World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War
My father tried, with all the patience he could muster, to make me see that he had no more love for Israel than the most militant Al Aqsa martyr, but they seemed to be the only country actively preparing for the coming storm, certainly the only one that would so freely shelter and protect our family.
I laughed in his face. Then I dropped the bomb: I told him that I’d already found a website for the Children of Yassin 1 and was waiting for an e-mail from a recruiter supposedly operating right in Kuwait City. I told my father to go and be the yehud’s whore if he wanted, but the next time we’d meet was when I would be rescuing him from an internment camp. I was quite proud of those words, I thought they sounded very heroic. I glared in his face, stood from the table, and made my final pronouncement: “Surely the vilest of beasts in Allah’s sight are those who disbelieve!” 2
The dinner table suddenly became very silent. My mother looked down, my sisters looked at each other. All you could hear was the TV, the frantic words of the on-site reporter telling everyone to remain calm. My father was not a large man. By that time, I think I was even bigger than him. He was also not an angry man; I don’t think he ever raised his voice. I saw something in his eyes, something I didn’t recognize, and then suddenly he was on me, a lightning whirlwind that threw me up against the wall, slapped me so hard my left ear rang. “You WILL go!” he shouted as he grabbed my shoulders and repeatedly slammed me against the cheap drywall. “I am your father! You WILL OBEY ME!” His next slap sent my vision flashing white. “YOU WILL LEAVE WITH THIS FAMILY OR YOU WILL NOT LEAVE THIS ROOM ALIVE!” More grabbing and shoving, shouting and slapping. I didn’t understand where this man had come from, this lion who’d replaced my docile, frail excuse for a parent. A lion protecting his cubs. He knew that fear was the only weapon he had left to save my life and if I didn’t fear the threat of the plague, then dammit, I was going to fear him!
Did it work?
[Laughs.] Some martyr I turned out to be, I think I cried all the way to Cairo.
There were no direct flights to Israel from Kuwait, not even from Egypt once the Arab League imposed its travel restrictions. We had to fly from Kuwait to Cairo, then take a bus across the Sinai Desert to the crossing at Taba.
As we approached the border, I saw the Wall for the first time. It was still unfinished, naked steel beams rising above the concrete foundation. I’d known about the infamous “security fence”—what citizen of the Arab world didn’t—but I’d always been led to believe that it only surrounded the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Out here, in the middle of this barren desert, it only confirmed my theory that the Israelis were expecting an attack along their entire border. Good, I thought. The Egyptians have finally rediscovered their balls.
At Taba, we were taken off the bus and told to walk, single file, past cages that held very large and fierce-looking dogs. We went one at a time. A border guard, this skinny black African—I didn’t know there were black Jews 3 —would hold out his hand. “Wait there!” he said in barely recognizable Arabic. Then, “you go, come!” The man before me was old. He had a long white beard and supported himself on a cane. As he passed the dogs, they went wild, howling and snarling, biting and charging at the confines of their cages. Instantly, two large chaps in civilian clothing were at the old man’s side, speaking something in his ear and escorting him away. I could see the man was injured. His dishdasha was torn at the hip and stained with brown blood. These men were certainly no doctors, however, and the black, unmarked van they escorted him to was certainly no ambulance. Bastards, I thought, as the old man’s family wailed after him. Weeding out the ones too sick and old to be of any use to them. Then it was our turn to walk the gauntlet of dogs. They didn’t bark at me, nor the rest of my family. I think one of them even wagged its tail as my sister held out her hand. The next man after us, however…again came the barks and growls, again came the nondescript civilians. I turned to look at him and was surprised to see a white man, American maybe, or Canadian…no, he had to be American, his English was too loud. “C’mon, I’m fine!” He shouted and struggled. “C’mon, man, what the fuck?” He was well dressed, a suit and tie, matching luggage that was tossed aside as he began to fight with the Israelis. “Dude, c’mon, get the fuck off me! I’m one’a you! C’mon!” The buttons on his shirt ripped open, revealing a bloodstained bandage wrapped tightly around his stomach. He was still kicking and screaming as they dragged him into the back of the van. I didn’t understand it. Why these people? Clearly, it wasn’t just about being an Arab, or even about being wounded. I saw several refugees with severe injuries pass through without molestation from the guards. They were all escorted to waiting ambulances, real ambulances, not the black vans. I knew it had something to do with the dogs. Were they screening for rabies? That made the most sense to me, and it continued to be my theory during our internment outside Yeroham.
