At the Kiryah military compound in the center of Tel Aviv, a bored sentry examines the taxi’s occupants, then waves it through. Once a pleasant neighborhood of two-story homes, the Kiryah is now headquarters of the Israel Defense Forces and certain of the nation’s security services. Except for the strange fact that everyone on the cracked concrete pathways is in uniform, the Kiryah might just as well be a red-roofed holiday village. Below ground, tunnels lead to three floors of bomb-proof reinforced concrete command bunkers. The cab draws up before a building unmarked but for a stenciled number.
“Last stop,” Dahlia’s escort announces from the front passenger seat. “You know where to go?”
“I know where to go,” she says.
Inside at a battered desk an eighteen-year-old soldier, M-16 slung over the back of her chair, peers studiously into a compact mirror as she applies lipstick. “Name?”
The girl checks the computer in front of her. “The left-wing attorney? From the newspapers?”
“The human-rights attorney.”
The girl points with her lipstick to a staircase on the right, its worn marble steps having once upon a time been a luxurious architectural detail. Now the steps are chipped, cracked, stained.
On the third floor Dahlia passes open doors, each framing an officer on the phone or facing a computer. At the end of the corridor she pauses before a west-facing window. It looks out over the city to the wall of hotels lining the beach.
The voice that greets her is familiar, yet spectral somehow, the voice of a powerful ghost. “Have yourself a good look. They’re building another hotel. Soon we won’t see water at all.”
Behind a tidy plywood desk in a small office sits a small, tidy man, skin olive against his shock of unruly snow-white hair. At seventy-five he is still wiry, his intensity all but hidden beneath the perplexing calm that conceals an intimate knowledge of the strategic risks facing the State of Israel. He stands as Dahlia enters. His trim mustache is as white as his pressed open-collar shirt.
“I can remember when out these windows was nothing but blue,” he says by way of greeting.
“I can remember when I was your student.”
“The best law student I ever had. And the most charming.”
“I’m not sure of the protocol. Do I kiss you or salute?”
He motions like a beloved uncle. But they embrace with strained formality. “You were always my favorite, Dahlia.”
“Somehow I feel I let you down.”
A red phone lights up on desk. He picks it up. “Tell the prime minister I’ll call back.” The prime minister could be voted out tomorrow; the security establishment is forever. He smiles. “Only in Israel could we elect such a clown. How could you let me down?”
“Because you defend those I would hang?”
“Something like that. Though as you know, hanging is now forbidden.”
“Unfortunately,” he says. “Dahlia, Dahlia. In a democracy even the worst scum must be defended in court. And you defend them so well.”
“Why am I here, Zalman?”
“And the lads?”
“Ari is a lieutenant, paratroops. Uri enters the army in September.”
“The Jewish State in the hands of its infants. I saw them last at the young one’s bar mitzvah. Such beautiful boys.”
“Not to put too fine a point on it, Zalman Arad never sits down to a meeting without already knowing everything about the person opposite. So why do you ask?”
“Dahlia, sometimes I think you are too much like me.”
“Except we are on different sides of the political divide.”
“Only within Israel does this seem to matter. The cousins see only filthy Jews.” Cousins is the term Israeli Jews commonly use for Arabs, Jews and Moslems being descended from one father, Abraham. The irony is implicit.
“Why am I here?
He pushes a paper across the desk, then a pen.
A glance tells her what it is, but not why. Another person would give in, if only to learn what signing it will reveal. “The Official Secrets Act? I can’t sign this.”
“You have Zalman Arad’s word it will not effect your role as a defense attorney.”
“And if Zalman Arad is hit by a bus?”
“Let’s hope not. But I take your point.” He moves the paper and pen back to his side of the plywood desk. “Dahlia, you may not be aware that we are in the midst of a massive reorganization of the security apparatus.”
“There are rumors.”
“The State faces an evolving threat.”
“I deal every day with the State’s evolving efforts to contain that threat.”
“The cousins in Gaza are determined to wipe us out. In Lebanon the same. Iran will soon have nuclear weapons. Pakistan already. And now another front."
“What are you saying?”
“According to growing intelligence, we face terror from within.”
Dahlia laughs derisively. “It’s never happened. They are Arabs, but they are Israelis.”
“They are twenty percent of the population, thirty percent among those of school age. In Algeria, five percent was enough to wear down the French. Terror is unpleasant, more so when it is home grown." He pauses. “We have information that our enemies are now attempting to incite our fine Arab citizens to violence. Never mind that Israeli Arabs are not exactly lining up to emigrate to Gaza or Ramallah –apparently living in a democratic society under the rule of law is habit-forming. But there is always the disaffected youth. These can be influenced.” He drums his fingers on the desktop. “I am not telling you a secret when I mention that we are now negotiating with Washington for a massive arms deal. Certain persons wish to torpedo these negotiations. They wish to cause an uprising within Israel that will have a negative effect on public opinion in America. An internal intifada.” Another pause. “I will not allow this to happen.”
