The radio spurted the latest incident. Somewhere along the border-zone between Israel (pre-1967) and the Palestinian Territories (approximately), the Israeli Army had spotted a suspicious figure walking towards the Israeli area. The visual information was relayed along the intelligence channels and swiftly made its way back to an duly alert control centre. Soon enough, a helicopter gunship spotted the would-be suicide bomber and shot him with its machine-gun. Then, the soldiers posted in the specific sector went over to check the body. Upon arrival, they discovered that the man was still alive, having been injured in his torso. He was still clutching his shoulder-bag. The bag was what alerted the army: it might have contained a bomb.
The radio was less specific and its report was not as detailed as this. It painted the incident as a freak case of mistaken identification. A sort of “it happens, oops we're sorry” thing. The same evening, the state TV channel reported on the incident, probably not so much because of its unusual outcome, since Arabs do get shot by mistake sometimes, but because of the individual story. The Arab, who was now lying in a hospital bed in a small city, not far from where he was shot, turned out to be an Arab-Israeli shepherd who was tending his sheep not far from his native village, within Israeli borders. The suspicious bag contained some pita-bread and cheese. And a radio.
Speaking rudimentary Hebrew, the wounded shepherd said that the radio had taken a hit from the helicopter's machine-gun. He was sorry for losing his radio, which helped him pass the hours he spent with his sheep. The report ended and the anchorman's expression reflected compunction with a bit of existential “what can be said” element added in for good measure. The news moved on to the next item. The following morning, the newspapers would carry the story, completing the cycle, the 15-minutes of sad glory meted out by Reality.
N couldn't take it. Having heard the report on the radio first and then seeing the shepherd on TV, she was unable to calm down. “We have to get him a radio”, she said. We decided that was just what we'd do: buy a radio for the Arab shepherd. The next morning, I went out to find one. A good, simple, reliable model. Nothing fancy. A logical replacement. Something a shepherd would be likely to have in his bag with his meal. Realizing I'd be spending a negligible sum on a radio far removed from the latest Japanese toys on display, the salesman at the mall looked at me with a bored expression. I got the radio, safely encased in its box.
“How do we go about sending it?”, said N, logic having been restored, now that there was a radio to pacify some of her outrage.
I went out and got one of the evening rags. In one of the inner pages, after the main political and security-related events and before the freak news items (“Teacher in Russia eats snake in class”, “Farmer grows record-size pumpkin”, “British footballer signs contract at age 84” and so on) – I found the item about the helicopter shooting an innocent shepherd. It mentioned the name of the shepherd's village, which I had never heard.
“But how will we send him the radio? We don't have a proper address”, said N.
“Don't worry. We have his name and the name of his village. There can't be too many packages being sent there from Jerusalem with the address in Hebrew”, I said. I was confident that since Arab villages are made up of a small number of extended families, the postman or the postal clerk would either be a cousin or would know some relative of the man who by now was surely a local celebrity.
Yet, after writing the name and the name of the village on the large padded envelope, I added an unusual item. I decided I'd write the shepherd a short letter in Arabic explaining the gift and apologizing for the suffering he underwent. I wrote it, using the customary formulae and expressing our wishes for a speedy recovery, after which, I said, I hope he can tend his herd and enjoy listening to the radio peacefully. I signed and added our address, transliterated into Arabic.
No longer than 10 days later, we received an answer. A smallish envelope with our name and address written in print, the Hebrew letters wobbly but clear. I could feel an item inside. Metallic, elongated. It was a pen with the inscription “Peace” in Hebrew, Arabic and English. And there was a letter too, in very shaky Hebrew. The shepherd had clearly put in a tremendous effort. “Thank you for the radio”, he wrote. He also added his sincere hope for peace in the area.