After her visit to the camp, investigating on behalf of The Daily Yards, journalist Linda Harrar reported a collection of trophy heads that circled a monument of ruins- relics of a distant age for the old encampment. It wasn’t clear if the heads had been dispelled off corpses, or if they were acquired from living bodies for the express purpose of decorating. The horror of her visit continued with the revelation that a prisoner had been kept in the hull of a ship - a ship that had been removed from its position in the harbor, and was now cradled between the banks of the long-dried river that snaked through the camp, the one they call the River of the Dog. His treatment had been documented and it remains one of the most terrible incidences of captivity to have been witnessed.
In order to permeate this poor prisoner’s mind with the feeling that he was cast outward at sea indefinitely, the prisoner was suspended for the duration of his captivity, held horizontally by a metallic pipe, giving him a view of the ocean, exposing his body to the sea breeze. His legs had been broken, and after several years in this horrid position, his body had morphed to accommodate the spectacle. His feet were drawn over his head, crisscrossed at the heels like a spider whose legs crawl over the head and fasten to the neck when slapped by the wrist of a watchman. And his arms, wrapped around the waist, held at the lower back, where his wrists, eventually broken, mended so as to conjoin the two hands. His eyes had been washed with acid so he could only see with his nose. He had been spared his nose. It was all that remained useful to him. His ears stuffed with wax. Of course, his nose had not been spared out of mercy, but out of even greater malice. The trench where he lay became the nest of his gloom, and it morphed into a mold the shape of his reconstructed body. He could not move an earth’s inch. He could not descend or rise, even if he had the strength, which he obviously did not, he had been fastened to the enormous pipes. His neck, situated so a hollow PVC tube shaft could run through into his mouth. He had been kept alive on purpose, and to maintain his life, as he veered on the cusp of death every single day, he was fed from the captor’s provisions. Several times a week, at the hour of his meal, a sentient guard was sent to his trench in the wild darkness. He would proceed to drop his pants, turn around, and squat, delivering a cloud of feces into the metallic shaft. The shaft would suction the feces into the prisoner’s mouth. For this benefit he had been spared a nose, to recognize the difference between his meals and his imagination.
The claims that were made against any captive are various, and usually, to elicit the complicity of guards, who require a certain amount of time to embody the virility of the upper echelons of the militancy, claims are made against the prisoner’s honor - that he may have raped a pregnant woman, that he may be a sodomite, a deviant homosexual. These convictions of depravity justify and even render heroic the torture at the hands of a crowd of hot blooded men.
There is one story of a man who had been captured by a different set of militants, who claim a large swathe of territory stretching from the Jordan River to the Galilee. They have erected hundreds of settlements, some of them operating under a modern interpretation of utopian socialism, but most of them operating well within the dogmatic doctrine of orthodox monotheists. They lose a large portion of their population to revolution. Those who revolt often disappear, either by their own will, fleeing to some other nation, or finding themselves detained, arbitrarily arrested and vanishing from the conduits of society. Under the watch of these righteous militants, every local was a suspect. Incidentally, they considered themselves the most moral army in the world. But they were foreigners, on foreign land, and so were required to be hostile to the natives. It was only natural.
Certain prisoners said to have suffered a total psychosis, and thus was completely unable to maintain cognitive awareness at any point in time. Cases such as these are usually bound by titanium bolts in the wall. The bolts cannot be unfastened by any one man, requiring at least five different signatures, or fingerprints in the case of an emergency, to release the captive. It is often feared that such individuals are susceptible, for mere foolishness, to radicalism, militancy, or the contraction of diseases sprouting in the region, undetected by the authorities for their occurrence on the margins of society. But this one man, who has come to be known among the militant classes as the Fool of God, committed irrefutably heinous crimes.
On the evening before the celebration of Festival, this particular man crossed the security team’s blanket. With the smoke of celebratory fumes rampant in the air, he passed from under their sight. According to a testimony he gave when he was caught, even drawing a small picture to explain graphically what he had done, he had felt an obligation to the settler’s children he could not neglect. With a set of pliers he had attained from a tray of tools that lay inside the room of newborns in the hospital he had entered, he dug a canal from one eye to another, channeling above the nose and through the eyebrow. To this day, the drawing he made serves as a blueprint for the mirrored line of candles the locals wish to stretch across the city on festival.
But the Fool of God did not stop there. From the trench he dug in the soft skulls of the newborns, he uprooted one of the eyes, snipping at the optic nerve, loosening by way of assault and manual suction the other eye into a central position. Of the thirty-four newborns in the room, only five survived. Nurses and doctors, attending to the wounds could do nothing to repair the damage.
This monster would not have been caught had he not surrendered himself. They entered the complex and found him hurrying the babies into duffel bags, one by one, their faces rapidly devolving into unidentifiable masses of flesh. When pressed as to what he had planned for the children, he is said to have claimed that the ones who survived the operation were to be freed, returned to their homes, and the ones who did not would be thrown into the sea, all at once.
