mostly -- American, German, British -- point-blank, a single bullet through the skull.

The American man was their first victim. Then they shot an Israeli businesswoman and a German tourist. Eleven days later a fourth gunman struck. He scouted the streets near the Old City for the perfect site: The Garden Tomb, a secluded park revered by Anglicans as the place where Jesus was buried. Outside the door to the Tomb, he found a young man sitting next to his backpack.

"How you doing?" the gunman said in English.

"Good," the tourist said, looking up from under a fringe of curls. "You American?" the killer asked hopefully.

"No, I'm British," the tourist said, raising a water bottle to his mouth.

British was almost as good. The gunman let him swallow the water. As he watched him screw the cap on the bottle, he stepped forward, so close he could have shaken the visitor's hand. He felt for the gun on his hip instead. One bullet in the brain.


I had pieced together fragments of these stories before. But now, surrounded by the shooter's family, I was hearing about the attack on the American for the first time.

"He was proud, he was beaming," the shooter's nephew said.

"After the incident, he came home and ate a big meal," said a sister-in-law.

"And what about the man he tried to kill?"

"It wasn't a personal vendetta," said the shooter's brother Imad. "He didn't know the man. It was public relations. He did it so people would look at us."

"Won't someone from the victim's family kill one of your people?" I said.

"No," said Imad. "There's no revenge." The words billowed from his mouth. Smoke from his cigarette coiled around each syllable. "My brother never met the man personally. It's not a personal issue. Nothing personal, so no revenge."

I looked at the clock behind him, a souvenir stamped "I love Jerusalem" in English. I had been sitting with the shooter's family for over four hours. It was time to go.

Come back, visit soon, they insisted. I thanked them for their hospitality and promised that I would. I smiled and gave one last spirited wave before I disappeared down the street. My limbs moved stiffly, as if I had been holding them for hours in an unnatural pose. I felt relief, and then, I felt something else. Inside, a clamp came loose.

"Nothing personal," Imad had said, "so no revenge." The heat was rising in my face. It was personal. It was personal to me. The American man was my father.

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