Transcript

251:

Brother's Keeper
Transcript

Originally aired 11.21.2003

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Prologue.

Ira Glass

It's a simple story. Cain kills Abel. God comes around and asks him, where's your brother? He replies, am I my brother's keeper? Then God punishes him for what he's done. If there's a lesson in here about how we're supposed to treat each other, and look out for each other. The lesson is so broad that it's almost useless.

Yes, it says, you are your brother's keeper, to the extent that you shouldn't actually murder your own brother. It's not until later in the Bible that you get into more practical, everyday kind of instructions. To lend your neighbors money in hard times. Give them a place to stay if they need it. To love your neighbor as yourself.

The story of Cain and Abel is kind of a blunt instrument. A guy misjudges what he should do. And then someone dies. It's the first death in the Bible. Abel is the first person to die. And it's because his brother screwed up.

But today on our program we have three stories of people trying to figure out how to treat their brothers, and their neighbors, and whether they should step in to help. Trying to figure out if stepping in would do anyone any good at all. WBEZ Chicago, this is This American Life, distributed by Public Radio International. I'm Ira Glass. Our program today, Brother's Keeper. Biblical stories ripped from the day's headlines.

Act One, Whatever Happened to Baby Cain? In that act, Jonathan Goldstein re-tells the story of Cain and Abel. Finally, we get to hear Cain's side of things.

Act Two, This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is My Land. Or Maybe Not. We hear the story of somebody trying to help all sorts of people who absolutely do not want his help.

Act Three, Neighbor's Keeper. In that act, could anyone in a small farming town have done anything to prevent a brutal crime committed by one of their neighbors. Stay with us.

Act One. Whatever Happened To Baby Cain?

Jonathan Goldstein

On their first night outside the Garden of Eden, it was windy and cold, and the air was full of whistling. They scraped at the tree trunks, and dug their fingers into the earth. At the top of their voices, Adam and Eve called out to God. We get it, they screamed. You've made your point.

To fend off the cold, they hugged each other with all of their might. They thought about all of the things God had said in his wrath. How a little human would one day tear his way out of Eve. How they would no longer live forever, but would one day die. These thoughts made them colder. They slept face to face, pressed so tightly together, that the bones in their noses hurt. Later, they would learn to make clothing. But just then, all they had was each other. Nine months after that first night, this would change.

In the beginning, in the garden, the baby was supposed to be a surprise, appearing as suddenly as a sneeze. The way God intended it, two people in love would share a like-minded pretty thought. And there it would be, a baby nesting in a tree above their heads. But the way God intended it, did not pan out.

On the night their child was born, Eve was asleep, dreaming about the ocean. She was swimming beneath it, breathing in the water like it was air. Very carefully, she climbed onto a shark, and rode him. I am actually doing it, she thought. Then the shark turned and bit off her lower body. Eve awoke suddenly. She had begun to give birth.

Adam hopped from foot to foot as Eve felt the pain crush her into the earth. Yes, this was the baby, and the baby was attached to a vine. After a few days, despite their great care, the vine wore away, and baby Cain was freed into the world.

At the time of her second birth, there wasn't the same stage fright. Eve knew the drill. She laid herself on the ground, and grabbed two fistfuls of grass. Six and a half hours later, Abel was born. They called Cain over to meet his new brother. They placed the baby in his arms. The baby was slippery, and Cain lost his grip. Abel fell. He lay on the ground, looking up at his brother. He did not cry. Abel could not be rattled.

Back in those first days, things changed very quickly. A new person being born meant there was a giant spike in the population. For Cain, it made the planet feel lopsided. He watched Eve bounce the newborn in her lap, and as she cooed at it, he felt the earth's gravity tilt in their direction. It pulled at the insides of his stomach, and made him sea-sick.

Years later, Adam and Eve would have many more children. But just then, there was only Cain and Abel. Because there was simply nobody else, the brothers became very close. They invented their own language and played each other's stomachs like snare drums. They butted their heads like goats, and cracked each other's knuckles as though they were cracking their own.

They were different, though. Abel was a thinker. He thought about things. If he bit off his own pinky toe, would it grow back? Cain on the other hand was a doer. He'd reel back his fist and break a donkey's nose for the sheer thrill of it all.

One day, when Adam and Eve thought the children were old enough, they sat them down and told the story of what life was like before they were born. "In those days, God was like one of the family," said Adam. Eve told Cain and Abel about the screw-up. "What does it mean to die?", asked Cain. "We're not exactly sure," said Eve. "But basically, it means that one day-- and this is not any day soon-- we will no longer be. "

There was a silence. Then Abel spoke up. "If we won't be," he said, "then we won't even know that we're not being. There will be no we to see that we can no longer be."

"Yes, I guess that's true," said their mother. "Well put." Abel smiled and went back to mashing a mutton liver, which he was making into pate for later. Cain on the other hand, felt like a sharp plum pit had been forcefully lodged down his throat. All his life, he had felt like himself. That his hands and fingers, that his thoughts, were his own. Now he felt like they were someone else's. Someone who could yank them away at any chosen moment. Until then, it had never crossed his mind that such a thing could be possible.

The brothers continued to live their lives. But all the while, Cain felt a new sadness. It was there all the time. It ate with him, worked with him, and in the morning it raised from his bed with him. Dying. It just didn't make any sense. He knew this deep in his heart. He thought nothing was more important than making God change his mind. Nothing.

