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Daniel has returned home. He had felt a lump in his stomach even before stepping on the plane in Mumbai. He felt sick when he saw all the young boys and girls checking everyone’s identity at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv.
Mom, dad, his older sister and younger brother greet him at the airport. Everyone is equally excited. Daniel had been gone for a whole year. He would have loved to stay a bit longer. But the money ran out and he did not want to ask his dad for more.
It is Thursday evening. His little brother has already gone to bed, he had for days been so excited about Daniel’s return. But he was too tired to stay up for the late dinner. But mom, dad and his big sister are sitting around the table. They have taken out the nice China and cutlery. It’s a feast. The candles are lit. Daniel can feel everyone’s expectations. As if he would have something to say.
”Tell us how it was, we want to know everything.” Daniel suddenly sees black, he panics. It was as if he had nothing to say, could not formulate the words.
”We traveled along the west coast. Had for months been in southern India. Hitchhiked our way along the coast. There was always someone who picked us up. We were always well treated. After Kerala, we came to Goa.”
During Daniel’s short story, his father stopped him and exclaimed, ”I remember exactly how it was. Mom, didn’t we experience exactly the same thing?”
Daniel tries to continue. Tells them about the beach in Goa, all the kids, all the backpackers. That on the beach they were like one big happy family. That he had spent time with Indians, Brits, Swedes, Palestinians. That it had felt so right.
Unlike dad, his mother is silent. Observing her husband and son. Watching the game taking place between the two. Does not want to intrude. Just wants to listen.
”Imagine, ” says Daniel. ”Imagine, no soldiers, no automatic weapons. We had nothing to fear.”
”I tried to forget, ” says Daniel. ”In the beginning it was difficult. I had nightmares every single night in Kerala. But in Goa it started getting better.”
Dad becomes silent. The room suddenly feels cold. Mom, dad and his sister are still there. After a while, dad asks Daniel to continue telling them about the beach, about the little houses.
But Daniel does not want to talk anymore, even though he knows that it’s where his mom and dad met. He had had a list of all the places to visit and had been told to check if the restaurant was still there.
Daniel just says in passing that he had visited all the places on the list but that he thinks that most of it had changed.
No, he did not take any pictures. He had slept a lot in Goa. At first it had been difficult, but after three months he had started feeling better. It was above all nice to sleep on the beach, under the stars. Hear the voices and the sound of the waves. It was like he could hear normal sounds, hear life.
Dad did not ask Daniel why he had had nightmares, why he had been feeling psychologically ill. Dad only wanted to hear stories about Goa. He wanted to dream himself back. Back to another time.
Daniel had wanted to tell them about his last year in Gaza. The beach and the coastline had looked pretty much like Goa. Long sandy beaches. Families with children at play.
But Daniel never really saw the beach, only knew that it existed. Could sometimes pass it in the military jeep. Then he could see the children, hear the cries.
In Gaza, Daniel spent most of his time on a roof top. They had taken over a two-story house. That was what he had really wanted to talk about. About the two families that had been forcibly removed. About how they had come to the house early one morning. The families had still been asleep. They had surrounded the house, forced the women into a room, handcuffed the men and taken them with them. Forced the rest of the family to leave.
For many months, it was this event that had felt the most difficult. Daniel was happy about that. That it had not been worse. Daniel’s task was to sit on the rooftop and observe what was going on around him. He saw everything through the binoculars or through his telescopic sight on his rifle. He hardly missed anything. If anything happened, he would be the first to see it.
But nothing happened.
He liked it. He did not want anything to happen. Hoped that time would pass and that he could leave Gaza and travel to Goa as a free man. Every day, he heard other people’s stories.
Above all, he would listen to his girlfriend and her colleagues. Yes, he had met a girl whom he liked very much. It was both serious and a bit of play.
She told him that they used to patrol further north. Her stories never ended. He just told her that he was happy that he did not have the same task.
Now that he was sitting with mom and dad, Daniel had wanted to tell them about that special night. He cautiously began to tell them but his older sister said she did not want to hear. That everyone tried to forget, that she did not want to be reminded.
It had been an ordinary night. Everything was quiet. Calm as on the beach in Goa. It had also been just as hot. A gentle breeze had swept across the roof. They had just made some coffee, it was getting dark. He remembers all the voices, all the children laughing and shouting. Heard the Arabic words. Knew some Arabic himself so he understood that they were playing as children do. Children who for a moment could feel safe.
On a roof, two hundred meters away, Daniel sees how a man appears. He knew that there was only one family in that house. Mom, dad and two children. He had often seen them when they came through the gate. He had seen when the older child went to school. He knew that the man was actually not allowed to be on his roof. He hoped that he would soon go down again. He saw that he was looking for something.
Daniel took up his radio, reported to the Brigadier that there was a man on a roof, two hundred meters away.
The question came quickly. ”Is he looking around?”
“Yes,” Daniel replied.
Daniel hears the short order, “Take him out.”
Daniel does not have time to react, does not have time to say stop. Just hears two shots and sees the man sink down on the roof.
Daniel still has one hour left on his shift. Through his binoculars, he follows what happens on the rooftop two hundred meters away. Nothing happens.
No one dares to go up on the roof and retrieve the man, no one dares to try to save him. He just hears shouts, screams and children’s despairing cries.
When Daniel’s shift is over, the man is still lying on the roof.
He had wanted to tell all of this to his mom and dad. But when he tries to tell them, the room becomes cold.
Friends have told him that he should try to forget, that he was not the one who pulled the trigger, that he did not have primary responsibility.
But for Daniel, that is not true. For Daniel, he was the one who killed the man when he reported that there was a man on the roof. He was the one who left the children without a father. He was the one who could have chosen not to report it. But mom, dad and his older sister do not want to know.
Mats Svensson, a former Swedish diplomat working on the staff of SIDA, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, is presently following the ongoing occupation of Palestine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.