It was not only avoiding thoughts of home that helped the good sniper to carry out his mission as he lay on the roof of a building in Tulkarem. It was not only the disconnection from his mother, that not thinking about her constituted a kind of rest for him. Sniper number two, Hai-Ad Gonen, had given him a bit of cocaine earlier, and Dael could already feel its blessed effects.
Dael Gruber, who all the guys in the army and in civilian life called Gruber due to the difficulty in pronouncing the two vowels one after the other, was regarded by his friends as a sensitive sniper with a delicate soul. And indeed, he was an example to contradict what people generally say about snipers in armies, that they detach themselves from feelings and simply say to themselves, ‘Someone has to do the job,’ and execute their task with cold-blooded composure.
This was a sweeping generalisation, and it didn’t apply to Dael. Dael went for it in a big way, in other words he shot to kill, otherwise it wouldn’t have worked for him. It’s a question of psychological makeup. Sometimes it was a little hard for him to shoot at a concrete target, but then he concentrated and took targets from his life instead and set them up in his imagination in the place of the wanted man. In many cases he imagined the father of Moran Eliot, his girlfriend when he was at the end of the eleventh grade, when she was at the end of the twelfth grade.
Moran Eliot was his first love. It lasted for June–July–August and half of September. Moran was his first, but he wasn’t her first, and she said that after the first it didn’t matter anymore what number he was. It ended badly between them, and with hindsight he didn’t care. Her father was in his sights because he threw Dael out of the house in the most humiliating way, after Moran didn’t want to see him and called him a stalker.
With Aya Ben-Yaish things were steadier, if with less fire. She was a spoiled kid who had moved to Tel Baruch North with her parents when her father had been obliged to sell their villa after going bankrupt, and rent an apartment in Telba-N.
They met for the first time in Mikado. She went down there in very short white pants, as dictated by fashion, to buy Winston Lights for her father, and Dael went to buy Winston Lights for himself. He smoked, of course. No great love erupted between them, but there was definitely a certain love, more meaningful than a convenient arrangement. However, it was true that the distance between Stefan Zweig Street, where the Ben-Yaish family lived, and Yocheved Bat-Miriam Street, where the Gruber family lived, was conveniently short, and Aya herself was pleasant and compliant on the whole.
It was a reservist psychologist in civvies who taught the snipers imaging. He arrived in the framework of a training course organised by the army for elite soldiers, and tried, for example, to explain what happened in the brain of the sniper at the time of shooting. He also gave advice on what to do in all kinds of specific stress situations within a general situation of stress. He divided their time according to levels of stress: very, very stressed, very stressed, and so on, down to apathetic. Dael and three other guys were the only ones who wrote down what he said, and so he spoke only to them, but mainly to Dael.
Dael also asked good questions, and the reservist was happy to answer them, and before answering each question he said, ‘I’m happy to answer your question.’
He worked with them on controlling their emotions from the moment they left the base until they reached the site of the assignment. And then during the assignment until the minute they left the field. Dael wrote down all the tips, and looked at his bored companions and wondered what was going on in their heads. He imagined that what was going on in their heads was what would be going on in his head if he hadn’t been so stressed by nature and had not lived in a house where stress was what connected the inhabitants.
The reservist gave them exercises for the suppression of irrational thoughts, and flavoured his words with amazing stories about his own past as a senior sniper, before he became a psychologist, and Dael thought he was definitely okay, this guy, like his mother said about the friends he brought home. On principle, he told them to aim in their imagination at people they didn’t feel anything in particular for, neither hate nor love. What he most recommended was a faint revulsion, and he confessed that he hit his own bullseyes best when he imagined targets that aroused a faint revulsion in him, like teachers in high school, or even commanding officers in the army.
Dael thought that he could try, for example, the guests at his bar mitzvah. Not the ones that came to the synagogue, but the ones that turned up in droves after the service to lunch at the Stefan Baron restaurant.
But when none of the imaging exercises worked, and destructive thoughts swarmed into his mind like locusts, he thought about his father.