He began to take his sacrifices more seriously. They became elaborate and garish. They involved richly choreographed interpretive dances, colorful oblong facial masks, and the very best of his legumes. But God never answered.

Cain started to change. When he got a splinter, he cursed the heavens all out of proportion. "Back in the garden of Eden, there were no splinters," Cain said to Abel. "Instead of splinters, they had trees that sprouted [UNINTELLIGIBLE] and home fries." He even started to resent his parents. He spoke of them as though they had gambled away his inheritance.

"If it hadn't have been for Ignoramus number one, tempting Ignoramus number two, we'd be living in luxury." Cain tried to get Able all worked up about the whole thing too. But Abel had an easy come, easy go, we all have to die someday attitude. That drove his brother crazy. As long as he had his sheep, as long as he could rub his naked feet through their wool, Abel felt that things were really not so bad.

Cain invented a game he called, Get the Hell Out of Eden. He always insisted on playing God. "Get your naked asses out of here," yelled God. "What? But we just got here!", yelled Adam and Eve. "Maybe there's some kind of mistake."

"The Lord does not make mistakes." God would then kick his brother in the ass. He would fall to the ground and, holding his ass say, "Please, please have mercy on me. Let's play something else." And God would laugh.

Now that he was older, every week Abel would choose the fattest, firstborn sheep, and sacrifice them to God. Everything Abel did in life was for a reason. He ate so that he would not be hungry. He made clothes so that he would not be cold. But making sacrifices to God, he did it for reasons he could never know. He did it simply because he was told to. There was something about that, that made him feel clean and deep.

Adam and Eve made the sacrifices out of fear of being further punished. And Cain was pleading for answers and changes. But Abel fulfilled his obligation, and walked away expecting nothing from God. He was glad with the way things were. And God could not have helped liking that.

Meanwhile, Cain decided to test out a new approach with the Lord. He believed that God would have greater respect for him if he did not kowtow. "He's going to kill us," he thought. He wanted God to understand that he couldn't walk all over people, and then still have them come crawling back with their arms loaded up with gifts. No. They had to get tough. So Cain's sacrifices became more and more lackadaisical. He did not even check to see whether his gifts were being received or not. That would look like he was caving.

Then one day, while Cain was lying in a field, Abel came running over. "God spoke to me," cried Abel. Cain shut up and looked at his brother. "What did he say?"

"He said he was a great fan of my sheep. He told me to keep up the good work." "Was my name mentioned?", asked Cain. "It didn't come up."

"What was it like to hear his voice?," asked Cain. "Look at me," said Abel. "I'm still shaking."

There's was a certain pang that Cain started to feel a lot. It was in his stomach. He felt the pang grow sharpest when he looked upon his brother. He could hardly speak with him without having to hunch over in pain. Since the world was still new, and no one had yet felt this way, Cain did not know that it was jealousy he was feeling.

Instead, he decided that his stomach no longer wanted to be his stomach. It wanted to escape his rib cage. It wanted to be Abel's stomach. This was because he wanted to be Abel. There was no shame in this. Being Abel meant being happy. Being Cain meant being wretched. Being Cain had brought him nothing.

He had a plan. He approached Abel with it. He decided to just spring it on him. "I am no longer Cain," said Cain. "I am now Abel. We are both Abel." "All right," said Abel.

The two Abels performed routines for the amusement of their brothers and sisters. "How's that apple, Abel?" "It's fine, Abel." "Abel, could you pass it over so that I may have a bite?" "I, Abel, don't see why not, Abel." Then one day, things became more grave. "If I am Abel," said Cain, "then I am just as much Abel as you yourself are Abel."

"I suppose that's true," said Abel. "Then before God, are we not both Abel?", asked Cain. "Well, in the case of being before God, I think at that time, I would be Abel, and you would go back to being Cain." "That won't do," said Cain. His eyes lingered on his brother. He looked at this other Abel as standing in the way of who he was.

He was Abel. He knew this in his heart. He simply wanted it more. This way, God would have to show himself. This way, God would have to stop playing possum and get directly involved in what was going on. These were Cain's thoughts.

Abel was among his flock when Cain neared him. Slowly, Cain pulled out his stick, and slowly, he lifted it into the air. Still though, there was no sign of God. He looked at the back of Abel's head. Then he looked into the sky. Just in case God was reading his mind, he thought to himself, "I'm really, really going to do it." He brought his stick down onto his brother's head. He could hear no sound at all. Abel just toppled over. He toppled over the way he did everything, with an easygoing acceptance. He sank to the earth as though thinking, "I must fall, so I will fall. I am falling. I have fallen."

Cain grabbed his brother by the shoulder and turned him over. His brother's eyes were wide open. It was like Abel was looking past him, over his shoulder and up into the sky.

When they were kids, there was a game they played, where Cain would do something, something bad, and Abel would look over just behind him. As though spying their father, who had been watching. Cain, full of fear, would slowly turn to meet his father's gaze. When he'd see that there was really no one there, he would laugh. Now, it was like Abel was playing at their game, but this time, he did not move a muscle even to smile.

Here it was. Death. Cain couldn't believe it. He'd been sure that at the last moment, God would step in. He would have thought that only God could have taken a person's life. But it was as simple as killing a sheep. Abel, his eyes wide and unblinking, stared directly into the mystery of life and death. And he was not saying a word about any of it.