His reputation has taken hold of the population, and his name is chanted in demonstrations and mass rallies. As the situation in the camps worsens, men like the Fool of God only grow in reputation and popularity. Those of a lost generation, and we are witnessing the loss of three or four generations, will seek to emulate his actions. The divide between the inhabitants who remain and those who have fled is startling. And the dynamics between the settlers, the natives and the refugees are growing increasingly violent by the day.
It is expected that the next few public demonstrations will see more violent outbursts from disillusioned youth who feel they have nothing to lose. This tends to be the case, that among young males ranging between fifteen and thirty-five years of age, the tendency to violence is much greater. However, as we have seen in the surrounding provinces, violence can erupt at any minute, and is not exclusive to males of a certain age. In fact, brutal killings and suicide bombings have been performed by older women, women in their late forties, mothers and wives - a troubling emergence.
The coming of Festival will prove to be a difficult period. Festival is the gravest and most politically inciting day in the calendar year. On this very special day, a tomb that has been erected in the central square of the city is lit by fireworks and candles and plastic doves. The evolution of the conflict has returned a certain religious fervor to the people, who appear en-masse, as though swept by a collective madness to any ritualistic rite. Historically, this day was marred by violence between two opposing camps, whose views on the future of their fragmented society diverge. The situation has deteriorated of late, as a return to more dogmatic and fundamentalist practices has evoked harsh memories of conflict between the tribes. As a result, the rituals are turning more and more grotesque, retreating into the shadows of antiquity.
Around dawn, on the day of Festival, children - some offered up by their parents, or more commonly, stolen from neighboring villages, are raised to the mantel in a long and strenuous procession. One by one, with the reading of certain passages, they are dropped from the head of the tomb as a sacrifice. Some regard the sacrifice as a warning to the diaspora, while others believe it is a sacrifice to themselves, a message they inhabit and swallow whole. It is said, on this day, the people of the port town are sacrificing their progeny to prevent the diaspora from ever returning. But it is also said the people are eulogizing the inevitable loss of the town to the diaspora. It is unclear. Some suggest it is not a celebration of their impending arrival, but a reenactment of the day, the fictitious day in the future of the colony, where the diaspora has returned and reclaims their lost heritage. As a compromise, the citizens sacrifice their young, hoping to evade the diaspora’s intervention for another year.
Some notable sacrifices of late included four young boys whose last known location before being abducted was on a beach, where they were playing football, passing their time like schoolboys in less tenuous environments would. The most orthodox believers will tell you that the children, usually no older than two years, do not suffer at all while being accepted into the arms of their creator. But the boys mentioned above, had been the ages of eight or nine, even twelve.
In an act of revolt, a full-grown woman ascended the mantel and hurled herself to the ground. Her defiance of the ritual caused panic among some and outrage among others. Since then, more older children have been hurled, out of fear that her act may have upset the cosmic order.
As a gesture of support for the festival, two tribal elders of warring factions came together and ascended the tomb, each with a fiery rod which they proceeded, with the help of several aids, to puncture the first chosen infants, and before long, the children were hurled as far as the two men could power. There were some families who had gathered to watch the scene unfold from atop a nearby hill. They had brought binoculars and camping equipment to enjoy the afternoon. From their birds-eye view, the scene is quite stunning, an entire population driven into frenzy, religious fervor at its most accessible. Many of the individuals in the pack speak of a trickster power overcoming them, archetypal forces inhabiting their forms, blindly keeping tempo to the procession with the stomping of their feet. The stomping, of course, cannot be heard from a distance, but with an ear pressed to the ground, the reverberations could be felt. It would seem, from their view at the top of the hill, a day of calm, but for the children being hurled in all directions. Remarkably, throughout the entire festival, there are no sounds but the screeching, echoing cries of the children falling to their death.
There is, as well, the reality that the corpses of the infants, however sparsely scattered, can be used, if collected in time, for other means. But it is left to the vultures, a dying breed of birds, to safeguard against disease and devour the infant prey. As with any intervention, however, of such natural awkwardness, there are rumors circulating of the babies being raised, to some extent, by these scavenger birds, and similar species. When once, a woman in one of the camps that takes part in the festival delivered a child with wings instead of arms, the rumor circulated like rapid fire, and within days a procession a committee had been formed to combat the rumor with more positive propaganda - one of the few complimentary causes of cooperation among the establishment.
But these sacrifices, brutal and grotesque as they are, are not outstanding in the region. In other camps, it is reported, people make amends with their god by lighting themselves on fire, only to be put out at the nearest point of death, accepting to live with their wounds. And even more striking is the story of one other camp, where it is said the people eat out of the carcass of their loved one, traditionally the eldest male, celebrated with the honor upon his death. When another male dies, the new male replaces the old male, and after excavating his organs, the degrading body is placed at the heart of the village and day after day the people take their meals from his eroding vessel. There have been stories of an elderly male not passing for over three or four years.
