This screenplay is a work of fiction. Almost all details have been invented, although the historical backdrop is largely accurate. Some public figures’ real names have been used as talismans of the important political reality in which the story is based, but the details of their lives– imagined.
I. October 1973. A thin man of 65 is walking through Washington. His face is pale above a proper uniform, blazer and dark wool slacks. He recognizes a friend in an oldfashioned suit walking ahead of him and rushes up to tap him on the shoulder. The man turns around and glares at him from a rotting face. The nightmare sequence is repeated twice–dead faces in old suits.
Wilson wakes up from his dream. In the twinbed beside his, his wife wears a mask against the morning light.
II. Now it is daytime and Wilson is walking through downtown Washington, past Lafayette Park across from the White House. A big pro-Israel rally is taking place. Israel has been overrun at the start of the October war. A woman on a bullhorn shouts that the Jewish state that made the desert bloom and served the U.S. again and again is now on the verge of destruction and the American government doesn’t care. Wilson flinches as a demonstrator lunges past him on the sidewalk, then smiles frozenly when another hands him a flyer. It has an image of barbed wire crisscrossing a map of Israel under the words, Never again? Wilson slips it into a trash can.
He hangs his blazer in the hall closet. Home is a townhouse on a narrow street near Dupont Circle. There are a few artifacts from the East among the furnishings, a tapestry, a large Berber rug. His wife is on the couch doing a crossword. They enjoy a simple joyless dinner in the kitchen. Fish and broccoli. The television is on, a small black and white. Nixon announces that he is airlifting arms to Israel to save the Jewish state. Wilson’s wife glances at him but his face is impassive.
She: “Mrs. Elkind was at Betty’s garden club lunch.”
He: “Remind me.”
“Your son was dating her daughter. Till her mother objected.”
“I thought you objected.”
“Sometimes I can’t believe what passes for your memory.”
“Well I thought you did.”
“I didn’t say anything. She did. It was the one thing we could agree on. And today she said that you were an Arabist.”
“And what did you say?”
“Well I didn’t think so. You had ambassadorial grade when you retired and you worked with four presidents.”
Wilson has an ironical smile. “Arabist. It is a polite way of saying anti-semite.”
“Evan, please. I knew I shouldn’t have told you.”
“Next time you must agree with her, and ask her what is someone who tries to understand the Jewish condition in Europe or the Middle East, a Jewist?”
“I don’t know why I tell you these things.”
She watches All in the Family, and he goes back to a room that serves as sewing room and storage and study. Between oil paintings of the Wilson children there are framed 8-by-10 photographs of four presidents on the wall. Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy. Wilson opens a rolltop desk and scrapes around the little drawers till he finds an old address book filled with penciled and ink-scratched names. He finds what he is looking for, Henderson, an entry with many scratched-out numbers. He picks up a dial phone. In Arkansas, a woman answers.
Wilson: “Hello. Is Loy there?”
“Who do I say is calling?”
After a long interval, a man’s voice comes on, deep with a slight southern accent, irritated. “Why you calling Evan?”
“You watch the news.”
“I told you not to call me.”
“That’s right, unless life depends. Alright Evan.”
“Loy why do I remember the name Elkind?”
There is a grunt and pause. “Rabbi. ACJ.”
“They were on our side?”
“Yeah, but I hate to break it to you Evan, we failed.”
The line goes dead.
III. A week or so later. A classroom at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Tom Friedman doesn’t have his signature mustache yet, but he holds a telescoping steel pointer as he gives a lecture to his fellow students with a map of Israel and Palestine and the surrounding countries. He describes the miracle of the Six Day War, how the Israelis took out the Syrian air force on the ground. He is enthusiastic, makes a chalk outline of the Sinai and draws a giant blue arrow across it.
A tall blond teaching assistant watches from the front desk, clearly impressed but mildly skeptical. He has fencing gear at his side, he’s half a jock.
He asks, “There wasn’t a way to avert that war?”
Friedman stops, annoyed. “The Arabs wanted war, Steve. Nasser blockaded the straits of Tiran.” Again, the pointer. “It is one of Israel’s only vital ports.”
The teacher presses. “But wasn’t there an expansionist aim to the war? And is that why this one is happening now?”
Friedman is graveled for a moment, then holds the pointer up to Tel Aviv and then glides it over to Jenin in the West Bank. “I don’t think you appreciate the geography, Steve. This distance here is smaller than the distance from where we are standing to the Mississippi River in St. Paul. The Arabs live here in the Judean hills. They can rain down rockets on the largest city in Israel. They often have. What choice does that leave Israel?