His hatred for his father was classic. His adoration of his mother was classic too. And his attitude toward his sister vacillated according to his mother’s attitude toward her. In the days of Lirit’s forbidden love for Lucas, 16-year-old Dael was the chief instigator of the family hostility toward the wayward girl, and on one particularly cold Saturday, when nobody wanted to leave their previous family home in Tagore Street, he wrote on the door of her room ‘Lirit the Parakeet,’ a nickname that had the power to insult her when she was a child, and to which she was still, at the age of almost 20, not immune.
None of the family tried to defend Lirit. Their father, as usual, was absorbed in himself, and Mandy said that she had a bad case of the flu.
‘They want to hit at the heart of the civilian population, because they know that this is where it hurts the nation most,’ the CO told them before the mission, but Dael thought that most of the nation didn’t feel a thing, except perhaps for a faint pang, and because of this he needed a bit of cocaine before they set out: in order to hide the lie from his thoughts.
In that early spring simultaneity became a weapon in the ongoing war. The terrorist organisations competed among themselves as to how many simultaneous attacks they could mount, and every organisation had a virtuoso who orchestrated the simultaneity.
The semi-senior wanted man Dael’s force was assigned to liquidate was the virtuoso of the Fatah Eagles, a genius in his field, who according to the intelligence in the hands of the army, was busy planning five simultaneous attacks in different cities, including overseas targets. If the five bombs didn’t explode at exactly the same minute, the attack wouldn’t count as simultaneous. The number of casualties wasn’t important, but the simultaneity was. The competition was over the control of time.
Where the five bombs were supposed to go off the intelligence agencies had been unable to discover, but the CO said in the briefing that he himself wasn’t interested in knowing because in any case the planner would be eliminated today and he wouldn’t be able to execute his plan.
You never knew exactly when the shot would be fired. That was how the M24 sniper rifle was designed – in order to prevent the body’s reflexes that could interfere with the execution of the execution. Dael compared the slow squeezing of the trigger to engaging the clutch on an uphill spurt, slowly, carefully, so the engine wouldn’t stall. He had passed the test on his first go and he was an excellent driver. His mother let him have her fragrant car with an almost easy heart.
The lookouts confirmed that the target had been eliminated, together with its intentions to develop itself into five simultaneous explosions, including targets overseas. As for the force, it was already close to base. Dael’s pulse was rapid, he was shaking and he wanted more cocaine. He sniffed his hands and cursed. Now his hands would stink for a week.
As usual afterward, he scrubbed himself for an hour in the shower and then lay down in bed and connected to the place where he had last stopped reading The Red and the Black by Stendhal. He allowed himself three pages before moving on to David Vogel. He had ten bookmarks, which Lirit had bought him for his nineteenth birthday, together with this book and another one by Jack Kerouac that was on sale. Was his simultaneous reading an obsession requiring treatment, or was it simply virtuosity, ostensibly superfluous? He remembered that his mother had told him a bookshop opened in Mikado and he wondered if they kept classics, or just the latest bestsellers.
Orly Castel-Bloom is a leading voice in Hebrew literature today. Her postmodern classic Dolly City has been included in UNESCO’s Collection of Representative Works, and was nominated in 2007 as one of the ten most important books since the creation of the state of Israel. She has received the Tel Aviv Foundation Award, the Alterman Prize for Innovation, the Prime Minister’s Prize three times (1994, 2001, 2011), the Newman Prize, the French WIZO Prize for Human Parts, and the Leah Goldberg Prize. Her books have been translated into eleven languages. Her latest novel to appear in English is Textile (Feminist Press at CUNY) from which the above has been excerpted.
Dalya Bilu was born in South Africa. She attended the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She has been translating Hebrew literature in English for many years and has received a number of awards for her work.
This piece was selected for inclusion in the January 2014 Translation Issue by Daniel Medin, a contributing editor of The White Review. He helps direct the Center for Writers and Translators at the American University of Paris, and is Associate Series Editor of The Cahiers Series.