The resettlement camp?
Resettlement and quarantine. At that time, I just saw it as a prison. It was exactly what I’d expected to happen to us: the tents, the overcrowding, the guards, barbed wire, and the seething, baking Negev Desert sun. We felt like prisoners, we were prisoners, and although I would have never had the courage to say to my father “I told you so,” he could see it clearly in my sour face.
What I didn’t expect was the physical examinations; every day, from an army of medical personnel. Blood, skin, hair, saliva, even urine and feces 4 …it was exhausting, mortifying. The only thing that made it bearable, and probably what prevented an all-out riot among some of the Muslim detainees, was that most of the doctors and nurses doing the examinations were themselves Palestinian. The doctor who examined my mother and sisters was a woman, an American woman from a place called Jersey City. The man who examined us was from Jabaliya in Gaza and had himself been a detainee only a few months before. He kept telling us, “You made the right decision to come here. You’ll see. I know it’s hard, but you’ll see it was the only way.” He told us it was all true, everything the Israelis had said. I still couldn’t bring myself to believe him, even though a growing part of me wanted to.
We stayed at Yeroham for three weeks, until our papers were processed and our medical examinations finally cleared. You know, the whole time they barely even glanced at our passports. My father had done all this work to make sure our official documents were in order. I don’t think they even cared. Unless the Israeli Defense Force or the police wanted you for some previous “unkosher” activities, all that mattered was your clean bill of health.
The Ministry of Social Affairs provided us with vouchers for subsidized housing, free schooling, and a job for my father at a salary that would support the entire family. This is too good to be true, I thought as we boarded the bus for Tel Aviv. The hammer is going to fall anytime now.
It did once we entered the city of Beer Sheeba. I was asleep, I didn’t hear the shots or see the driver’s windscreen shatter. I jerked awake as I felt the bus swerve out of control. We crashed into the side of a building. People screamed, glass and blood were everywhere. My family was close to the emergency exit. My father kicked the door open and pushed us out into the street.
There was shooting, from the windows, doorways. I could see that it was soldiers versus civilians, civilians with guns or homemade bombs. This is it! I thought. My heart felt like it was going to burst! This liberation has started! Before I could do anything, run out to join my comrades in battle, someone had me by my shirt and was pulling me through the doorway of a Starbucks.
I was thrown on the floor next to my family, my sisters were crying as my mother tried to crawl on top of them. My father had a bullet wound in the shoulder. An IDF soldier shoved me on the ground, keeping my face away from the window. My blood was boiling; I started looking for something I could use as a weapon, maybe a large shard of glass to ram through the yehud’s throat.
Suddenly a door at the back of the Starbucks swung open, the soldier turned in its direction and fired. A bloody corpse hit the floor right beside us, a grenade rolled out of his twitching hand. The soldier grabbed the bomb and tried to hurl it into the street. It exploded in midair. His body shielded us from the blast. He tumbled back over the corpse of my slain Arab brother. Only he wasn’t an Arab at all. As my tears dried I noticed that he wore payess and a yarmulke and bloody tzitzit snaked out from his damp, shredded trousers. This man was a Jew, the armed rebels out in the street were Jews! The battle raging all around us wasn’t an uprising by Palestinian insurgents, but the opening shots of the Israeli Civil War.
In your opinion, what do you believe was the cause of that war?
I think there were many causes. I know the repatriation of Palestinians was unpopular, so was the general pullout from the West Bank. I’m sure the Strategic Hamlet Resettlement Program must have inflamed more than its share of hearts. A lot of Israelis had to watch their houses bulldozed in order to make way for those fortified, self-sufficient residential compounds. Al Quds, I believe…that was the final straw. The Coalition Government decided that it was the one major weak point, too large to control and a hole that led right into the heart of Israel. They not only evacuated the city, but the entire Nablus to Hebron corridor as well. They believed that rebuilding a shorter wall along the 1967 demarcation line was the only way to ensure physical security, no matter what backlash might occur from their own religious right. I learned all this much later, you understand, as well as the fact that the only reason the IDF eventually triumphed was because the majority of the rebels came from the ranks of the Ultra-Orthodox and therefore most had never served in the armed forces. Did you know that? I didn’t. I realized I practically didn’t know anything about these people I’d hated my entire life. Everything I thought was true went up in smoke that day, supplanted by the face of our real enemy.
