Wednesday, 18 July 2018

What Trump actually said about Jerusalem

                                                                               Video version

             President Donald Trump’s declaration about Jerusalem on 6 December 2017 gave rise to instant and almost universal condemnation.  Western governments saw it as an unnecessary provocation, guaranteed to set back the prospects of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, and likely to generate violent protests in the Arab world.  Muslim condemnation was immediate.  Although notably muted from Sunni Arab states, it was at its strongest from Turkey, Iran and the Palestinian Authority.  At a specially convened meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas were vehement in their denunciation of Trump’s statement.  In calling for it to be reversed or rejected by the United Nations, they solicited world opinion to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine.  In extreme Muslim eyes Jerusalem is a Muslim and Christian city with no Jewish connection to it.  They maintain that all evidence to the contrary is based on falsehoods.


All the adverse criticism centered on the assumption that Trump had denied Palestinian claims to Jerusalem, in whole or in part, as the capital of a future state of Palestine.  Is this borne out by what he said, or indeed intends? 

             It seems clear that he came into office determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past.  “We cannot solve our problems by making the same failed assumptions and repeating the same failed strategies,” he said. So he set up a team charged with looking at the Israeli-Palestinian dispute with fresh eyes, and with seeking a new approach to solving it.

            The peace team, led by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, set about their task.  Meanwhile Trump himself looked at the issue of Jerusalem.

It was as far back as 1995 that Congress adopted the Jerusalem Embassy Act, urging the federal government to recognize that Jerusalem is Israel's capital, and to relocate the American embassy to that city. This act passed Congress by an overwhelming bipartisan majority. Yet for over 20 years, every previous American president had exercised the law's waiver and refused to move the US embassy.

Presidents issued these waivers under the belief that delaying the recognition of Jerusalem would advance the cause of peace.  But, said Trump, “the record is in. After more than two decades of waivers, we are no closer to a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. It would be folly to assume that repeating the exact same formula would now produce a different or better result. Therefore, I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”

 His argument was that acknowledging the right of Israel, as a sovereign nation, to  nominate its own capital was a necessary condition for achieving peace.  But he was very careful to point out that in doing so, and in relocating the US capital to Jerusalem, he was not taking a position on any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or the resolution of contested borders.

“Those questions,” he said, “are up to the parties involved. The United States remains deeply committed to helping facilitate a peace agreement that is acceptable to both sides. I intend to do everything in my power to help forge such an agreement.”

In short, while extending US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, he left wide open the possibility of a later recognition of the whole city, or some agreed portion, as the capital of a sovereign Palestine.  It is this vital aspect of Trump’s statement that has been deliberately overlooked, and is never referred to by those unwilling to compromise, or who, against every sort of evidence, maintain that the Jewish people have no historic connection to the Holy Land.

The rejectionists also close their eyes to the obvious illogicality of maintaining that East Jerusalem, along with the West Bank. is occupied Palestinian territory, while denying that West Jerusalem must, therefore, be part of sovereign Israel. 

In making his announcement, Trump emphasised to his global audience: “This decision is not intended in any way to reflect a departure from our strong commitment to facilitate a lasting peace agreement. We want an agreement that is a great deal for the Israelis and a great deal for the Palestinians.”

Jared Kushner and his team have been beavering away for nearly two years, building a new peace deal brick by painstaking brick.  They have announced that it is virtually complete, and are ready to unveil it when the time seems opportune.  Yet without seeing the deal, or knowing anything of its details, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has denounced it as “a slap in the face”, and declared that he would not participate in any peace effort initiated by the US because of Trump’s Jerusalem declaration.  He ignores Trump’s insistence that the US has taken no position on the extent of Israeli sovereignty in the city or the resolution of contested borders. 
In short, this is rejection for rejection’s sake.  Taking Trump’s words at their face value, there is no reason why – to posit one possibility among many others − a peace deal involving a two-state solution could not be brokered, with an agreed contiguous state in the West Bank achieved by mutually agreed land swaps, and also in due course a link to Gaza. Either the whole of Jerusalem could be a shared capital with Israel, or a Palestinian capital could be created from a new Al Quds municipality comprising East Jerusalem and its outlying Arab neighbourhoods.