Cain sat back and weighed it. The sheep continue to graze, and the sun continued to shine. There were no bolts of lightning, no booming voice from behind the clouds. Life went on. That night, God appeared before Cain in a dream. "Where is your brother?", asked God. "It's always about my brother," said Cain. "Do you ever ask me where I am? No, that you don't think of."

"What have you done?", asked God. "Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground." "Am I my brother's keeper?", asked Cain. God did not answer. He just gave him a look. It made Cain feel naked and small. He then felt the finger of God upon his forehead. It sank through his head and into his brain, where it spoke.

"The earth shall scorn you," said the voice from the finger. "I shall scorn you. You will wander the earth, and death will not come. There will be no escape from your guilt. All will look upon you, and none will dare kill you. For they will know you by your mark." God withdrew his finger, leaving behind a fingerprint on Cain's forehead that was shaped like a tear drop.

At first he tried to convince himself that the mark was to protect him. That he had a secret pact with God. That they understood each other. For a while, he would wake up in the morning and pretend to be immortal and famous. But he was not very good at pretending. So as the centuries passed, Cain abandoned farming and roamed the earth. He walked with a sense of purpose, just in case anyone was watching. But in his heart, he knew he had nowhere to go.

He became so lonely and full of regret, that instead of fearing death, he became yearnful of it. He would chase after bears, and they would scamper away. "They haven't the balls," he'd say. "Run, you little bitches," he'd call after the tigers. "Run, you yellow turds," he'd cry into the face of an alligator, as he tried in vain to pry open its jaws.

More centuries passed. And Cain's desire for death became nearly constant. He would think about Abel up in heaven, palling around with God, flying through the clouds on God's shoulders, while he was left to putz around for hundreds of years, begging his own children to drive tree branches through his heart. In life, Cain had been jealous of his brother. But it was in death, that he became more jealous than he ever thought was possible.

He could feel Abel up there looking down on him. "You should see the look on your face," he would hear his brother say, trying to be all serious. "You look like a gorilla."

Over time, Cain could no longer remember very much at all. 20 years after the death of his brother, it seemed like it was only yesterday. But after 200 years, it felt like something that might have happened in a dream. There were details he remembered, that now seemed improbable. Like the way he saw his brother's soul leave his body. And the way he'd waved goodbye to him, and winked.

After 300 and 400 years, it all felt so long ago, that who he was back then felt like someone else. When people he met asked him questions about the old days, he just made stuff up. "We had wings," he said.

After 500 years, his story was repeated so often, that he only remembered the repeating, not the events themselves. It sounded like a fable. Something that might have just as easily happened to a fox and a rabbit, as to himself and his brother. He began to doubt everything. He even began to wonder whether he had actually ever heard God's voice. Whether the mark on his forehead was the mark of God, and not just another liver spot.

"Was this a part of the punishment?", he wondered. To be left so uncertain of whether God really was, or whether God was only something inside his own head.

After 700 years, when he told the story to himself, or heard it told by others, he felt nothing. He was too old to feel guilt, or remorse, or anything. He didn't even miss his brother anymore. He wanted nothing from God. He wanted nothing from the world. The world was what it was. He didn't need it to change. And in this way, he'd finally got his wish-- to be just like Abel. And then God let him die.

Ira Glass

Jonathan Goldstein. He is the author of the novel Lenny Bruce Is Dead. Coming up, trying to help a bunch of people who don't really want your help, in what you really could call a biblical setting. That's in a minute, from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International, when our program continues.

Act Two. This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is My Land. Or Maybe Not.

Ira Glass

This is This American Life, I'm Ira Glass. Each week in our program of course we choose some theme, bring you a variety of different kinds of stories on that theme. Today's program, Brother's Keeper. Stories of when it is hard to figure out exactly what you're supposed to do for others, exactly what your responsibility is.

We've arrived at Act Two of our program. Act Two, This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land. Or Maybe Not. Nancy Updike has the story of a man who's tried to save a whole country. And how that's going.

Nancy Updike

Most people are repelled by what they don't like. They avoid it. They don't want to see it, or hear it, or think about it. Dror Etkes spends all day looking at what he hates. Seeing more and more physical evidence of a future he dreads. Talking at length to people he vehemently disagrees with.

Dror Etkes

This, I think this is this place, most likely.

Nancy Updike

What are you seeing?

Dror Etkes

Two, three containers. Three mobile homes, I mean one Subaru. A huge manure. Two black water containers. And obviously, the beginning of settlement.

Nancy Updike

Dror may be the only person in the world who knows, and is willing to discuss, the name and location of every Israeli settlement. Every shack, mobile home, housing cluster, bypass, road and town in the West Bank. In his rented Mitsubishi truck, he monitors settlements for the Israeli organization Peace Now. He gets calls from the American consulate requesting briefings and statistics. Israeli parliament members use his database. He's driven, he works alone, and he is not popular.

His single-minded mission is to expose a process that many people would like to keep quiet. Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon told his cabinet in June that settlement building could continue, as long as it was discreet. "Don't celebrate," he said. "Just build." A settler spokesman agreed. "The less talk, and the less documentation, the better," he told an Israeli newspaper.