The conditions are intentionally dismal. It’s no surprise, then, that after the recent violence gripping the port, the inhabitants seem strangled to their deathbeds, indifferent to the usual calls for mercy. One of the more recent developments, a sign of outrage among radicalized youths, has been the emergence of suicide missions targeting settler neighborhoods at random. The technique has been used before, in several uprisings, and the security apparatus of the settlers is impenetrable. But the strategy has employed an altogether radical change of face.
It has been documented that the idea emerged while two apparently apathetic youths were joking over their pet dogs, embroiled in a sort of urban conflict over territory marked by their urine. At some point in the conversation, one of the youths - whose name is not revealed and had been withheld from the authorities, his peers withstanding grave measures of torture protect him - mentioned that the dogs are probably even more independent, more liberated than their owners, as they could probably pass through any checkpoint without being noticed. It wasn’t entirely true, especially at the time. Many residents of the occupied territories had filed complaints that their dogs had been murdered by bored security officers at checkpoints, who fired at the dogs as they approached. Still, it was a useful idea to the two youngsters, who, after laughing about it for some time, decided to see for themselves. Word spreads quickly in the camps. Before long, the elderly, localized authorities knew of their plans. Investigating the matter, the authorities asked the two youths whether they were willing to sacrifice the lives of their beloved dogs for the benefit of their little experiment. They admitted to not having thought much about it, that they had expected it wouldn’t be such a big deal. The authorities reiterated that the dogs would likely be killed by the occupying security forces, that nothing is ever spared for encroaching upon the settlements. The two youths were bewildered, and somewhat disillusioned. They slowly learned to oppose the idea.
But not so long afterward, the discussion was brought up in a secret meeting of all security personnel for the resistance. They hadn’t had much luck in their recent asymmetrical operations. The only positive results over the last few years consisted of lone actors carrying out suicide missions without the consent or knowledge of the resistance, usually carrying a knife onto a bus and wielding it at random, or something of similar surprise and at a similar logistical simplicity. A commander, who has since been captured and killed, for reasons not directly related to the canine suicide missions, said that they should explore the possibility of employing animals, and possibly, shepherds. It sounded absurd, at first, but several of the men drew up a map of the anatomy of dogs, sheep, monkeys, lambs and wolves, explaining that the process would be very simple and the operations short. They argued, to those reticent to the idea, that the easiest, and perhaps only, method to reach previously unmanageable targets is to deploy the explosives in the least suspected way. Living bodies that are spared inspection. Nitroglycerine, or something well in abundance. They didn’t have ample supply of anything, the portion of the port still in their hands being wholly and entirely subjected to a merciless barricade.
One of the security officials present suggested they pack a bacterial biological compound inside the living vessel, but the idea was quickly dismissed. A biological compound, they agreed, has loose ends. The bacteria spreads without order, and considering the close quarters the occupiers kept, the ease with which they passed back and forth, it might very well backfire and infect themselves. Among the various animals chosen for experimentation, dogs were thought to be the most loyal and responsible. Also, the least to attract visible attention.
Dogs hold a significant symbolic place in the mythology of the natives. There is a time often spoken of in the history of the territories, before the invasion of the Frankish armies in the middle ages, where dogs were used to amend political ordeals among warring tribes or warring factions. The dogs took on a mythical sort of character, and it was even said that a dog whose mission was complete, whose tenure as a mediator among the people was realized, would orchestrate for themselves a timely farewell. In effect, dogs were thought to be naturally suicidal. There were stories of wild packs of dogs so disturbed by their idling away that they were throwing themselves off the cliffs that hang over the sea, one by one, sometimes even in pairs. Dogs, falling gracefully from the sky. This phenomenon was even documented in the paintings of the time. Painters took their canvases and, setting themselves at various angles of observation, painted amongst clouds of fog masking the outward sea, a dog’s leap, a shadow glistening against the backdrop of fog or brazen sheets of light, a brief illumination of life and the interval before death. The paintings were in the National Museum, for over six centuries, until they were destroyed by intermittent war and neglect.
Once the initial tests were confirmed - that in fact dogs serve well, beneficial to the resistance, loyal to a fault - the process took a life of its own. The first few weeks, the commission established to oversee the operation was out rummaging through the town to haul in the dogs. The operations carried out were successful at first but soon the occupying authorities took action against the wave of martyrdom carried out by dogs. At first, fear struck into the minds of residents across the checkpoint, a fear fused with deep shock and confusion. But after a while, revulsion seeped into the consciousness of the settlers and their servicemen, and all dogs, not only those suspected of carrying explosives inside their bodies, were captured and sentenced to death by mass fires or individual firing squads. Much of what we know of that dark time was documented in photographs taken by nonaligned journalists who were given access to the execution sites for reasons unknown.