This prime minister and his agenda had to be stopped. They who would repudiate their God by giving away the land promised to them would undo all of the sacrifices made by those to protect it. Kessel and his followers of peace would be stopped.

Praying to his God, Jacob repeated a mantra over in his mind. We are the chosen people, and this is the land you promised to us. With your help, I will be strong and persevere to defend it for my people.

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

He peered through the high-powered scope. The crosshairs targeted her heart. He took a breath and held it as he had been well trained to do. With his right forefinger, he gently squeezed the trigger. Before the first clap of the sniper rifle reached the crowd, he found his second mark and squeezed again.

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

The best part of the plan was that the Palestinians would be blamed. The night before, he had planted explosives and detonation devices commonly used by them in the two Sayeret vehicles and the eight STAV armored troop transporters. He’d checked them earlier that morning. This is what he had been trained for—there was none better positioned than he.

This was his destiny.

And God was on his side.

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

Jasmine sat on the edge of the tub, hunched over, her elbows on her knees, her palms pressed against closed eyes. Her thoughts were torn—a heart begging yes, a mind reasoning no. She loved Mikha’il and all that was good in him, but, now in her mid-thirties, a fulfilling life with him seemed less and less likely. He never allowed discussion to segue into talks of marriage and family. Perhaps because of his awkward upbringing, she made excuses for him. But she could not ignore that his changing perspective on career and life were so inconsistent with hers.

Colleagues had begun to suggest Jasmine move on—that Mikha’il was not right for her. Whenever she spoke of it with him, Mikha’il replied, “It shouldn’t matter what others think.” But it did. And even though her parents never said anything about it, she could hear the disappointment in their voices.

Now here, at the King David, where they’d met exactly three years before, she’d hoped he might propose. Then others would see he truly loved her. Any question of how she might have replied didn’t matter now.

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

Three Apache attack helicopters flew in from the west, thundering low over the roof of the Yeshiva School just as a Black Hawk arrived from the north.

Forgetting the boy, David looked up at the Black Hawk hovering over him. He ordered to Control, “Evac them to the Temple Mount. Land the Hawk there and get them out!”

“On the Temple Mount. Are you sure, sir?”

“Yes, I’ll take full responsibility. Have the Apache gunships provide cover.”

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

Naomi threw her arms up to protect her face from the loose objects battering her; then she felt herself being sucked through the fuselage. She grasped at seats and legs rushing by. A passenger grabbed her.

Gripping his calf, she met his terrified eyes for a quick second until she turned and looked through the fuselage. The front half of the plane was gone, and anything not bolted down—including bodies—was being pulled through the gaping hole. Try as he might, the passenger was unable to fight the force of the vacuum. He let go.

Naomi flew out of the opening, into the vast sky of pink and orange. In the sudden silence, she held consciousness for a few seconds until the combination of the minus-fifty-degree temperature and empty air pressure shocked her bodily functions.

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

“I don’t know…what you’re…talking about,” Mikha’il said, coughing and spitting out more blood. “You’ve got…the wrong person.”

“Maybe so, but this is not for you to decide.”

“I need help. Please.”

“You will be taught and judged. Still, you will have to choose.”

“Choose?” Anger mixed with fear. What is this woman saying?

“Then I will know. Then we will all know.”

Mikha’il’s eyes closed, wanting the surreal scene to disappear. When he opened them, the woman was gone. Other than her stick, discarded in the sand, all that remained was the solitude of an empty desert and a lone bird in flight.

His eyes followed the circling form, until his mind drifted far, and he fell into unconsciousness.

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

As he focused on the dying man, the thoughts and emotions he felt from those around him eased, edged out by the single force of the one suffering beside him. Mikha’il was flooded with an awareness of the man’s pain: the deaths of all whom he’d loved, the tragedy of war, his anger and lack of forgiveness, mixing with retribution and the completion of his mission.

The shooter! Mikha’il stopped himself from recoiling and continued to will a message of strength into the man’s mind. Hold on, friend. Don’t let death take you. Don’t surrender to it.

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

Nur al-Din nodded slowly. “The time is right, Yazid, for new leadership.”

“The attack in the Old City is our blessing. And with it, we shall strike. We’ll lure the West into a conflict they don’t have the stomachs to win. We will stretch their aid to Israel until it snaps and end their evil grasp over all of Islam for good. Israel will be left to fall on its own. The plans we talked about in prison, how fast can they be put in place?”

“Just waiting for your word.”

“Then make it so. Let the infidel fall. We’ll drop them from the skies and watch them squirm.”

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

“Does it really matter whether Jesus was made and sent by God, or was God himself? Whether Jesus is of God delivering his holy word, or is God speaking his holy word? Either way, to humanity, the message remains the same.”