Nearly half of the West Bank, 42%, is now controlled by Israeli settlers and the local and regional land councils the govern them. A political fact that makes any future peace agreement significantly more difficult. So several times a week, Dror gets into his truck, throws a bulletproof vest in the back, and does a reverse commute out into the West Bank to see what's going on.

We go up to a construction site on a hill about nine miles southeast of Jerusalem, with some men doing work on a bunch of new houses. Dror, who's about six feet tall and solid, strides over to the deeply tanned man in wraparound sunglasses who seems to be supervising the site.

Dror Etkes

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Nancy Updike

Do you speak English? Inglit?

Dror Etkes

[TRANSLATING] Yes, and I don't want to talk.

Nancy Updike

You don't want to talk?

Dror Etkes

With this.

Man

The microphone.

Nancy Updike

Dror steers him away from the mike, and gets him to talk, no problem. He talked carpentry with him, he tells me as we're driving away. And in the process, found out everything he wanted to know.

Dror Etkes

The information that I got is that they build 122 square meter houses. Going to build about five, six units altogether. And the buildings are for people living right now involves caravans here. But they consider it to be a neighborhood of [UNINTELLIGIBLE], which is here.

Nancy Updike

A new settlement is like a new freckle. It can be hard to notice unless you're really looking for it. A mobile home appears on a hill somewhere in the West Bank. At first it's just up there, empty. Maybe it's next to a Palestinian village or city, maybe it isn't. A couple of people move in. They set up water tanks. A radio tower. Clear a rough road. Then bring in a few more mobile homes.

Soon, there are enough people on the hill that they need defending. So soldiers are assigned to it. Electricity and water lines are run from the nearest, more established settlement. More people move in. Families, children. A school is started. Eventually the hills around the original hill need to be claimed in order to protect it.

Dror was born in 1968, ten months after the first settlement was created. When he was 15 years old, studying in a religious school in Jerusalem, there were 23,000 settlers in the West Bank and Gaza. When he was 21, and no longer religious, and was finishing his military service in an infantry combat unit, there were 72,000. When he was 28, and just back from years abroad trying to run away from Israel, it was 148,000.

Dror Etkes

When I came back to the country, I started quite soon after, to move on to the West Bank and to start to look for my own perspective. How actually things goes on there.

Nancy Updike

You started driving around the West Bank in--

Dror Etkes

Two taxis. Palestinian taxis.

Nancy Updike

You just on your own initiative, when you got back? What were you looking for?

Dror Etkes

Oh, speaking with people. And looking at the changes. You know, the West Bank had been dramatically changed during the nine years.

Nancy Updike

The years Dror was away were the early years of the Oslo peace accords. A time when many Israelis saw a peaceful solution, two states for two peoples, as inevitable, and imminent. The growth of settlements during those years was not widely publicized or discussed. When Dror tried to tell his friends what he was seeing, they'd say, well we're giving it back anyway, so who cares if a few more houses are being built. And he'd say no, no, no, you don't understand. We're not preparing to give it back. We're preparing to stay.

His friends' eyes would glaze over. They'd shrug. It infuriated him. He had no interest in turning his life into a political mission to save his country. He'd spent his years abroad avoiding Israelis, trying not to think about Israel. For a long time, he thought he'd never go back. Settlements were not something he'd ever intended to take on.

Dror Etkes

At first when I came back to the country, consciously, I was keeping myself detached from this place in some ways. I tried to, at least, I think. I was not really able to do it. But somehow, I was trying to convince myself that I could live everywhere in the world. And when the time goes on, and I'm here longer, and especially over the last years. I must admit that, the settlers have made me, you know, I'm a born-again patriot. I feel that the settlers pushed me, shoved me to the corner, but I have to fight for this place. You know, fighting for our home. This is the settlers', their slogan. They're fighting for their homes. This is more or less what I feel right now.

[PHONE DIALING]

Man

Hello?

Dror Etkes

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Nancy Updike

Dror is calling a new settlement, pretending he wants to move there so he can get information about the place. He has an ever-changing repertoire of deceptions to get information. For a while he drove around the settlements posing as a cell phone technician, so he could ask a lot of intrusive questions. How many people live here? Oh, you'll need a couple of towers then, huh? What about that new road up there? Going to be some people up there, too? They'll need a cell tower. It worked well until a settler blew his cover by asking for ID, and then told all the others.

When I drove with him, Dror told a lot of the people he talked to exactly who he was, and they spoke to him anyway. But he has no compunction about lying, elaborately, if need be, when he thinks it would help. Like with this phone call. Dror says he knows settler jargon, how to put them at ease. He grew up around settlers, in a religious family. He says he understands them, how they think and live. And on the phone, he finds out what he wants to know by playing a fully imagined alter-ego. Dror, the settler.

Dror Etkes

You know, father of four or five kids. And I was in army in a specific unit, where a lot of religious people are going. And I married a woman who does a certain thing. You know, she's a teacher. And I always admire the settlers. Of course, I'm religious, and I told them I'm [UNINTELLIGIBLE]. But I'm a bit afraid, you know. I really want to do it, but I have to find the guts in me.

Nancy Updike

A settler spokesman once joked about Dror. His obsession shows a deep psychic tie to the land of Israel. In his previous incarnation, he must have been a settler. One of the side effects of Dror's job is that even though he disagrees with them, he now has more in common with settler activists than with the vast majority of Israelis.

