This novel, set in Palestine after World War II, when it was controlled by Britain, describes a group of Jewish terrorists fighting to create what would become the state of Israel. The protagonist, Elisha, is a survivor of the concentration camp Buchenwald. In the story he is being asked to kill a British soldier John Dawson. This brings back his own memories of his time in the concentration camp, and how he was nearly killed by strangling as a young child.
Thematically, the child's tears are part of this recollection of Buchenwald and the way it affects Elisha's moral dilemma over killing a stranger. In one way, Elisha's experience in the concentration camp with its crying children (innocent victims) is the reason he is fighting for a Jewish homeland, so that nothing like the holocaust can happen again. On the other hand, he has seen many people brutally murdered simply for being Jewish, and is being asked to murder a man simply for being English. Also, it turns out that Dawson has a young son.
Both the memories of crying children in the past and the future sorrow of Dawson's son make readers think deeply about the issue of how the innocent on all sides of a conflict are harmed.