“We do have criminal courts. Your people picked me up outside one of them.”
“Sometimes pragmatism must trump principle.”
“Pragmatism must now trump the legal system? Is that what you’re saying?”
Arad sighs. “Let us conjecture. Say we find a certain young Arab citizen is part of a group planning to attack a train, a bus, a school. We don’t know where but we know when. The courts by nature are... procedural. Motions, counter-motions, counter-countermotions. Let us say we have only twenty-four hours. Would you not agree we must consider extraordinary means?”
She lights a cigarette. “Do I understand you correctly?”
“I think you do.”
“The state is now considering torture of its own citizens?”
“Extraordinary means. If it will save lives.”
“How many Jewish children would you expend for a principle, Dahlia?”
“I don’t deal in the hypothetical. As you taught me, it makes bad law.”
“This is not about good or bad law. This is about survival.”
“Where have I heard that before? Russia? Syria? China?”
He waves his hand. It parts the smoke. “In such places these practices are utilized to preserve those in power. Here we would take such steps to preserve lives. Innocent lives. Many innocent lives.”
“It never works. And I can’t imagine why you are telling me this.”
“Listen then. As I speak elite units are being transferred to the Police from the Army and the security services. We are bringing in key officers, specialists, the best. The state will not be threatened from within.”
She laughs. “The Israel Police is unable even to patrol the roads.”
“That is exactly why we are augmenting its abilities.”
She rises. “With all due respect, Zalman...”
“I have not finished.”
She sits. “So the Police will decide whom, when and how to...to torture? How does this concern me?”
“As a defender of civil rights, are you not concerned?”
“How does this relate to me?
“Someone must make such decisions.”
“Zalman, I can only pray for the man who must carry this burden.”
“You may pray. But it will not be a man. Dear Dahlia, it will be you.”
She stubs out her cigarette. “Zalman, you are mad.”
“Because I have dedicated my entire life to the cause of human rights. You expect me to take part in a practice that is its anathema?”
“Who better, Dahlia? Soldiers, policemen, academics, politicians, bureaucrats? None of these has your résumé, your instincts, your will to do the right thing until the last possible moment. Whom would you trust with such decisions, someone else --or yourself?
She looks at her cigarette stubbed out in the glass saucer. She stops herself from lighting another. “I need time.”
“My dear Dahlia,” the old man says. “You have none.”
Dahlia Barr is a brash and successful Israeli attorney who is passionate about defending Palestinians accused of terrorism. To her astonishment, the Israel Police offers Dahlia a tantalizing proposition: Join us, and become the government’s arbiter on when to use the harshest of interrogation methods—what some would call torture. Dahlia is intrigued. She has no intention of permitting torture, but can she change the system from within?
As Dahlia settles into her new role, her son Ari, a twenty-year-old lieutenant in the Israel Defense Forces, is kidnapped by Hezbollah and secreted somewhere in Beirut. The one man who may hold the key to Ari’s rescue is in a cell in police headquarters. He is an Arab who has a long and complicated history with Dahlia. And he’s not talking.
A nail-biting thriller, The Lie is an unforgettable story of human beings on both sides of the terror equation whose lives turn out to share more in common than they ever could have imagined.
“A page-turner that will engage your mind and emotions in a way few novels do. The narrative is headlong, the issues have never been more current, and the characters come alive from the page. This is a story about the lies we tell until the truth is forced upon us, and about divided countries, including those of the human heart. I started reading; I ended up experiencing. The Lie is what great fiction is all about.”
Stephen King, Author
"An utterly riveting thriller that is likely to rank as one of the year's best...The Lie has everything: memorable characters, a compelling plot, white knuckle military action, and an economy and clarity of prose that is direct, powerful, and at times beautiful."
Booklist (starred review)
“An intense, ripped-from-the-headlines political thriller . . . Give[s] readers plenty of insight into the moral issues surrounding torture, security, and human rights, as well as the complexity of the current situation in Israel.”
Association of Jewish Libraries
“Not a single word is wasted in Kestin’s masterfully wrought and mercilessly readable novel of intrigue, and terror. The Lie’s political, cultural, and personal insights are matched only by its breathtaking action and suspense. Quite simply, the best thriller I’ve read in ages.”
Jonathan Evision, New York Times-bestselling author of West of Here and All About Lulu
“Hesh Kestin is a superb storyteller who knows the Middle East intimately. The Lie is alive with an abundance of surprising fact and thoroughly engaging fiction.”
Richard D. Heffner, host of public television’s The Open Mind