Like settlers, he spends a lot of time in the West Bank, frustrated that the rest of Israel doesn't seem to know or care what's happening there. Like them, his position on the issue of settlements is at the core of his identity. He told me he can't be friends with anyone who disagrees with him about it. In fact, he said it's hard for him to relate to anyone who doesn't see the same things he does every day.

We were leaving the settlement of Ariel when an orthodox man, who was asking every man who walked by whether he wanted to pray, called out to Dror. They had an exchange. Dror refused to pray, but he did it in a way that let the guy know he had a religious background. According to ancient Jewish law, minors, the deaf, and the retarded are exempt from following religious commands.

Dror Etkes

So I said to him, I am those three things. I am deaf, and I'm a minor, and I'm retarded. So I don't have to do it. So he realized immediately that I know something. It's not because I don't know. I know, and I don't do it, deliberately.

Nancy Updike

Do you do that to kind of needle them?

Dror Etkes

Yeah, I like to provoke, like a provocation.

Nancy Updike

You like to provoke them.

Dror Etkes

Yeah, I like to provoke them, yeah. Those guys are fundamentalists. They think what they're doing, you know, saving the world, redeeming the world-- bother me. I don't like it. I don't like people who are trying to convert other people.

Nancy Updike

You kind of are trying to convert people, though.

Dror Etkes

[LAUGHTER] Am I? You're right. You're right. So I don't like people who try to convert, religiously, people.

Nancy Updike

You don't like the competition.

Dror Etkes

I don't like the competition! Yeah, it's a good one. [LAUGHTER]

[CAR DOORS SLAM]

Nancy Updike

Also like settler activists, he's always on the job. And like them, he sees his job as a constant effort to correct the misguided all around him. We picked up two 18 year old settler boys who were hitchhiking. He spent the first ten minutes of the ride milking them for information. Where do you live? He asked one. Ma'ale [UNINTELLIGIBLE], the kid answered. And how are things at Ma'ale [UNINTELLIGIBLE]? Praise the Lord, things are good, the kid said. Yeah?, said Dror. How many families are there? 89, 90, the kid said.

Once Dror had found out everything he wanted to know, he told them he monitored settlements for Peace Now, and one of the boys said, I'm curious about your outlook. Can you explain it to me? After saying he wasn't sure he had the energy to get into it with them, Dror began a half hour argument that got more and more heated and complicated. Until finally, one of the boy said plaintively, look, most of the country identifies with us. Forget about it, Dror said, shifting gears. He interrupted the main argument to explain to the kids, that in fact both of them, and Dror, are all in the same boat.

"Forget about it. Most of the country doesn't give a dick-- pardon me, but I'm going to say this bluntly-- most of the country doesn't give a dick about what you say, or what I say. Both the settlers and Peace Now are tiny groups. The big fight between us, is who's able to capture broad public support. Not by getting people to identify with our ideology, because nobody gives a damn if God promised him some covenant with Abraham. This part of the land of Israel, or some other part. And unfortunately, no one gives a damn in this country about human rights either."

Every American administration since 1967 has made some statement against settlements. Saying that they're contrary to the Geneva convention, the international law that governs occupying powers, and a serious obstacle to any peace agreement. President George Bush, in a speech that preceded the Road Map peace plan, said quote, "Israeli settlement activity in the occupied territories must stop."

Twice, first in 1978 and again in 1992, Israel and the US have come to explicit agreements to freeze settlement growth. Settlements have increased throughout. As they increase and multiply, it's hard to avoid certain questions. Where exactly is a Palestinian state going to fit? And if Israel really intends to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza, to give up land for peace, why keep building?

A few weeks ago, Dror testified before the US senate, the Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs subcommittee of the Foreign Relations Committee. A senator on tour in Israel a few months back met him, and invited him to speak about settlements and settlement growth.

Israel Meidad

I think Dror's probably doing work that has already been done for him. And I think the American government with its satellite services could probably do it even better.

Nancy Updike

Israel Meidad grew up in Queens, and moved to the settlement of Shilo in 1981. He's debated Peace Now representatives many, many times. He's a settler spokesman.

Israel Meidad

I'm sure they know exactly where the roads are, where the caravans are being placed. And for me, actually, he represents a very sort of unfortunate aspect of Zionism over the past hundred years. Where they have to run to the non-Jews in order to tell them what's going on. Its sort of an element of not accepting democracy. Democracy is, you decide. And we had a vote recently, and Mr. Sharon had over 65% of the vote.

Nancy Updike

I mean what he says is, look they invited me. And my main audience is Israel, is Israelis. That I'm gathering these numbers, and trying to put them out to Israel. And the Americans just happened to ask me. But my main audience is Israel. You're making a face.

Israel Meidad

He's lying.

Nancy Updike

You don't think his main audience is Israel.

Israel Meidad

His main audience is the United States of America. I would say to him that, his political point of view has consistently lost out in a democratic form called elections in the state of Israel. The polls that have consistently been published about dismantling communities and taking Jews back, et cetera, like that, have always been, for peace, would you do this? Israelis would do anything for peace, to tell you the truth. But once the crunch comes, they decide otherwise, usually in elections. Polls are not elections. And Dror doesn't realize that. Dror thinks that his ideological position can be moved over onto the majority of the population. Consistently, over the past 37 years, that has not happened. I don't think it will.

