Prisoner Exchange
Prisoner Exchange

By Israel Zwick

(The following story was inspired by the Yiddish comedy routines of the late Dzigan & Schumacher, z”l. If they are watching from above, the author begs their forgiveness. Zayt mir mokhel.)

Prisoner R: Guard, how much do you want for that newspaper?

Guard: 10 Shekel

Prisoner R: But it’s written on there that the price is 7 Shekel.

Guard: Since when do you believe everything that’s written in the newspaper?

Prisoner R: You’re lucky that you have a monopoly on newspapers here. Hand it over.

Prisoner L: I see that you’re reading a paper, could you tell me what today’s date is?

Prisoner R: It won’t do you any good, that guard sold me yesterday’s paper, the mamzer.

Prisoner L: Is there anything new in the paper?

Prisoner R: It says here that the economy is up, employment is down, and peace is right around the corner. Same old hogwash.

Prisoner L: I see that you don’t have much faith in our country’s leaders.

Prisoner R: They’re all a bunch of phony diplomats. They say one thing, mean something else, then they do something completely different. Wait, here’s an article that’s very troubling. It seems that the Gush Katif settlers were having an anti-disengagement rally and a Peace Now group held a counter rally nearby. There was an altercation and it got ugly, with some injuries and arrests.

Prisoner L: You don’t have to tell me about it. I was there. I was the one who hit a settler on the head with a beer bottle.

Prisoner R: Why’d you do a dumb thing like that for?

Prisoner L: I don’t know. I regretted it as soon as I saw the blood gushing from him. I think that I had too much beer to drink and my anger exploded. I’m fed up with those religious extremists who are occupying Palestinian lands. Those 9000 settlers are violating the humanitarian rights of the 1.3 million Arabs living in Gaza.

Prisoner R: Is that so? You not only had too much to drink, you’ve also been watching too much Al-Jazeera TV.

Prisoner L: Who are you to reprimand me? Who did you kill to wind up in here?

Prisoner R: You should have a little more respect. Do you know with whom you are speaking? I am Mikhail Abramovitch, known all over Israel. I never killed anyone. I am a reputable broker. You’ll see. My lawyers will have me out of here in an hour.

Prisoner L: What did you do, broker rocket launchers and missiles to the Arabs?

Prisoner R: Heaven forbid! I deal with Arabs but I only sell them luxury goods like fine Cuban cigars, Scotch whiskeys, and Italian clothing.

Prisoner L: For that they put you in prison?

Prisoner R: Well the government calls it smuggling and tax evasion.

Prisoner L: Aren’t you afraid to go into the territories to deal with them? You’re not afraid of getting hurt or shot?

Prisoner R: No, they know me already. They think that I’m on their side and against the government. Besides, they want my goods.

Prisoner L: Where do they have the money to buy luxury goods? I thought that they’re all living in poverty.

Prisoner R: That’s what they want you to think. There’s a lot of money coming into the territories. UNRWA has a budget of 500 million dollars, UNICEF spends 17 million, and the Palestinian Authority received over 2 billion dollars from the Europeans and Americans. The problem is that the money isn’t going to the people. It’s going into the hands of a select few that have the proper connections. They’re the ones that want the luxury goods.

Prisoner L: That still doesn’t give us the right to humiliate the Arabs and violate their human rights. Our treatment of the Arabs is the leading cause of the worldwide increase in anti-Semitism.

Prisoner R: What do you young Israelis know about anti-Semitism? In Russia, I grew up with anti-Semitism. It permeated the air we breathed and the water we drank. I lost my job and career to anti-Semitism.

Prisoner L: You mean you weren’t always a crook?

Prisoner R: When I was your age, I was a promising young geneticist at Moscow University. I have a PhD in Microbial Genetics.

Prisoner L: How did you lose your job?

Prisoner R: I was a Jewish activist. My group used to meet secretly but the KGB was always watching us. One day, when I left a meeting, a policeman was standing nearby with a big German Shepherd. He tried to provoke me. He said, “Jew, you see that dog, that’s your brother.”

Prisoner L: So what did you do?

Prisoner R: I was a brash young man and fell for the bait. I called back to him, “Well, let’s see. If the dog is circumcised, he’s my brother. If not, he’s your brother.” So they arrested me for insubordination and Zionist activities. Isn’t it ironic that in Russia I was arrested for Zionist activities and in Israel I’m arrested for anti-Zionist activities?

Prisoner L: So how did you get out of jail?