All that is needed is a will for peace, and a clear-eyed view of the possibilities on offer.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Iran - the beginning of the end?

                                                                                    Video version  
        Rumbles of discontent, erupting into public protests, are nothing new in Iran.  They predate the Islamic Revolution of 1979 which swept the Shah from the throne and Ayatollah Khomeini into power.  Today, among the slogans being chanted in the mass demonstrations bursting out all over Iran and threatening the very stability of the regime, are: “Reza Shah, God bless your soul.”  In short, the regime of the ayatollahs has long outlived its honeymoon period. 


        During 2017 it was clear that President Sayyed Hassan Rouhani had been unable to keep most of his promises to the Iranian electorate – namely, to create new jobs, to implement economic reforms and to improve human rights. As a result, at the end of the year unrest broke out across the country.

By January 2018 Iran was in turmoil.  Rallies and street protests were erupting throughout the nation.  At first they centered on the worsening economic situation, and the ever-rising food and commodity prices.  This soon morphed into opposition to the regime in general and the Supreme Leader in particular.
 Especial dissent was voiced against the foreign adventures indulged in by the regime, including direct involvement in the Syrian civil conflict, and costly military and logistical support for Hezbollah in Syria, for the Houthis in Yemen and for Hamas in Gaza.  The vast sums expended in these foreign adventures were seen as being at the direct expense of the Iranian population.
 
Early in February 2018 Iran tested a ballistic missile, claiming that to do so was not in contravention of its nuclear deal, but Washington imposed sanctions on more than two dozen individuals and companies involved in procuring ballistic missile technology for the country. So even before Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal in May 2018, Iranians’ confidence in their government had been very largely eroded.  The effect of the US withdrawal, and the announcement of further US sanctions set to hit in August, has been devastating. The Iranian rial is sinking fast against the dollar: 42,890 rials could buy a dollar at the end of 2017. Now the dollar is worth 90,000 rials.
The effect on normal household budgets is catastrophic. The government has prohibited the import of over 1,400 items, and Iranians are discouraged from buying dollars and travelling abroad. Inevitably, the panic generated by this advice has pushed civilians into purchasing more dollars, more gold, and for anyone who could afford it, real estate, causing housing prices to peak. On Monday, June 25 Tehran’s grand bazaar was shut down as merchants joined street protests and thousands defied the riot police trying to quell the rebellion. Other big cities joined Tehran.  Protesters carried signs like “Leave Syria alone, think of us.”  Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, the Houthis and Hamas – all proxies used by the regime − were attacked by the slogan boards.  Worse, from the regime’s point of view, were the prominently displayed slogans: “Death to the dictator.”

So far the regime has been defiant, declaring that it will not “give in to US pressure.”  Meanwhile Iran’s hardliners, especially the influential Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (the IRGC), have used the political turmoil to criticize Rouhani for negotiating a deal with the West in the first place.  Which leads some commentators to warn western governments against pursuing regime change in Iran, because the secular, liberal elements are as yet unorganized, and the likely result would be that the IRGC, and especially its Quds Force commander, General Qassem Soleimani, would seize power.  This would undoubtedly be akin to jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.

There is an old English saying meaning that patience is the best way to achieve your object:  “Softly, softly, catchee monkey.”   If eventual regime change is the optimum objective of the West, the process does indeed require patience.   Disillusionment among a large section of the Iranian public probably set in just 30 years after the Revolution, triggered by the presidential election of 2009.

   On June 12, 2009, following a heated campaign between the popular reformist candidate Mir Hussein Musavi and incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iranians turned out in record numbers to cast their votes. Shortly after the polls closed, the government announced that Ahmadinejad had been re-elected with 64 percent of the vote.  Musavi was reported to have come second with 34 percent.  Incredulity was followed by widespread allegations of vote rigging and election fraud, and supporters of Musavi − who became known as the “Green Movement” − began mounting public demonstrations in major cities of an intensity unprecedented since the 1979 Revolution.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered the Revolutionary Guard to crack down on the protestors.  In the ruthless repression that followed, more than 100 people were killed and thousands were arrested to face trial. Many were hanged.

