Eva Salomon’s War
Jerusalem, January 10, 1947
It’s Friday afternoon and the hour of long shadows. Of slanting light that brings out the tarnished gold of Jerusalem stone. As the sun sinks, its amber rays fire the minarets in the heart of the Old City, burnish Suleiman’s walls, wash over towers, crosses, and domes, glint on gun turrets, and glance off the upraised bayonets of the sentries on the Hill of Evil Counsel. Throughout the town, both old and new, the day’s decline brings a flurry of activity. Jews rush home to prepare for the Sabbath. Arabs flock to the call of the Maghreb prayer. British officials crowd into the bar of the King David Hotel to toast His Majesty with tumblers of gin. Citizens of all three communities hurry their separate ways to reach the safety of their enclaves before the vehement darkness of a Palestine night descends.
In front of a billboard at the corner of Mamilla and Princess Mary Roads, a woman lingers. She wears a fawn-coloured tweed jacket with padded shoulders and a sheepskin collar and a smart, emerald-green wool suit underneath. A gold scarf is tucked around her throat for a splash of contrast and to fend off the stiff January wind. Her trilby hat is angled stylishly, the brim sloping across her brow and tilting towards the sky. She balances on pumps with two-and-a-half inch heels, the highest she could find at the shoe shop on Ben Yehuda Street. She’s young, though not in the first blush of youth. A small woman— barely four foot eleven — who dresses to give herself extra inches. Pausing before this billboard on her way home from work has become a habit. The hoarding, plastered with notices in three languages, is an island of sanity in a city coming apart at the seams. Despite the tensions, sporadic curfews, the possibility of an explosion rending the air any moment, there’s much entertainment on offer . ...
But why doesn’t the woman get a move on? It’s time to leave, for the light is fading fast. Behind the billboard, beyond the street corner, lies an ancient cemetery: a wide expanse of gnarled trees and overgrown bushes, where the Jerusalem darkness always seems dense as bricks. Yet she dallies a bit longer to fish out a pack of cigarettes from the depths of her handbag. To recapture the filaments of her nostalgic dream and to avoid the chill absence that awaits her at home. She floats away on her clouds of what-once-was and what-mighthave been, while the streets empty and the last shutters clatter down over the shops. Soon the townsfolk will have vanished behind their closed doors, their own four walls. Soon clusters of soldiers will be out on foot patrol, exchanging rude jokes to buttress their spirits. An armoured car — a behemoth with a gun-barrel snout — will rumble down the hill from the parking lot beside the King David Hotel. The zealous young men of the Underground will emerge from cellars and alleys. Some of them have barely begun to shave. They are armed with home-made bombs and the fieriest of convictions. Soon the game of the hunters and the hunted will begin. And that oblivious, day-dreaming woman in the trilby hat? She is me.