Howard Kaplan

The Spy’s Gamble

I write novels of Israel-Palestine reconciliation for only with a better peace can Israel truly prosper. I’ve lived in Jerusalem for three years and traveled extensively — to Syria and Lebanon, through Gaza and to the Palestinian refugee camps very near Jerusalem and simultaneously out of the mind’s eye and a world away.

My new novel, The Spy’s Gamble, about what could be in the Middle East conflict was published this week. The film adaptation of my older novel, The Damascus Cover, starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Sir John Hurt in his last film, and a dozen Israeli actors will be in theaters Summer 2018. Among them Igal Naor and Aki Avni can be seen in the trailer that just arrived online. Hurt was drawn to take the role of head of the Mossad because the film ended on the road to reconciliation.

The Spy’s Gamble, moves through actual events in Israel in 2016: the truck ramming of Israeli cadets in Jerusalem, the settler Bible Marathon closing Palestinian highways, the murder of an Israeli teen in her bed in Kirya Arba, an internecine Palestinian assassination of the beloved pied piper of Shuafat in East Jerusalem, Baha Nabata (who trained as a fireman in Jewish Jerusalem when fire fighters would no longer enter the teeming Shuafat,) the accidental shooting of a Palestinian cancer patient, forest fires, and the Commanders of Israel (former generals and heads of Israeli intelligence and police departments) newspaper ad and campaign calling for a freeze on settlements, Israeli soldiers in place until a solution can be worked out, in future generations if need be.

The Los Angeles Jewish Journal said about an earlier novel, Bullets of Palestine: “Seems to have leaped from today’s headlines. Kaplan’s book has achieved what may be the ultimate in evidence of true balance.”

I don’t attempt balance. I am interested in showing the humanity, the people of both sides and how this battle affects them so balance arises organically. Rarely is one side always right.  In my favorite review anywhere, the Palestinian paper Al-Fajr said about Bullets of Palestine: “In a conflict where both sides have tended to dehumanize the other, Kaplan has created two extremely human characters — one Palestinian, the other Israeli. In observing such a fictional relationship I found myself looking at the Israelis that I came across this week in a slightly different manner. I found I wanted to try and shed some of the stereotypes that living on one side of the conflict had given me. Maybe this is the purpose of fiction in the first place — to break down barriers.” 

Bullets of Palestine has become more popular now than when first published in 1987. So despite all the strident shouting on the extremes of both sides that do real damage to progress, most Israelis and Palestinians are eager for a reasonable answer.  Consistent polls over decades, including the most recent ones find that over 60% of Jewish Israelis favor a two-state solution. There are now more than one million Israelis living outside Israel, 15% of the Jewish population of the state, thirty thousand in Berlin alone and in Los Angeles I rarely go a day without hearing Hebrew as I wander around. There are many reasons for this exodus—the high cost of apartments and the lack of rentals, the Siren’s song of economic advancement but chief among them is the protracted battle.

In the The Spy’s Gamble, I show an Israeli patrol in the al-Amari refugee camp in Ramallah that I visited.  The reader will see both the UNRWA textbooks that educate hatred, and the fear of the soldiers that a small refrigerator might be tossed from a rooftop into the narrow lane where they walk single-file. You will also see the monuments in the camp to those who have died in clashes with the soldiers, Palestinian homes and how they memorialize their dead with small pictures hung on living room walls in makeshift frames made from matches. 

I also spent time in the settler enclave in Hebron, where an entire Israeli battalion is required to guard the 400 Jewish settlers in the heart of Old Hebron, once a thriving Jewish area before the massacres in the 1930’s and the 1948 cease fire. I also walked with Palestinians through the Arab marketplace with a net above it, necessary as settlers throw trash down from their second story windows into the souq.

In this highly polarized moment, I wonder what the reaction will be to The Spy’s Gamble.  How many are there among us bent on dehumanizing the Palestinians as “the other” as the Hebron settlers do by tossing their trash at them. How many recognize that in the end both peoples are here to stay in this twice promised land.

About the Author
Howard Kaplan's new novel, THE SYRIAN SUNSET: a novel of the Syrian Civil War, the failure of the West to save the Syrian people, and how that inaction against the Russian incursion in Syria emboldened Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine. The film adaptation of his THE DAMASCUS COVER, starring Sir John Hurt in his final film, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and seven Israeli actors is available on Tubi in the U.S.