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

She watched as despair spawned loathing in the lands that God created. As in the time of Moses, greed tore nations apart, and the open wound poured red.

In retaliation against all Muslims for the terrorist attacks in the sky, mosques and Islamic community centers were bombed. And in turn, Muslims attacked not just planes but synagogues and churches, restaurants, shopping malls and public parks. The conflict spread like a brush-fire, darting wildly and burning everywhere: London, Paris, Madrid, Rome, New York, Chicago, Washington. Mourning and worry had turned to revenge, rage and death. None were immune to its effect.

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

“It is not I that they follow, but the will of Allah.” Abdul-Qadir’s back straightened, and energy filled his voice. “All of Islam has risen in unity to strike at the evil and treachery of the infidel. Around the world, Muslim brothers have taken up arms to fight the tyranny of the Western oppressors. Their corrupt cities cry out in pain as their wealth turns to dust before them.

“In the weakness of their greed and vanity, they will fall to their knees to save the material possessions they have embedded into their lives. They will retreat from their protection of the Jew and the oppression of our people. Israel will crumble without them, and our lands and culture will be returned to us. The will of Allah shall be done.”

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

“Which of you is the dove, and which is the fox?”

When no reply was forthcoming, he waited a moment longer, then responded, “Each is the same, as you are each the same. Both the dove and the fox are motivated, as all species are, by the natural instinct to provide for and protect their young and future generations.

“When you tear at the nest or the den, threatening the safety of those inside, will the dove and the fox not strike out? When one is provoked, is retaliation not inevitable? Is it not the desire of all man to provide a better existence for their children?”

Into the quiet, he continued, “When a man—no matter what man—is taught he’s superior to another, is his fellow man not made lesser? When one is told to fear the lesser and at the same time shown how to hate him, will this hatred not fester into those generations that follow? The pain spares none, and all of mankind suffers.”

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

The boy stood in utter shock and then called out excitedly to his friends. As they came closer, pointing to her face and talking animatedly, she heard their words in disbelief and desperately wiped at her cheek, clearing the mud from her face.

Her transformation was undeniable. The terrible birthmark was gone.

At first, the children stood bewildered; then with the innocent acceptance of youth, they giddily jostled around her and, holding her by the arms, ran with her back to school.

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

The road trembled with the shock. Mangled bodies skidded across the pavement or mashed into the contorted metal of burning vehicles. Those few soldiers still alive screamed in panic and pain, managing to run only a few yards before, engulfed in flames, they fell to the ground.

The young soldier at the car window was protected from the fireball when the passenger-side door flew into his chest, but searing fragments of metal perforated his body. His face badly burned, he lay on the ground, unable to move. The force of the impact had crushed his rib cage, and with blood rapidly filling his lungs, death was imminent.

Red trickled from the holes where his ears had been charred off, and over the ringing in them, he barely heard the approach of another vehicle. He fought to look toward the military base, hoping to see help arriving, then realized the rumbling came from the opposite direction. He didn’t have time to turn.

A large transport truck sped along the dusty road. Thick galvanized sheets of steel, glistening in the brilliant sunshine, surrounded the tractor and wheel wells of the trailer. The truck roared through the bomb site, flattening bodies, wreckage and the young soldier.

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

A dark storm of panic swept over Europe and North America, stifling any confidence in the West’s ability to defend itself and avert an impending economic disaster. Oil prices soared and financial markets plunged, with billions of dollars lost in real value affecting even the average household. For the first time, a generation went to bed fearing that the very fabric of society they had woven was tearing and might, in fact, rip completely apart by morning.

The alliance Israel had enjoyed with many nations suddenly became tense. For many, the sacrifice of life, liberty, safety and happiness was becoming a cost too great to bear.

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

“Very good.” The Buddha’s voice had lightened, his words slowed. “Now, transport yourself deep into thought and leave the loneliness and sadness behind you. Wipe away not only your sorrow, your anger and your guilt, but all emotion. Release yourself from all that you are attached to. Have no desire and no loss. Escape the self. Let what you love most go, and experience only the emptiness that remains. You must accept the noble truth. Suffering ends when craving for your attachments does. Follow this path and alleviate your craving. In the absence of all, you will find the absolute center, the real origin of everything that exists. Not only feel it but grasp the natural energy that exists there, only in Nirvana.”

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

Gabriel replied with somber confidence. “In many nations, over the course of generations, few are watched. When the path of mankind is twisted to the point of rupture, when a dark flood rushes to cover the earth, then, one is chosen to intersect with the ill fate of humanity in an attempt to straighten that which has been bent. In your time, you are the one chosen by divinity to endure this burden. This has been your destiny.”

“Does it end here?”

“That is not for me to answer.” Gabriel raised his hand and pointed. “She waits for you there. Go.”

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