I was running with my family into the back of an Israeli tank, 5 when one of those unmarked vans came around the corner. A handheld rocket slammed right into its engine. The van catapulted into the air, crashed upside down, and exploded into a brilliant orange fireball. I still had a few steps to go before reaching the doors of the tank, just enough time to see the whole event unfold. Figures were climbing out of the burning wreckage, slow-moving torches whose clothes and skin were covered in burning petrol. The soldiers around us began firing at the figures. I could see little pops in their chests where the bullets were passing harmlessly through. The squad leader next to me shouted “B’rosh! Yoreh B’rosh!” and the soldiers adjusted their aim. The figures’…the creatures’ heads exploded. The petrol was just burning out as they hit the ground, these charred black, headless corpses. Suddenly I understood what my father had been trying to warn me about, what the Israelis had been trying to warn the rest of the world about! What I couldn’t understand was why the rest of the world wasn’t listening.
LANGLEY, VIRGINIA, USA
[The office of the director of the Central Intelligence Agency could belong to a business executive or doctor or an everyday, small-town high school principal. There are the usual collection of reference books on the shelf, degrees and photos on the wall, and, on his desk, an autographed baseball from Cincinnati Reds catcher Johnny Bench. Bob Archer, my host, can see by my face that I was expecting something different. I suspect that is why he chose to conduct our interview here.]
When you think about the CIA, you probably imagine two of our most popular and enduring myths. The first is that our mission is to search the globe for any conceivable threat to the United States, and the second is that we have the power to perform the first. This myth is the by-product of an organization, which, by its very nature, must exist and operate in secrecy. Secrecy is a vacuum and nothing fills a vacuum like paranoid speculation. “Hey, did you hear who killed so and so, I hear it was the CIA. Hey, what about that coup in El Banana Republico, must have been the CIA. Hey, be careful looking at that website, you know who keeps a record of every website anyone’s ever looked at ever, the CIA!” This is the image most people had of us before the war, and it’s an image we were more than happy to encourage. We wanted bad guys to suspect us, to fear us and maybe think twice before trying to harm any of our citizens. This was the advantage of our image as some kind of omniscient octopus. The only disadvantage was that our own people believed in that image as well, so whenever anything, anywhere occurred without any warning, where do you think the finger was pointed: “Hey, how did that crazy country get those nukes? Where was the CIA? How come all those people were murdered by that fanatic? Where was the CIA? How come, when the dead began coming back to life, we didn’t know about it until they were breaking through our living room windows? Where the hell was the goddamn CIA!?!”
The truth was, neither the Central Intelligence Agency nor any of the other official and unofficial U.S. intelligence organizations have ever been some kind of all-seeing, all-knowing, global illuminati. For starters, we never had that kind of funding. Even during the blank check days of the cold war, it’s just not physically possible to have eyes and ears in every back room, cave, alley, brothel, bunker, office, home, car, and rice paddy across the entire planet. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we were impotent, and maybe we can take credit for some of the things our fans, and our critics, have suspected us of over the years. But if you add up all the crackpot conspiracy theories from Pearl Harbor 1 to the day before the Great Panic, then you’d have an organization not only more powerful than the United States, but the united efforts of the entire human race.
We’re not some shadow superpower with ancient secrets and alien technology. We have very real limitations and extremely finite assets, so why would we waste those assets chasing down each and every potential threat? That goes to the second myth of what an intelligence organization really does. We can’t just spread ourselves thin looking for, and hoping to stumble on, new and possible dangers. Instead, we’ve always had to identify and focus on those that are already clear and present. If your Soviet neighbor is trying to set fire to your house, you can’t be worrying about the Arab down the block. If suddenly it’s the Arab in your backyard, you can’t be worrying about the People’s Republic of China, and if one day the ChiComs show up at your front door with an eviction notice in one hand and a Molotov cocktail in the other, then the last thing you’re going to do is look over his shoulder for a walking corpse.