“What would we do if St. Paul declared war on us and massed troops on the other side of the Mississippi.”
He turns to the classroom. “But I guess the rockets wouldn’t reach Steve in Minnetonka.” It’s a jab at the affluent suburb he believes Steve Walt lives in.
Walt grins uncomfortably and slouches back in his seat, defeated. Friedman returns to his excited chalktalk of the Sinai.
“Now here is the position of the Golani Brigade,” he says. “They are the elite. All Israelis have to serve in the armed forces, but the Golani is taken from the very, very–“
IV. A week or two have gone by. Wilson sits at the dining room table, ruminating. A newspaper is unread before him, alongside a crystal vase of cut flowers. The headlines are blaring. The Syrians have been routed. The Egyptians are trapped in the Mitla pass in Sinai. There is a photo of young Ariel Sharon. He has enveloped the Egyptians. There is a photograph of a charred tank with charred corpses in the desert.
Wilson is tormented. He goes upstairs then climbs a small wooden ladder into the attic and frees the cap on the roof to give himself some light. There are many boxes piled here and there from his diplomatic service. He moves boxes around till he finds 1947-50, marked Partition, Recognition. He drags the box out into the light and prises the top loose. A mouse flies out the back of the box and gives Wilson a start. A lot of the papers have been chewed up to make bedding for mice.
Wilson lifts out an intact folder. Inside is a copy of the letter from Secretary of State George Marshall to Harry Truman alerting him that the Zionists have announced the establishment of a Jewish state, on May 14, 1948. The typewritten words Jewish state have been crossed out with a pencil, and an aide has written “Israel” into the memorandum.
Wilson is frozen half in shadow and light. He flashes back 25 years.
He is youngish, in the ornate Indian Treaty Room of the Old Executive Office Building. Secretary of State Marshall has just received the typed memo from an aide and pencils his initials on it grimly and hands it to Wilson to bring to the White House. Wilson has started down the checkerboard tiled hall when the phone rings and Marshall comes to the door and calls out to him. He motions for the letter and crosses the words “Jewish state” out with a pencil and writes in Israel. Wilson goes clattering down the wide marble stairwell of the OEOB.
V. Weeks have elapsed. A middle class neighborhood in Philadelphia. A few boys and girls are playing touch football in a worn-to-dirt back yard. Inside the house, Douglas Feith sits at the kitchen table, typing a letter to the New York Times. Douglas is 14, precocious, with shaggy hair and glasses. He stops at the word Sinai and tries several spellings, sounding the letters out in the air, before he grabs a nearby atlas. He reads aloud as he types.
“Israel cannot sacrifice the Sinai, it will have no security. The Bible mentions the Sinai many times when it speaks of the kingdom of David.…”
There are footsteps and young Douglas looks up. His father is home from work, standing in the kitchen door, wearing a white short-sleeved shirt. On the wall is a portrait of Theodore Herzl. The father leans over the boy’s shoulder and jabs the page, where his son has written Nasser.
“You’re spelling it wrong,” he says. “It’s M-o-m-s-e-r.”
The son looks up quizzically. “No I’m not. It’s N-a-s-s-e-r.”
“Nasser the Momser. That’s the only name for him.”
The son gets a flabbergasted look, momser is Yiddish for bastard. “I can’t write that in the New York Times.”
“They’re goyim, what do they know?”
The son turns his face determinedly to the typewriter and continues his work. As he types, the father drops an open letter in front of his son. It is from the Holocaust museum. They want to know if there are any photographs of Dalck Feith’s five brothers and sisters.
“We have pictures,” the son declares.
“They’re not getting them.”
“Dad come on.”
The father picks up the letter. “These are the same bastards who didn’t bomb the railroads when they could. And now they want pictures? Feh.”
He walks out of the room and the son peers back at his letter.
VI. Wilson moves purposely down the street in downtown Washington and pushes open the big coffered brass door of the National Archives. He submits a slip and the curators wheel out a cart with eight grey document boxes piled on it. He lifts them on to his desk and the curator hands him a rules sheet. He has to use a pencil, and put on white gloves when he is handling the photographs. The oil in your fingertips can ruin the emulsion on photographs. We see him turning slowly through the pages with a glazed expression on his face. We see his own name on documents. Secretary of the Anglo-American Inquiry Commission. 1947.