Nancy Updike

Where are we coming up to now?

Dror Etkes

We're entering a settlement, [UNINTELLIGIBLE].

Nancy Updike

Dror believes that settlements will be dismantled and evacuated in his lifetime. He believes this, in spite of the fact that just in the time I've been interviewing him for this story, hundreds of new permits for houses in the West Bank have been issued. Eight outposts, some of them illegal, were granted the status of permanent communities by the government. A hundred million dollars was approved by the government to build houses in the occupied territories.

And a new incentive program was announced to attract young Israeli couples to settlements in the Jordan valley. Free rent for four years, plus full college tuition for one person in the couple. Over a hundred couples have signed up so far. Dror's optimism in the face of all this is especially shocking, given his personal experience. As we were driving through a block of settlements about nine miles east of Jerusalem, [UNINTELLIGIBLE] he announced suddenly--

Dror Etkes

My sister live in Elon.

Nancy Updike

Your sister lives here?

Dror Etkes

Not here, in the other settlement, Elon.

Nancy Updike

But in this block of settlements.

Dror Etkes

Right.

Nancy Updike

And, I mean, what does your sister think of what you do?

Dror Etkes

Well, she supports it, totally. She votes Israeli, she votes--

Nancy Updike

Come on!

Dror Etkes

Yeah, yeah, yeah. This is Israeli reality right now.

Nancy Updike

So what do you mean, she supports it? I mean, it seems like your whole goal is to get her to move out of her house.

Dror Etkes

Right. And my sister moved to this settlement eight months ago or so. They are living in a container. They're paying $100 rent. An apartment in Israel, in Jerusalem, would have the same size of their container, would cost perhaps five times more.

Nancy Updike

So, did your sister talk to you about this before doing it? And say look, I'm going to do this?

Dror Etkes

Yes, we had the hardest conversations before. We had very, very hard conversations about it. She just, I guess, concluded by saying that she would never build a house there at the settlement. And that she doesn't consider herself as an obstacle to peace. And if Israeli government would decide to evacuate those areas, of course she would never do anything against it. And nobody is living on this land anyhow.

Nancy Updike

We headed up a rough dirt road near [UNINTELLIGIBLE] where two empty trailer homes sat on top of a hill, placeholders for an upcoming settlement to add to the block his sister lives in. We went inside one.

Nancy Updike

So this is two bedrooms, a bathroom, and a sort of living room kitchen area.

Dror Etkes

It's exactly the type of trailer which my sister has, where she live, I told you about before.

Nancy Updike

This is the kind of trailer your sister lives in.

Dror Etkes

Quite, quite, quite similar. It's enough for young parents with one baby. I guess why my sister is refusing to see, this is what I told her is that, she is benefiting from extreme unjust political agenda. And this is what she's, just, closing her eyes to see. You know, claiming that she's going to Peace Now demonstration, one every four years, she's completing her duty. And if she votes the right party, once every four years, she's completing with her political responsibility. I think it's a very, very ignorant thing to say. I'm living with a consciousness. What you are doing privately in your life, how you live, where you shop, how you consume. Who you speak with, how do speak with. This is politics.

Nancy Updike

It sounds exhausting.

Dror Etkes

I look exhausted.

Nancy Updike

You don't look exhausted. On the contrary, you seem full of energy and pep.

Dror Etkes

No, I'm very exhausted.

Nancy Updike

You feel exhausted?

Dror Etkes

Yes, exhausted. I feel exhausted, I don't feel that I'm as exhausted, that I'm ready to give up. And I don't. This is not what I'm saying. But living here in this country is an extremely exhausting thing. Living here consciously? If you are politically conscious and aware? It's an extremely exhausting thing. I have many friends who are living abroad, mostly in Europe. And I must admit that I'm envying them once in a while. They have much better life than I have. Much, much better.

Nancy Updike

Patriotism is a kind of love. And like any other love, it can be unrequited. There's the patriot, Dror. He feels responsible to his country. Worries about it, has plans for it, feels devoted to it. And then there's the country itself. The patriot's fellow citizens. Who usually don't even notice what he's doing. And when they do notice, find it pathetic, or enraging, or unpatriotic.

Ira Glass

Nancy Updike lives in Jerusalem. Her story's part of the Hearing Voices project, which gets funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and is online at hearingvoices.com.

[MUSIC - "DON'T FENCE ME IN" BY BING CROSBY]

Act Three. Neighbor's Keeper.

Robert Kurson

A new deputy was on duty in the town. A deputy named Adam Streicher, 23 year old guy, who was very new to the force. And wanted to do something useful.

Ira Glass

He's looking for something to do.

Robert Kurson

He's looking for something to do. And so he rummaged around in the courthouse and in the station for any outstanding warrants that might need to be served. On this night he did find an outstanding warrant. One that was five months old, and that was to be served on a local resident named Curt Thompson. He didn't know Curt Thompson, and it was just for failure to pay some court costs and fines from a previous case. So he took the warrant, got in the deputy's squad car, and started to drive the short distance to Curt Thompson's house.

Curt Thompson came to the door, and was informed by Deputy Streicher that he had a warrant for Curtis Thompson. Thompson went back into his house, and came out with a shotgun. Lifted it up, and blew away Deputy Streicher's face and shoulder. Probably killed him instantly.