Calm was restored, but by then a spirit of rebellion was in the air throughout the Middle East.  Before the end of 2010 the first spark of what was to flare up into the Arab Spring had appeared in Tunisia.  Although Iran is not an Arab country, this revolutionary fervor found an echo in the Iranian population, and protests about the 2009 presidential election began to erupt anew.  February 14, 2011 saw the start of a year-long period of continuous popular unrest.

   The election as president in June 2013 of the self-styled “moderate”, Sayyed Hassan Rouhani , was, it goes without saying, blessed by the Supreme Leader, as was the deliberate change of tactics.  Now all was to be charm and sweet reason.  Immediately after his election, Rouhani agreed to start substantive talks with world leaders about Iran’s nuclear intentions.

World leaders swallowed the bait.   Bowled over by the change in tactics, the UN negotiating team struck a deal which lifted crippling sanctions on Iran and enabled it to begin trading with the West.  In exchange, Iran agreed to restrict its nuclear capabilities for some 15 years, after which it would be free to manufacture nuclear weapons if it wished. 

Not even Iran’s Supreme Leader could have foreseen the emergence of a Donald Trump, a rejection by the US administration of the deal and a refusal to accept an Iranian missile development process, and the re-imposition of heavy sanctions.  This has thrown Iran into turmoil, with the public openly protesting against the regime’s burdensome domestic, and costly foreign, policies.  Is this the beginning of the end for the Islamic Revolutionary regime?   

Published in the Eurasia Review, 10 July 2018:
https://www.eurasiareview.com/10072018-iran-is-this-the-beginning-of-the-end-oped/

Sunday, 1 July 2018

The UK has turned its back on BDS

The organization dedicated to isolating and delegitimizing Israel by way of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) has not reacted officially to the recent visit to Israel by Britain’s Prince William.  Since he also visited Jordan and what are described in the announcement as “the Palestinian occupied territories”, and since both Jordan’s King Abdullah and Palestinian Authority (PA) president, Mahmoud Abbas, gave him a right royal welcome, hard-line BDS supporters do not have much of a leg to stand on.  Prince William probably ranks considerably higher in the public popularity stakes than Roger Waters, Lorde or other performers closely associated with pro-BDS views, and so the prince’s visit is likely to have had a major positive effect on young people’s view of Israel across the world.

The term “Palestinian occupied territories” is an exact reflection of the British government’s position on the vexed Israeli-Palestinian situation.  Although more than 70 percent of the countries of the United Nations have, at the urging of the PA, recognized a State of Palestine, the European Union has not formally done so but has left it to individual states to act on this matter as they choose.  A clutch of them have granted Palestine official recognition, but the UK government has always adopted a nuanced approach. Back in 2011 Britain was prepared to grant Palestine non-member observer status  at the UN, though it refused to approve full state membership.  In October 2014 a House of Commons motion called on the government to recognize Palestine as an independent state, but the government has not subsequently implemented the advice.

            A fair number of contemporary issues bear on the royal visit.  In Britain all eyes are on Brexit, and the delicate, not to say precarious, state the negotiations with the EU have reached.  In Prime Minister Theresa May’s keynote speech on March 2, 2018, she made it crystal clear that, after withdrawal, the UK would not enter into any formal customs union with the EU.  Several considerations affected this decision, but high among them was the UK’s determination to negotiate independent trading arrangements around the world – impossible when locked into a customs union. 

A recent UK government White Paper identified Israel as a trading priority for post-Brexit Britain because of the potential synergies between Israel’s high levels of innovation and British strengths in design, business growth, finance and high-technology.  So Israel is a prime potential trading partner for the UK.   The groundwork has already been laid, because UK-Israeli trade is flourishing since the areas in which Israel excels − especially in high-tech fields such as cyber security, Research and Development, and financial technology − are largely outside the EU-Israel agreement which currently governs the terms of trade.

            A second factor is the United States’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.   The immediate, almost universal, wave of protest has largely died down, and it seems to have dawned − in certain quarters at least – that President Donald Trump’s announcement drew no boundaries in Jerusalem, but left wide open the possibility of an eventual separate or conjoint Palestinian capital in the Jerusalem municipality.  Trump’s announcement may have annoyed PA President Mahmoud Abbas mightily, but it did not inhibit the UK from going ahead with the royal visit.