He opens a box of photographs and there is David Ben-Gurion. Wilson looks off in another brown study.
The scene changes to David Ben-Gurion and Chaim Weizman at a table in London. Fans are going. The windows are open.
“The Jewish connection to the land is unquestionable, it goes back 3000 years. There were Jews living in Jerusalem before Christians, before Muslims,” Ben Gurion is saying. ‘
Weizmann leads forward. He is older, balder, looks like Lenin with his little beard. “The Jews have brought incredible riches all over the land. The land is flourishing as never before because of scientific achievements.”
“I was asking about Jerusalem,” an Englishman with a plummy accent insists. “What are the Zionist plans for Jerusalem?”
Ben Gurion glances at Weizmann and Weizmann leans forward again. “We have no plans for Jerusalem. It would be an international city.”
Young Wilson sits watching, wearing a linen suit. Someone touches his shoulder. He goes to a back office and is on a telephone. He speaks Arabic with an American accent. It is a very tense call. It is back and forth for a minute or two, and an older commissioner in a dark suit stands there watching him. Wilson hangs up.
“They’re not coming.”
“They’re not. You mean the Egyptians?”
Wilson shakes his head. “The Egyptians. The Syrians too. The Saudis. They say they see what is unfolding. They don’t wish to be a party to it. They will be sending us a letter.”
The door opens and a lean darkhaired man in a suit comes in wearing a yarmulke.
“I’m looking for a Mr. Wilson.”
“Yes sir, that’s me.”
“Rabbi Elkind. ACJ. The American Council for Judaism.”
“Yes I got your telegram. You will testify?”
“Of course. This is very serious. The idea of a land without a people for a people without a land—Zangwill’s idea– well the land already has people and we are not a people, we are a world religion, and a civilization. The claim that we are a people is a nationalist conceit, born in the 19th century.”
Wilson sighs, defeated. He sees at once that the man is an intellectual not a streetfighter.
VII. Wilson’s living room. A day or two later. Wilson and his wife sit with the newspaper and the mail in mid-morning. It is obviously a ritual. There are cut flowers on the table and Mrs. Wilson moves efficiently through the letters, till she comes to what looks to be a large wedding invitation with formal calligraphy on it.
“Why Liddie Elkind is getting married after all!” his wife says.
“Not to Bobby.”
“No not to Bobby,” his wife says thinly.
“That was a narrow escape. Who is she marrying?” “Some graduate student from Minnesota.”
“I don’t think so. The wedding is private with a judge. There is a party after.”
Wilson turns his head away and puts the paper down. He has his first feeling of resolution and determination since the beginning of the docudrama, and maybe for the last 30 years.
“I am going to write a book,” he says, thinking out loud.
“You. Write a book? You can barely write a shopping list. About what, Evan.”
He flushes and puts down the paper, already reconsidering. “The Easter bunny.”
“The Easter bunny?” He drops the paper and starts up the steps.
“The Easter Bunny and Liddy Elkind’s Jewish boyfriend, it will be a potboiler.”
“Don’t be silly with me Evan.”
“The Israel lobby,” he calls down absently.
“The Israel bunny?”
He is at the bottom of the attic steps, about to go up to his boxes, and calls down loudly, “The Israel lobby!!”
VIII. It’s that night. Another bad night for Wilson. He is tossing and turning and groaning. His wife gets out earplugs for herself but Wilson continues to writhe.
He is back in his nightmare of the streets. He goes up to old friends and when they turn their faces are rotted.
He wakes up and lies there. His eyes open and they are like the gates of hell, black and staring. He is sweating. He sits up at last on the bed and holds his knees. Brooks Brother boxer shorts with little hanging sheep on them. His chest heaves as if he has run a marathon.
He has had a kind of backward vision. As he collects his breath we see what he prompted his dream.
It is a meeting in the White House. Truman is there and Marshall and Acheson and Dulles. They call on young Wilson to read a statement. The paper trembles in his hand.
“Even the most cursory survey of Arab opinion suggests the grimmest prospects: that a Jewish state in Palestine can only be established by force, and it can only be preserved by force.”
He sits up on the bed sweating. Everything he said has come true. There was a war in ’48, a war in ’56, a war in ’67 and now this one in ’73. He thinks about Folke Bernadotte killed at a checkpoint in Jerusalem in ’48. He thinks of Bobby Kennedy killed in the Los Angeles hotel kitchen. He thinks of the charred bodies in the tanks of the Sinai. They are all fulfillment of the prophecy.
To be continued.