Prisoner R: Eventually they let me out, but I lost my job at the University. I had to make a living by dealing with the Black Market. I traded in tobacco and liquor. Those Russians would do anything for good tobacco and liquor.

Prisoner L: Now that you’re in Israel, why don’t you go back to working as a geneticist?

Prisoner R: It’s been twenty years since I studied genetics. The field changed so much that I don’t recognize it anymore.

Prisoner L: Now I understand why you’re so bitter. But that doesn’t explain why we should be occupying Palestinian lands. We should be removing all those illegal settlements and give the land back to them.

Prisoner R: You don’t know what you’re talking about! Why don’t you pick up a history book instead of a beer bottle? The YESHA territories were never Palestinian lands. Most of those Arabs are not indigenous to the area. They fled there at the onset of the 1948 war. Then Jordan and Egypt illegally occupied the area, and the Jews were driven out. If not for Chamberlain’s White Paper in 1939, many thousands of Jews would have settled in those areas during the British Mandate. The Jews have at least as much right to that land as the Arabs.

Prisoner L: That was the past. But now there are 3 million Arabs living there. If they had their own Palestinian state, there wouldn’t be a conflict anymore.

Prisoner R: I’m shocked that you really believe that! A Palestinian state would just prolong the conflict and cause permanent friction with the State of Israel.

Prisoner L: How is that?

Prisoner R: When I was growing microbial cultures for genetics studies, I knew that the culture followed an S-shaped growth curve. A microbial culture in a confined area, such as a tube of nutrient broth, would grow very rapidly then taper off as metabolic wastes accumulated. Eventually, the whole culture would die off from the accumulated waste products. That same pattern could also be applied to human population ecology.

Prisoner L: What does that have to do with Jews and Arabs?

Prisoner R: It’s simple. King David knew what he was doing when he picked Jerusalem as his capital. The surrounding Judean Hills provided increased surface area for population growth and agricultural development. It also provided accessible underground springs for a continuous supply of fresh water. However, the land can’t sustain continuous growth in such a small, confined area. Eventually, the population would have to settle elsewhere or die out. We see that happening already to Jewish populations in the USA. Jews moved out of crowded urban areas into less developed areas in upstate NY and Long Island. Now there are even Jewish communities in Iowa and Montana.

Prisoner L: So what do you propose?

Prisoner R: The 1947 boundaries of the British Palestine Mandate cannot sustain a growing population of 10 million Arabs and Jews. The Jews have no other country to go to, but the Arabs have more than 20 others with sparsely populated lands. So if you’re really interested in promoting the humanitarian rights of Palestinian Arabs, you would advocate for voluntary resettlement to sparsely populated areas in other Arab countries. If you gave them a decent compensation package, most of them would be happy to leave. They have no attachment to the YESHA territories. They would be happy to live anywhere that they had decent living conditions and civil rights. But nobody ever made them an offer or gave them the opportunity to live elsewhere. The Arab governments insist that they must live within the 1947 borders of mandatory Palestine. Under those conditions, Arabs and Jews would be competing for scarce natural resources, with disastrous results. It’s definitely not a formula for a lasting peace.

Prisoner L: So you mean that I would actually be helping the Arab population by advocating for voluntary transfer with compensation.

Prisoner R: Now you’re getting it. The effects of the alcohol are finally wearing off.

Guard: Abramovitch, you’re free to go.

Prisoner R: It’s about time. What took so long? What about my young friend here, can he come with me?

Guard: No, we have to get him a lawyer. He almost killed a settler, a father with four young children. We’re very lucky that the rim of his orange baseball cap cushioned and deflected the blow. He got away with only minor bruises.

Prisoner R: I’ll get my lawyers to help you. You’re not a bad kid. You just have to get your head screwed on straight. When you get out of here, you have to visit that settler and apologize. Guard, the next time that I come here, I expect to get a decent bowl of chicken soup. When I looked into that slop you gave me, I heard one noodle saying to the other, “Where are you, it’s lonely in here?”

Guard: Abramovitch, I don’t want to see you here again. Why don’t you get an honest job? I bet a shrewd operator like you could probably become an agent for Shin Bet.

Prisoner R: Hmm, that’s not a bad idea. Maybe I’ll give it some thought.

Israel Zwick

(c) 2005, I. Zwick, NYC

Israel Zwick is a commentator on the Middle East based in New York.

(. . . and, it seems, something of a playright.)

Reprinted by permission.