            Thirdly, as the visit to Britain in March 2018 of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman demonstrated, the UK allies itself with the moderate Arab world that is opposing radical jihadist terror organizations intent on disrupting the Arab world. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan are all known to be collaborating with Israel – albeit below the radar − in combatting the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and Hezbollah, Iran’s instruments in its bid for political and religious dominance of the Middle East.

            Fourthly 2018 marks Israel’s 70th anniversary, and an official royal visit was a logical consequence of the recognition and celebration by the British government last November of the centenary of the Balfour Declaration.  PA President Abbas welcomed Prince William, but at the back of his, and the prince’s, mind was doubtless his demand in March 2017 that Britain apologises for the Balfour Declaration – a demand that was swiftly rejected by the British government.

            The royal visit to the Middle East in 2018 that included Israel in the itinerary fitted neatly into that policy position, which turns its back decisively on BDS.

           
  

Friday, 29 June 2018

Hezbollah in Britain

                                                                        Video version
A rumour is circulating in the British press to the effect that the UK is about to designate Hezbollah, lock, stock and barrel, a terrorist organization.  It would not be before time. The UK first proscribed Hezbollah's terrorist wing in 2001, and added the military wing in 2008 after the organization targeted British soldiers in Iraq, but it has reserved judgment on the organization as a whole because of its political activities.  Any such distinction, which the EU has copied from the UK, is illusory. Hezbollah is a unified organization, and its jihadist purpose is basic to its existence.  Even Hezbollah’s own leaders reject the distinction.  Deputy secretary-general Naim Qassem has declared unequivocally: “We have one leadership, with one administration."  Speaking in 2012, he added: "We don't have a military wing and a political one...Every element of Hezbollah…is in the service of the resistance."

A glance at Hezbollah’s organization confirms this.  It has a unified command structure consisting of five sub-councils, or assemblies.  Above them sits the Shura Council, which controls the leadership of Hezbollah and all its operations, and comprises nine members, seven of whom are Lebanese and the other two Iranian. 

Iran’s involvement at the very top of today’s Hezbollah is no surprise.  In the 1970s Lebanon, torn apart by civil conflict, was under the occupation of the Shia-aligned Syrian government.  Around 1980 the exact date is disputed Iran’s first Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomenei, still basking in the glory of his 1979 Islamic Revolution, decided to strengthen his grip on Shi’ite Islam by consolidating a number of Lebanon’s militant Shia Muslim groups.  He formed and funded a body calling itself Hezbollah, or “the Party of God”.  Its forces were trained and organized by a contingent of 1,500 Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

Hezbollah declared that its purpose, in line with Khomeini’s, was to oppose Western influences in general and Israel’s existence in particular.  Very shortly Hezbollah was acting as Iran’s proxy in perpetrating a campaign of terror against their two perceived enemies. A wave of kidnappings, bombings, and assassinations were carried out across the world.  These include the detonation in 1983 of an explosive-filled van in front of the US embassy in Beirut, killing 58 Americans and Lebanese, and the bombing of the US Marine and French Drakkar barracks in Beirut, which killed 241 American and 58 French peacekeepers.

In 1992 Hezbollah operatives boasted of their involvement in the bombing of the Israeli embassy in Argentina killing 29 people, and two years later claimed responsibility for the bombing of a Jewish community centre in Argentina and the subsequent death of 85 people.  The atrocities continued:  21 people, including 12 Jews, killed in an airplane attack in Panama in 1994; the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing inside Saudi Arabia killing 19 US servicemen; the 2005 assassination of one-time Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri; the 2012 Burgas bus bombing in Bulgaria killing 6. For the past seven years Iran has recruited thousands of Hezbollah fighters to help keep Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in power and restore his lost territories to him.  

It is no surprise, therefore, that Hezbollah in its entirety has been designated a terrorist body by the Arab League, as well as by a swathe of other nations including Canada, the Netherlands, the USA, Israel and all the Gulf states that form the Gulf Cooperation Council.
 
During its 38 bloodthirsty years of existence Hezbollah has managed to achieve a certain acceptability in Shia Muslim sections of Lebanese society. In the election that followed Israel's withdrawal in May 2000 from the buffer zone it had established along the border, Hezbollah, in alliance with Amal, took all 23 South Lebanon seats out of a total 128 parliamentary seats. Since then Hezbollah has participated in Lebanon's parliamentary process, and has been able to claim a proportion of cabinet posts in each government. As a result it has achieved substantial power within Lebanon’s body politic to a point where it has been dubbed “a state within a state”.