Ira Glass

Then, Thompson took the deputy's pistol, jumped in the squad car, lights flashing, and set off to settle some scores. Just around the corner, he visits two neighbors that he'd been feuding with for years. And shoots them, right in front of their ten year old daughter.

Maybe a half-minute drive from there, Thompson rams into another neighbor on the street that he doesn't like, but the guy gets away. Thompson goes looking for yet another neighbor he has a grudge against, but that guy's not home.

What Robert Kurson found, digging into old court records, talking to all sorts of people in Toulon, was that this man, Curt Thompson, had been getting into all sorts of angry episodes and disputes with various neighbors for 30 years.

Robert Kurson

You could get too close to him at the grocery. You could drive too close to him. Very, very minor, petty things that third or fourth graders might complain about in grade school. In one case, I think someone's laundry blew on to his property. And that marked the offender for vendetta for years.

Rick Collins

Well, Curt began, as we say, casing my house.

Ira Glass

This is Rick Collins, of Toulon.

Rick Collins

Driving by slowly, and watching what I would be doing at my home. And checking on my dog, and that sort of stuff. And giving me the eye, glaring at me.

Ira Glass

Was it intimidating, the glaring?

Rick Collins

To a degree. Because Curt had a reputation for swinging first and asking questions later, that sort of thing. It was well known that he had a very bad temper.

Ira Glass

Yeah.

Rick Collins

That he could become violently angry.

Ira Glass

Rick Collins got on Curt Thompson's bad side when Curt's dog bit a child who lived nearby. At the time, Rick was the mayor of Toulon. And he sent out the city marshall, the policeman who is on the city payroll, to do a routine call about the incident. Check that the dog was vaccinated, and properly registered. It led to some fines and a little bit of trouble for Curt Thompson.

Rick Collins

Somewhere in this period, there was a retirement party nearby. About seven miles from town, just over the county line in the next county. And I had stopped by to wish the retiree a happy retirement. Curt and his wife were there. And in the process of walking past their table, I stopped and said hello Curt, and hello Virginia, just as I've said it to you.

And as it came to pass, Curt followed me out. And began shouting and yelling obscenities at me, and when we reached a staircase, he basically hit me from behind, pushing me down a flight of stairs. And I wasn't injured, I caught myself without tumbling. And got to the bottom, and I thought, boy, this is not good. I got outside and drove home. And at that point, I think I did turn it in.

I called the sheriff and reported what had happened. And they were not interested. They said well, it happened in another county, so, not to worry. So I called the district attorney of that county, because, I thought well, this isn't really good, pushing public officials down a flight of stairs. And that state's attorney wasn't too interested in pursuing it, and that's kind of where it lay.

Ira Glass

In fact, this was the pattern around town for decades. People would try to get the police and courts to take action. But either they wouldn't pick up the case, or if they did, Curt Thompson would just get a slap on the wrist. Some of his actions were shocking. He threatened the sheriff, repeatedly. Told him he'd bury him. Ran him off the road. And only ended up with $111 fine, and 100 hours of community service.

The couple that he eventually murdered, Jim and Janet Giesenhagen, he'd been feuding with for over a decade. He'd circle around their house in his truck at 8:00 in the morning, when their daughter was just leaving for school. They started driving her, even though the school was just a few blocks away. One day Thompson told them that he'd kill them. They got a judge to issue an order of protection, ordering him to stay away. He didn't.

Robert Kurson

In the next days, there was Thompson in his truck, glaring.

Ira Glass

Again, reporter Robert Kurson.

Robert Kurson

And so Giesenhagen, believing that all he needed was evidence of this violation of the order of protection, and that would finally, hopefully, put Thompson away, attaches a video camera to his home and tapes Thompson breaking, repeatedly, these orders of protection. According to what I was told, these tapes were turned over to authorities, and nothing happened.

Richard Schwind

I watched every minute, every second of those videotapes. There was nothing on there that you could use as evidence to substantiate bringing in a criminal charge.

Ira Glass

Richard Schwind is with the Illinois attorney general's office, and worked on the murder case against Curt Thompson.

Richard Schwind

The tapes that we were given did not show a violation. It showed that Mr. Thompson would drive on the public way behind the Giesenhagen home. But there was nothing to show that would substantiate any violation.

Ira Glass

So if he was just driving through this alley, that wouldn't constitute a violation.

Richard Schwind

No. He had a right to be on a public way. If he went on to the Giesenhagen property, that would be a different story. Mr. Thompson knew how far to push the envelope, and how far to go before violating the law.

Ira Glass

Sure enough, says the former mayor, Rick Collins. But he believes that when he was mayor, there were clear opportunities for Toulon to do more to stop Curt Thompson. And especially for the town policemen, to enforce rules against Curt Thompson. But the policemen, he says, wouldn't take action.

Rick Collins

There had been complaints previously about Curt's wood pile, and the trash around his house, and abandoned cars. That sort of thing. And our city marshall wasn't too interested in pursuing anything with Curt.

Ira Glass

Why?

Rick Collins

Well, you know. I think that I should preface this by saying, we've all got blood on our hands. All of us should have pressed the issue.

Ira Glass

Do you remember having conversations with the marshall, with the sheriff, with the police? Where you'd say, you know, we've got to enforce this?

Rick Collins

Yes. I did say, we have to do something about this, it's only going to get worse.

