WE WERE FOLLOWING the Crusader sea wall in Akko one afternoon when suddenly, to our right, we saw it in all grandly massive ugliness. The Akko Prison, now an Israeli museum, was a busy British incarceration center during the thirties and forties. Jewish resisters from the Hagannah and the Stern Gang were jailed and sometimes hanged here.
What bolted this place to my brain were the words of Paul Newman (fearless Hagannah leader) to a rehearsing prison attacker: “Don’t let my brother (also fearless, but from the rival Stern Gang) die at the end of a British rope.”
My psyche all stirred up, I asked Miriam, my lady friend, “Should we go in and see what it looks like?”
“Sure. Why not?”
The two of us are instinctively, maybe unhealthily drawn to holy places, so Akko Prison, in its dark way, would be cleansing perhaps.
The soldiers who guarded the gate were not the standard eighteen-year-old recruits, but a couple of older, expressionless reservists.
They looked us over the way serious shoppers look at melons in the market. Did we have blemishes discernible to the practiced eye? Miriam, an Israeli, was asked for her ID, I for my passport.
Miriam presented them with a facsimile, reluctant to carry the original around with her for fear of losing it. The suspicion this aroused in the soldiers was close to delight.
This woman, who abandoned Canada for a life in Israel in her late sixties, was subjected to a mini-interrogation about her ID. What does it take, I wondered, to perfect this allergy to irregularity? Does terror sometimes visit in the slacks of a well-groomed female citizen with a bad Hebrew accent?
The soldiers made me feel invisible. Part of me wanted to be included in this pointless ceremony. Actually, Miriam later said, I was. The soldiers wanted to know how long and how she had known me. I regretted my lack of Hebrew. I never did ask her what she told them.
“So,” the soldier in charged asked when he was finally satisfied everything was in order, “you want to visit the prison.”
Miriam looked at each other and laughed like two children who had mistakenly wandered into a party for grownups.
“No!” we said in unison and hurried off.
“It must have been a slow day.” Miriam kept laughing. “This was their one chance to practice what they learned in security training school.”
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Robert Hirschfield is a freelance writer and photographer whose work appears in Ode Magazine, The National Catholic Reporter, Outlook (the Indian newsweekly), and the London Jewish Chronicle, among other publications. He has travelled most recently to north and South India, and to Israel and the West Bank.
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