It is this political aspect of Hezbollah’s activities that has turned the heads of certain Western politicians, some of whom may not be entirely out of sympathy with Hezbollah’s aim of removing the state of Israel from the Middle East.  Not so Sajid Javid, Britain’s newly appointed Home Secretary, the first Muslim to achieve one of the UK’s major offices of state.  His rumoured decision to proscribe Hezbollah in its entirety has come about because of the outrage expressed by many at the sight of the Hezbollah flag being paraded through the streets of London in this year’s Al-Quds Day march.
          Back in 1979 Iran’s first Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeni, designated the last Friday of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan to be International Al-Quds Day.  Muslims were urged to use it to demonstrate their support for the Palestinians, and their opposition to Israel.  For more than a decade London has witnessed an annual mass demonstration to mark the occasion.  In the past few years, since it became clear that thousands of Hezbollah troops have been fighting alongside Iran to support Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in his no-holds-barred efforts, including the use of chemical weapons, to cling to power, the sight of Hezbollah supporters waving its flag in the UK’s capital has become increasingly unacceptable.

Shortly after Javid’s predecessor as Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, was appointed in 2016 she said that if people reported seeing the Hezbollah flag displayed in London, action would be taken.  In the event, this was found to be not legally possible, since only the military wing of the organization had been proscribed by the UK.  She never got round to remedying the situation.

"Sajid is a very different beast to the Home Secretary he has just replaced,” a government source told the UK’s Jewish Chronicle.  Deeds, not mere words, will prove the point.

Published in the MPC Journal, 2 July 2018:
http://mpc-journal.org/blog/2018/07/02/hezbollah-in-britain/

Published in the Eurasia Review, 3 July 2018:
https://www.eurasiareview.com/03072018-hezbollah-in-britain-oped/

Published in the Jerusalem Post, 10 July 2018:
https://www.jpost.com/Blogs/A-Mid-East-Journal/Hezbollah-in-Britain-561173

