JACOB INSTALLMENT #19

Chapter Ten

The war ship crossed from the Atlantic into the Mediterranean under a crystal blue sky that complemented the warm breeze and the scent of African desert. Jacob and Sid leaned against the rails gazing out over the benign sea, Jacob thinking free at last. Looking toward the stern, he saw the other ship trailing behind at some distance. He turned back and looked at the water below, visualizing how its warmth would feel against his skin, now that survival was no longer an issue. The thought tempted him to strip down to his shorts and dive right then into the water. But before his imagination could take him any farther, their day was quickly ruined by Sid’s finger, which was outstretched and pointing toward a dot in the sky. A sailor came up and ordered them down below.

The crew was polite enough to them as they sat in the mess, offering them coffee and even some pie left over from last night’s meal. But though they could sense the tension in the ship, they couldn’t see what was going on topside. Their ears registered plenty that seemed to be happening. Commands were shouted and turrets moving. Muffled booms echoed in the hull. A startling whoosh told them that a rocket had just been fired. After a long time a couple of sailors came in chatting excitedly, poured themselves coffee and sat down at their table. Jacob and Sid looked at them, obvious questions on their faces. The nearest seaman smiled in response and moved down the table to sit next to them. “Plenty of action today,” he started, ramping up Jacob’s impatience. “Helicopter. U.N. We sent you down in case they came closer. We should never have let you go up topside. Didn’t think about satellites.”

“Is it still around?” Jacob asked him.

“No, no, it’s gone.” He pointed downward. “Chopper went after the civvy boat instead. Started firing on them. Even dropped some depth charges. They won’t be doing any more euthanizing. But there’ll be others now. We’d be hightailing it to port, but now we’re really on nursemaid duty to that other ship. We’ll be going alongside with the ship’s surgeon to patch up any wounded aboard.”

The two seamen left. Soon they could feel the ship slow and eventually come to a stop. Still later, amid clanking and banging, the hatch opened and in poured a group of civilians trailing behind a corpsman. They were obviously wounded, most sporting white bandages wrapped around various parts of their bodies. A makeshift sick bay was set up at one corner of the mess. As the last of the wounded were accommodated there, the change in vibration signaled that the ship was again underway. The two refugees went over to them and offered their help to the corpsman. He happily took them up on their offer and picked two of the most severely wounded, explaining what they could do to mitigate their suffering. Jacob and Sid were both relieved to be occupied with something that would take their minds off the situation developing outside.

“Nuts to them all, those U.N. cretins,” a wounded man with a bandaged arm muttered nearby.

“What happened?” Sid asked. “We couldn’t see.”

“Shot right into our boat. Didn’t even hail the captain. Like rats in a barrel.  It’s Hitler’s Germany all over again – ridding the world of Jews was on their minds.”

“Good thing this ship was in the area,” another wounded man spoke up. “We’d have been goners for sure.”

“Where are you from?” Jacob asked him.

“Germany, where else,” he replied caustically. “Home of the Jew-killers. It’s happening all over again.”

“But this time you have a homeland,” the corpsman spoke up.

“Yeh, and thanks. We do appreciate that, but how long is your homeland going to last?”

“At least as long as I’m alive,” the corpsman said.

“Amen, brother,” the wounded man replied. There was a murmur of assent from the others.

A meal was served in the mess. Some time after that the ship slowed again, the sounds informing them that they were in the process of docking. A lieutenant came into the mess and signaled them over while the noises outside indicated that the work of completing their voyage was still in progress. “See those refugees over there?” he said, pointing to the small group of wounded they had just left. “Might be a good idea if you two just joined them. Not that you won’t eventually be welcomed into Israel, but it just might take longer if you stay separated. A lot longer. Get what I’m saying?”

“Yes, sir, and thanks,” Jacob replied.

The lieutenant tipped his cap in acknowledgment of their understanding. “Compliments of the Captain,” he said, and turned back toward the hatch.

Jacob told the corpsman what had just transpired. “Good idea,” he said. “But we need to make it better.”

“How so?” Sid asked.

“I’ll show you if you’ll sit down.” When they complied, he bandaged Jacob’s arm and Sid’s leg.

As the ship approached the port of Haifa those refugees capable of walking were allowed topside for a view of their destination. The scene was magnificent, with Mount Carmel and surrounding hills rising up from the Mediterranean and white buildings shining in the sun. Trees were abundant, lending the large city a homey, settled look. “It looks beautiful,” Sid said to Jacob. “Like what home should look like.”

“There’s much history here, too,” spoke another refugee. “This is where the Exodus 1947 came to rest briefly after being boarded and commandeered by the British. The boat was carrying over forty-five hundred Jewish Holocaust survivors, whom the British refused to allow onshore. Instead, they were taken back to refugee camps in Germany. But the Jews in losing the battle won the war. A huge stink was raised over the heavy-handed manner in which the British treated the Jewish refugees, and all the more so as by that time their suffering under the Nazi regime had become common knowledge. Then there was the popularity of Leon Uris’ Exodus, a fictionalized account that did much to advertise the plight of the Jews. I’d be willing to wager, in fact, that the incident of the Exodus 1947 helped the Jews enormously in their quest for statehood and international recognition.”

“Is the boat still here?” Sid asked him. “Can we visit it?”

“Yes and no. It’s here, but it was allowed to fall into neglect and eventually burned to the waterline and sank. At the present time it’s buried beneath the port facility. And that’s probably where it will stay for a long time to come.”

As the man pointed to the facility, Jacob marveled at its busy industrial modernity. This city wasn’t some backwater town, but a major economic powerhouse. As he saw the modern high-rises in the background, he thought to himself that Haifa could just as well be an American city.

Closer in as they approached the breakwater, the industrial section of the port came into the fore, confirming the impression that Jacob had acquired before. A major cruise ship was docked at a quay. At other locations, huge cranes offloaded containers from freighters.

They went through customs as part of the European group. The trauma of injury evoked compassion from the officials and sped up the process. They all were issued identity cards apparently based on nothing more than their solemn oath that they were truthful in giving their names. Behind the scenes, of course, they accessed the Interpol face-recognition database, but nobody in their group was apprehended. Samples of their DNA were also taken for confirmation of their Jewish identities and their right to make aliyah under the Right of Return, law 5710. They then would be full Israeli citizens. When they refused further treatment for their wounds, they were endowed with a starter stipend, enough to get them something to eat and a place to stay for a week, and were directed to the Ministry of the Interior for temporary visas. There they would be directed further to help with employment.

When they emerged from the customs building, the colorful bustle outside forced Jacob to amend his impression of Haifa as being reminiscent of an American city. Maybe once it had been that, he reflected, but now Haifa’s incomparably better. Under the present regime, America had lost its color and optimism. Now the streets of its cities, under the watchful eyes of millions of cameras, were drab, its people grim, fearful and colorless. This city, in stark contrast, was healthy, happy and alive, despite the ever-present threat of incoming rockets, improvised explosive devices, and the huge mass of people outside its borders who wished its destruction and death.

[to be continued]

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