Over the Shavuot holiday I was aimlessly perusing the special supplement of Yediot Acharonot, devoted to the (apparently) impending disengagement plan. I usually avoid the supplements of the two popular newspapers, not just because they are in the habit of recycling old material, but because of the self-righteous nationalistic tone that characterizes most of the articles. This year’s Shavuot supplement was no exception to the usual formula, but the cover story immediately caught my eye, and aroused deep within my gut a feeling very much like nausea. The vivid description of “Lieutenant Moshe” [Moses] the evacuator, at the front door of a settlers’ house in Gush Katif, is intended from the start to deter the readers and to nourish the natural antibodies against any act of violence, especially when it is directed against “brothers.”
The choice of the name “Moshe” for the imaginary officer is also interesting. In my primary school class there were two boys named Moshe, but my two kids, who are still in the school system, have never run into that name, unless I told them about my father, who they never met. It is reasonable to assume that the officer who will be forced to carry out the evacuation will be named Nir, Tal, or even Liran. I don’t believe in coincidence. Even if the name Moshe popped up spontaneously, without any forethought, this was tendentious, in the most profound sense of the term. The IDF is supposed to carry out a Jewish operation for the sake of the Jews, and Moshe, who in our mythical past brought the children of Israel to the land of Canaan, is sent by the minister of history to bring the errant children home. The supplement’s editors were wise, and not for the first time, to give a Zionist touch to this controversial and traumatic campaign.
Jean-Paul Sartre wrote his canonical work, Nausea, in 1938, at perhaps the height of his career as a writer. In the fateful days before the outbreak of the Second World War, which he described so well in his wonderful trilogy, The Roads to Freedom, Sartre focused on his most personal feelings as an intellectual in a provincial French city, fashioned more or less on the model of Le Havre, the city in which he taught for many years. The book was very popular, even in 1960s England, and I was in the habit of reading it every few months. People like me maneuver their whole lives between their own strong individualism and the collectivist ideology in which they believe. The course that Sartre plotted fit our emotional state very well in those long past years, and we have gone through many stages and reversals since then. But from a pure existential point of view, the feelings of that time have since returned and guided me, with no direct connection to my unequivocal stance in favor of evacuating all the settlements without exception, as the only way to achieve (maybe) a viable peace between us and the Palestinian people.
Most of the settlers believe that people like me are very pleased with the misfortune of those to be evacuated. This is natural enough as far as they are concerned. They are in essence the tip of the spear of the anti-humanistic stream in Israeli society, and thus they are not capable of feeling or appreciating human empathy, not to mention concepts like compassion for people that are different from them. The setters of Gush Katif have no human connection whatsoever to the original inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, nor to the hundreds of thousands of unfortunates that live there under terrible refugee conditions, after being expelled from their towns and villages in the years 1948 to 1950. They are living in a land that is not theirs, as a cruel master race, confiscating land and water, ruling over vast territory while the Palestinians live with horrible overcrowding. The air that they breathe is full of hate and crude racism and they are bringing up the next generation the same way.
We are built a little differently, and we try to teach our children to be human beings and not just “Jews.” The evacuation does not give us comfort, except for a special mixture of pity and revulsion, that perhaps gives rise to an oppressive sensation of nausea. Nor do we have the least identification with those who initiated the evacuation. The media war between rational racists and ideological racists leaves us on the sidelines. Those who saw the settlers as the “salt of the earth,” now turn them into the dust of the earth in pursuit of the ruling interests of the moment. This is not an act of peace, but a crude aggressive act of Ariel Sharon, intended to placate the right wing administration in the United States, and to advance his less-than-holy interests. His outpouring of cruelty toward the Arabs was quickly transformed into his characteristic brutality toward people who had believed in him and were loyal to him. I have nothing in common with those settlers. As far as I am concerned they are not victims but racist aggressors. But Sharon is in no way better than them. He and his associates in the Labor Party are responsible for the settlement project in the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank. Lieutenant “Moshe” represents Sharon, not me.