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

The Love of Books

It was, I remember, late in December, many years ago, at the time of day when evening is coming on but it is still not dark enough for the lights to be lit, that my husband Roni and I were wandering – as we often did in those early years of our marriage, before the children came – through the alleyways of old Jerusalem.  At length we came to a short passageway which opened out into a tiny court.  We looked about us.  To left and right the crumbling frontages of two houses, vaguely oriental in appearance, eyed each other blankly through grimy uncurtained windows.  Then, in one corner, I thought I could detect an unexpected sight.
"Over there," I said, "isn't that a bookshop?"
"Ruth my love," said Roni, "you could smell out a bookshop at a thousand paces blindfolded!  I'll bet you’re right."
"And you, Roni my darling, could be trusted to take a bet on whether tomorrow will be Wednesday.  Come on, let's go over and see."
We emerged from the passageway, and the sounds of the old city faded behind us.  As we made our way towards the far corner, the feeling of remoteness from everyday life was intensified.  I was gripped by the strange sensation that time itself had somehow been suspended. 
At length we stood before the tiny shop front. A faded façade proclaimed “Labac – Antiquarian Books".  I tried the door.  For a moment it stuck, but then it gave beneath my pressure.
Both walls were lined from top to bottom with books, but the shop was so high that the shelves faded into the shadows.  The effect of books extending into infinity was even stronger as I peered into the interior, a narrowing cone of booklined darkness.
I looked about. 
"Where do you think the owner is?"
"I am over here, madame."
A stooped figure emerged from the shadows.  White‑haired, with a small goatee beard, and with half‑moon spectacles perched on the end of his nose, the man seemed to personify the spirit of scholarship.
“Come in," he said.  “And you, sir.”
I closed the door. 
"Thank you, Mr...?”
"Monsieur Labac,” said the old man.  "I prefer 'Monsieur'.  My family spent many hundreds of years in France before I made my way to Israel.  I am too old now to want to change the customs of a lifetime."
He peered at me.
“Forgive an old man's eccentricities, but I like to know who I am dealing with.  Anonymity I hate, above all things."
"I am Ruth Illyon,” I said.  "This is my husband, Roni.”
"Enchanté," said the old man.  "And now, what can I do for you?"
"My wife is bewitched by books," said Roni.  "She finds it almost impossible to pass by a bookshop.  Philosophers – that's her special delight."
            The old man turned to me.                
"My dear, your husband tells me two things about you.  He tells me that you love books for themselves, and he tells me that you love what books contain.  Believe me,  Mrs Illyon, the two do not always go together."
The old man's eyes rested on me, and it seemed as if somewhere deep in my mind a key turned and a door opened. 
"I know what you mean," I said, and suddenly I did.  “For some people it is enough to hold an old book in their hands, to caress the leather covers, to experience the sensual pleasure of running their fingers over the ancient paper.  The words inscribed on those pages are of minor significance.  For others, the content is all.  The mystery, the excitement, the magic, is that the mind of one individual, long since dead, can through the medium of the printed page communicate over the centuries with one's own.  Thoughts, ideas, have been captured and transferred across hundreds of' years, from one mind to another.”
"But for you, my dear," said Monsieur Labac, "the two mysteries merge and become one.  Am I right?"
"I must admit it."
"And you, Mr Illyon, do you share your wife's obsession?"
Roni grinned. 
"Afraid not, Monsieur Labac.  I have my own.  I like the occasional gamble."
"These two books, Monsieur Labac,” I said.  "They seem very ancient."
"One is, and one is not.  As you see, both are entitled The Book of the Cabal.  The original ...  this ...  well, this is priceless.  In one of the big auction houses in London or New York it could fetch millions.  But see – a very clever publisher about a hundred years ago actually reproduced the effect of this ancient volume and some of the material.  Here…”
It was skilfully done.  The effect of the original had been cunningly recreated, down to the faded ink, the ragged edges to the pages, even the worn binding.
"What is the book?”  I asked.
"The original is connected with one of the most closely guarded aspects of ancient Jewish philosophy.  You know of the Caballah, Mrs Illyon?"
"Not very much, " I admitted.
The old man's delicate hands rested on one of the tomes. 
"Locked into the five sacred books of the Torah is the mystery of the universe.  Over the centuries a few gifted and privileged scholars have given their lives to wrestling with the texts.  This volume – and the clever reproduction of it – records part of that long journey of' discovery."
"The reproduction," I said.  “"It's so beautiful.  Dare I ask how much it costs?”
Roni groaned.
"Mrs Illyon,” said the old man, "believe me when I tell you that this is one book that I would not on any account sell to someone I thought unworthy of it.  You I think worthy.  I will sell it to you for ...  fifty dollars."
"Then of course I will take it," I said.  "You will accept a cheque?"
“But of course."
"Lend me your pen, Roni.”
"Tell me, Monsieur Labac,” said Roni, as he handed it over, "does Caballah tackle human existence?"
"A few caballists have bent their minds to the question of where the division lies between predicting and pre‑ordaining events – that is, between discerning what is written on the page of the future, and actually inscribing a word or two on that page."
"But surely," I protested, "there's all the difference in the world."
"Not so, madame.  One of the fundamental principles of humanity's contract with the Almighty is free will.   However powerful a caballist may be in bending future events to his desires, each individual involved will preserve to the last instant his own freedom of decision – a freedom he can exercise to frustrate the desired end.  The page of the future is infinitely variable."