Ira Glass

And what'd they say?

Rick Collins

They said, don't worry about it. It's our problem.

Ira Glass

Hm.

Rick Collins

There was no appetite for enforcing any ordinances in regard to Curt. This was one of the reasons I resigned. If you can't control your city employees and the city council is not willing to back you up, then you really have no business being the mayor.

Ira Glass

See I wonder, even if you all had enforced all these things-- the level of punishment that Curt Thompson would have gotten would have been pretty minimal.

Rick Collins

Oh yeah.

Ira Glass

And so in the end, would it have actually forestalled a big tragedy happening like what happened?

Rick Collins

Yes I believe it would have, Ira. It's been my observation that whether one is a schoolteacher, or a policeman, or regardless of your position, even in the unemployer. When you have rules, and the rules are enforced unequivocally, when people know that certain actions bring certain results. They tend not to violate the rules. And Curt is no different than the rest of us. And when an individual feels that they are above or immune, or can violate law with impunity, they will do so. And they'll continue to do it with increasing severity until something happens.

Ira Glass

It's interesting to hear. Like you feel very confident that if lines had been drawn early on, it would never have gotten to this point.

Rick Collins

Without a doubt. Absolutely without a doubt. There's no question in my mind whatsoever.

Ira Glass

Rick Collins says that he tried to get the six members of the Toulon city council to act, to force the town policemen to go after Curt Thompson, there was so little interest, they never even came to a vote. The Toulon policeman that he wanted to take action is named Bob Taylor. He's still the marshall in Toulon. And he says that he has no regrets about how he handled Curt Thompson.

Bob Taylor

Curt Thompson was not like other people. Or at least most people in a small town. He was very anti-social. He was just a guy that I think aggressive action may have just sped things up, not headed them off.

Ira Glass

You think aggressive action would have had the opposite effect from what the mayor is saying?

Bob Taylor

That would be my belief, yes.

Ira Glass

You think aggressive action actually would have set him off?

Bob Taylor

Right. He'd have probably been as defiant as he normally was. Probably would have pushed things to the limit.

Ira Glass

Normally, when somebody's in trouble in Toulon, people step in to help. When Dean Greave got sick a few weeks ago, some neighbors harvested his corn and beans. When a big wind storm knocked out power for a few days this summer, people showered in each other's houses, helped out as they could. Every few weeks, there are all sorts of benefit suppers, and dances, and auctions for people who are sick or doing badly. Where usually 100 to 300 people show up. This, remember, in a town of 1,400.

Jim Nowlan

With Curt Thompson, the community collectively decided to avoid the problem.

Ira Glass

Jim Nowlan edits the town paper, the Stark County News. He says maybe a half dozen people were being harassed by Curt Thompson at any given time. But it just wasn't the sort of thing you could hold a benefit for. It wasn't clear exactly what to do.

Jim Nowlan

I think if you were to do a movie about a story like this, there would probably be some Jimmy Stewart type who would become so aroused, maybe at the lack of action taken by others, that he would simply, you know, carrying a torch, gather the townsfolk in the square and march on Curt Thomson's house. And simply demand that he come out and apologize, and commit never to do anything like that again. But that didn't happen.

Ira Glass

Though Jim Nowlan sounds a little bit like Jimmy Stewart as he says all this, there was no Jimmy Stewart in town to end the story that way. And if anything, the scenario that people in Toulon sometimes talked about for Curt Thompson is a much darker one. Here's Robert Kurson, the reporter.

Robert Kurson

Many people in the aftermath, thought that someone should have gone and taken care of him physically.

Ira Glass

Wow, people actually said this to you?

Robert Kurson

Yes. That vigilante justice was the only option remaining.

Ira Glass

In the story that you wrote, you tell the story at one point of the town of Skidmore, Missouri in 1981. And they faced a similar kind of figure, a guy named Ken McElroy, who got into all sorts of feuds. Talk about what happened in that case.

Robert Kurson

It was a very similar set-up. The town, like Toulon, watched out for each other. They took care of each other. This guy rode into town and started terrorizing, in much the same way that Curt Thompson did. He kept vendettas going. He was violent. And he seemed above the law.

The reaction of the people in Skidmore was different than it was in Toulon. They surrounded his truck in broad daylight, 30 or 40 of them, and murdered him. Someone shot him. 30 or 40 witnesses. The police came in to solve the murder. Nobody would say who fired the shots. Nobody would talk. Everybody knew who did it. To this day, that case in Missouri remains open and unsolved. Nobody will speak.

Ira Glass

It's funny, the idea of, you know, we should look out for each other, we should be each other's keeper. We usually think of it as driving us towards acts of kindness. You know when somebody's sick, when somebody's in trouble. It's odd to think of it as being an impulse that would actually drive a group of people to kill somebody.

Robert Kurson

Well everybody in this town agreed on one thing. They could either hope that nothing bad happened, and just continue to live with the problem. Or, blank. The town of Skidmore, Missouri filled in the blank. The town of Toulon was not able to fill in that blank.

Ira Glass

Of course, if you're in a situation where your only choices are, do nothing, or vigilante murder, things can't get much worse. Chris Thompson went to trial for his three murders. These days he sits on death row, where, if Illinois lifts its moratorium on the death penalty someday, the people of Illinois will finally fill in that blank.

Credits.

Announcer

PRI, Public Radio International.