Like the pairs of foxes in the biblical story of Samson, tied together by their tails, a flaming torch between them, so Israel and the Palestinians - despite the imbalance of power - drag each other along. Even when we try hard to wrest ourselves free, we burn those who are tethered to us - our double, our misfortune - as well as ourselves.
And so, amidst the wave of nationalist hyperbole now sweeping the nation, it would not hurt to recall that in the final analysis, this last operation in Gaza is just another stop along a trail blazing with fire, violence and hatred.
As satisfied as Israelis are that the technical weaknesses of the Second Lebanon War were corrected, we should be paying heed to another voice - the one that says the Israel Defense Forces' successes in the confrontation with Hamas do not prove that it was right to embark on such a massive campaign, and are certainly no justification for Israel's mode of operation in the course of the fighting. These military successes merely confirm that Israel is stronger than Hamas, and that under certain conditions it can be tough and cruel in its own way.
When the guns become completely silent, and the full scope of the killing and destruction becomes known, to the point where even the most self-righteous and sophisticated of the Israeli psyche's defense mechanisms are overcome, perhaps then some kind of lesson will imprint itself on our brain. Perhaps then we will finally understand how deeply and fundamentally wrong our actions in this region have been from time immemorial - how misguided, unethical, unwise and above all, responsible, time after time, for fanning the flames that consume us.
Obviously, the Palestinians cannot be let off the hook for their crimes and mistakes. That would be tantamount to belittling and condescending to them, as if they were not mature adults with minds of their own, responsible for their own decisions and failures. The inhabitants of the Gaza Strip may have been "strangulated" in many ways by Israel, but even they have other options for protesting and drawing attention to their misery than the launching of thousands of rockets against innocent citizens in Israel.
We must not forget that. We cannot pardon the Palestinians or treat them forgivingly, as if it were obvious that whenever they feel put upon, violence will always be their sole response, the one they embrace almost automatically.
Yet even when the Palestinians act with indiscriminate violence, when they use suicide bombings and Qassam rocket fire, Israel is stronger than them, and it can have a tremendous impact on the level of violence in the conflict as a whole - and hence on calming it down and even bringing it to an end. The current confrontation has not shown that anyone in the Israeli leadership really grasps the critical significance of this aspect of the conflict in any fully conscious or responsible way.
One day, after all, we will seek to heal the wounds we inflict today. How will that day ever come if we do not understand that our military might cannot be the primary instrument for carving out a path for ourselves in this region? How will that day ever come if we fail to comprehend just how graveness is the responsibility that lies on our shoulders by dint of our complex and fateful relations, both past and future, with the Palestinians in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Galilee?
When the clouds of colored smoke dissipate from the politicians' claims of sweeping and decisive victory; when we discover the actual achievements of this operation, and how far they are from what we really need in order to live a normal life here; when we finally admit that a whole country eagerly hypnotized itself, because it needed so badly to believe that Gaza would cure it of Lebanon-itis - maybe then we will settle accounts with those who, time after time, incite the Israeli public, whipping them into a frenzy of arrogance and a euphoria of power. Those who have taught us over the years to scoff at belief in peace and any hope for change in our relations with the Arabs. Those who have convinced us that the Arabs understand only force, and therefore that is the only language we can use in our dealings with them.
And because we have spoken to them for so long in that language, and that language alone, we have forgotten that there are other languages for speaking to human beings, even to enemies, even bitter foes like Hamas - languages that are as much our mother tongue as the language of planes and tanks.
We must speak to the Palestinians: That is the most important conclusion from the most recent round of bloodshed. We must speak also to those who do not recognize our right to exist here. Instead of ignoring Hamas at this time, we would do better to take advantage of the new reality that has been created by beginning a dialogue with them immediately, one that would allow us to reach an accord with the whole of the Palestinian people. We must speak to them and begin to acknowledge that reality is not one hermetic story that we, and the Palestinians, too, have been telling ourselves for generations. Reality is not just the story we are locked into, a story made up, in no small measure, of fantasies, wishful thinking and nightmares.
We must speak to them, and create, within this closed-off, deaf reality, the very possibility for speech. We must create this alternative, so mocked and maligned today, which in the tempest of war has almost no place, no hope, no believers.
We must speak to them as part of a calculated strategy. We must initiate speech, insist on speech, let no one put us off. We must speak, even if dialogue seems hopeless from the start. In the long run, this stubbornness will contribute much more to our security than hundreds of planes dropping bombs on a city and its inhabitants.
We must speak out of understanding, born as we look out at the horrible devastation, as we grasp that the harm we are capable of inflicting on each other, each people in its own way, is so enormous and so destructive and so utterly senseless, that if we surrender to it and accept its logic, it will end up destroying us all.
We must speak, because what has happened in the Gaza Strip over the last few weeks sets up a mirror in which we in Israel see the reflection of our own face - a face that, if we were looking in from the outside or saw it on another people - would leave us aghast. We would see that our victory is not a genuine victory, and that the war in Gaza has not healed the spot that so badly needs a cure, but only further exposed the tragic and never-ending mistakes we have made in navigating our way.
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