He stopped suddenly. 
"There, I've spoken too much already.  And it's getting late."
And indeed, close as we stood to him, I had to strain through the gloom to see him as he hastily wrapped up my book in brown paper, which he tied with string.
He escorted us down the shop and we walked past him into the tiny square.
"Goodbye," said the old man. 
He had not ventured over the threshold so that now, dark as it had become, he seemed, in a strange way, to be one with the shadows.
We left the courtyard by the short alley‑way through which we had entered, and almost immediately we saw ahead a small coffee shop, its front piled high with Arab sweetmeats, their honey coating glistening under the bare electric bulbs.  I was determined to examine my latest acquisition under the lights, so we went in and ordered Turkish coffee and cakes.  While waiting, I unwrapped my parcel.  The book it contained was not in my hands for more than thirty seconds before I realised that old Monsieur Labac had made a terrible mistake.
I look up at Roni, aghast. 
“He's given us the wrong volume.  This isn't the reproduction ‑ it's the original.  He must have got confused.  It was so dark in that shop.  We must go back."
"Ruth, my darling," said Roni, "an old Latin saying has governed the relations between buyers and sellers for thousands of years: caveat emptor – buyer beware.  It holds true for sellers, too.  Just think what that book could buy us – all the things we want."
“Nonsense," I said, "it couldn't buy us a family.  And do you think I'm going to steal a book worth millions from that wonderful old man, simply because he made a mistake?  Especially after the way he treated me."
"You're right, of course," said Roni.  “Come on, we’ll go back.  It's only round the corner."
When we re­-emerged into the courtyard, the tiny shop in the far corner was silent and dark.  I rapped on the glass and called out “Monsieur Labac!  Monsieur Labac!”.
A tiny flicker of light glimmered far away in the recesses of the shop, like a remote star in the endless void of space.  It advanced towards us, and at length I saw Monsieur Labac approaching, an oil lamp in his hand. 
"Mrs Illyon?   Is that you?"
"Yes, Monsieur Labac," I called.  "We had to come back."
The old man unlocked the door and pulled it open.
"It's the book you sold us," I said.  "Take it.  Look."
I thrust the volume into his hands.  He put down the oil lamp and took it. 
I don't know what reaction I had expected – horror, distress, amazement, relief.  To me it seemed that his over‑riding emotion was an immense satisfaction.  He hugged the book to him.
“Mrs Illyon.  The original Book of the Cabal.  You returned it to me, although I told you it was so valuable."
"It was the only thing to do."
“Ah, there you are mistaken," he said.  "There are always choices, always the chance to frustrate those who would foretell the shape of future events.  Others might have decided differently – you and your husband chose to exercise your free will in this way." 
He took up the oil lamp and moved slowly off down the shop to the counter, where the other volume still lay.  We followed, and eventually stood close together in the gloom, the lamp casting a soft glow on our faces.
“Mrs Illyon,” he said, as he began wrapping the volume, “you remember what I was saying to you earlier?  I might have predicted that you would return here with this infinitely precious volume; I could have tried to ordain it; but I could never have guaranteed it.”
"I understand that," I said.
            "Which is why I am diffident about what I have to say to you now, my dear Mrs Illyon.  If it teaches us anything, the Cabal teaches that existence is not purposeless; on the contrary, each life is full of purpose – often frustrated, of course, because of that free will about which we have spoken.  So when I say I foretell certain events, I do so because I can distinguish, however obliquely, certain purposes…  And so I say to you, my dear Mrs Illyon, that one day you and your husband will travel abroad and become the recipient of a great fortune.  This, dear Mrs Illyon, it is intended that you will use to found a library, here in this holy city of Jerusalem.  It will start as a modest collection, but it will become a great institution. This is the purpose, you are the chosen instrument.  Because of it your name will be remembered for hundreds of years after you, and your husband, and I, have passed away from the earth.  Listen, my dear Mrs Illyon, and remember ...”
We left the shop, Roni and I, shaken as much by the intensity of the old man's vision as by his strange words.  A week or so later, walking again through the old city, I tried to find the short alleyway and the tiny court, but never again did I set eyes upon that little courtyard with the bookshop in one corner.
So why has old Monsieur Labac been so much in my mind these last few days? The reason is quickly told. 
For several years after our little adventure, Roni and I were too tied up with starting our small family and getting established in business to take a holiday abroad.  Later, the truth is that we were scared – scared in case the old man's prophecy was not fulfilled, and scared in case it was.  So we put off going, time and again. 
Eventually, the illness of a very dear member of our family forced us to put all reservations to one side and fly quickly to States. Fortunately our relative made a reasonable recovery, but while we were there Roni succumbed to the temptations of the Mega Millions lottery. In the week we arrived the rollover for the following draw exceeded one billion dollars.  We bought our ticket on Monday; on Tuesday we flew back to Israel.  Think of us – picture our state of mind this weekend – as we sit glued to the computer screen, awaiting the result of the draw.
Monsieur Labac, where are you?  Who are you?   It was only yesterday, as I was idly writing your name again and again on a scrap of paper, that I realised just what your name spells – backwards.