I could identify with an evacuation regime that operated fairly, transparently, and out of a desire for peace. The term “fairness” here refers to both the settlers and the Palestinians. The negligent treatment of the evacuees’ resettlement reflects the brutishness that characterizes Sharon’s approach in all areas. He is interested in sowing controlled chaos, planned pandemonium, well-orchestrated disorder. All this, in order to prove to the world that the chapter of evacuation in the history of the Jewish-Arab conflict is over and done with. His political declarations toward the Arabs are becoming more extreme, and he has no conciliatory words to accompany the evacuation. More and more former Mapainiks from the nationalist center are now saying that after this kind of gesture toward the Arabs we won’t tolerate any opposition and we’ll respond to it with massive bombing of the Palestinian civilian population. We have not heard from any Israeli leader, a member of the establishment, even one faint sound expressing any intention of atoning for the Nakba of 1948 and turning over a new leaf with our neighbors, based on reconciliation of the two peoples and a life of peace and hope. The gimmicks of Shimon Peres, who is willing to sponsor here and there a community center or soccer field for Palestinians in Israel, make no difference. He is an active partner in the total segregation of the Palestinian people, even if he gets a few votes in the Labor Party primaries in Taibe.
And there is no transparency, not toward the outside world, not toward the Arabs, not toward the Israeli citizens, and not even toward the settlers who are to be evacuated.
Sharon’s basic simplemindeness, which will some day bring a huge disaster unprecedented in the state’s history, also repeats itself in Sharon’s handling of the disengagement plan. He does not speak about peace for two reasons: 1. He has no interest in peace through a territorial price that he is not willing to pay. 2. His world view does not allow him to present any kind of optimistic horizon, not to mention political returns in exchange for the evacuation of Gush Katif and the Northern West Bank. When supporters of the settlements argue that Israel will not get peace or even an extended ceasefire in exchange for the evacuation, they are of course absolutely right. And it is true that they are also hypocrites, unwilling to evacuate even one little outpost in return for real peace. But we need to acknowledge that Israel is foregoing in advance any political return (in a word, peace) and that the evacuation is nothing more than an empty gesture toward Washington.
There is no point, of course, in opposing the evacuation, since the struggle of the settlers is foreign to us. And I, for one, don’t mind seeing the Palestinians living in Gaza celebrating at the sites of the defeated occupation. But this is not our celebration. Not only would I not vote in favor of any Thatcherist budget for the sake of this government, but I would will fighting against it as though there was no evacuation, and will support the evacuation as though there is no Thatcherist government in Israel.
I deliberately emphasize the term “evacuation” over the more accepted term, “disengagement.” Haim Ramon’s wet dreams about walls rising up between us and our neighbors are no less dangerous than the ideas of the settlers themselves. Israel is gradually missing an opportunity for coexistence with real peace with the Palestinian state that was supposed to be established in the occupied territories and East Jerusalem. The walls of the Ramon-Sharon government are intended to perpetuate the confiscation of land, confiscation of water, and the economic and political subordination of the Palestinians to Israel. This has nothing to do with peace, or even a peace process.
The process of ostracizing the setters continues among Israel’s elites, and this is reflected, among other things, in the series that the establishment figure Haim Yavin, has produced for channel two television. The rift between the pro-Western bourgeoisie and the ideological right is unavoidable under current conditions, and we have no reason to regret it. It has nothing to do with the left or leftism, but with the classic conflict of interests between territorial expansion on biblical grounds and the middle class aspiration to be part of the West and Western culture. Both of these tendencies, which are completely alien to our geopolitical environment, refuse to understand the cost of living beside a large Arab population in the territories and within Israel. Some of the responses I received to the column that appeared here last week prove to me how unwavering is this refusal to understand where we live. It is very difficult for Israelis, even those on the left, to internalize the fact that hundreds of millions of Muslims live close to us. This is the reason for the lack of psychological preparation for the coming Islamic takeover of the Palestinian Authority, that is liable to introduce another gap in our communications with the Arabs after the trauma of evacuation and the anti-Arab incitement that will come in its wake.
It is not always pleasant to present this sort of question to the public, which is accustomed to self-righteous, neo-Zionist, demagogy, and the spin machine that works 24 hours a day. In another two months we will be living in a threatening reality of battles between evacuators and evacuees, without being able to side with either group. A threatening nausea will cover the country from one end to the other, and the horrible stench of the trauma will enter our nostrils and sinuses, and will bring the public’s disgust upon the entire political system. It seems to me that many of us are well aware that this process will intensify and will be hastened by the lack of hope for the evacuation operation. Who knows how it will end.