The past two days, the days of U.S. President George Bush's visit, have demonstrated that Israel is like a separate part of the world. It is as if the world stopped for a moment and Israel got off. Israel is perhaps the last patron state in a world where patronage is no longer extended: In no other country would the man with the boots receive such a fawning, subservient reception. Certainly not in his own country, not even in Texas.
The visit said more about Israel's isolation than about its importance. How lonely and desperate are its leaders, grasping like orphans at the barren bosom of one whose time has passed, but whose victims are still here: Many years will pass before the scorched earth that Bush is leaving in his wake will heal.
All three of our television news channels exhibited not just provinciality but also, and mainly, anosmia: Suddenly they all lost their keen sense of smell when it comes to ratings. So few people cared about the visit - no more than the total number of those addicted to the Voice of Music, the embattled classical music radio station. Between the wall-to-wall coverage in Israel and the 20 seconds given by the U.S. television stations lies an infinite dead space.
The international expert on bird migration, Dr. Yossi Leshem, said this week that he was more excited by the visit of the Black-Shouldered Kite to Israel than by Bush. One may well wonder about the expert, who can identify a rare bird, but not an odd duck.
This was the visit of an alien, who may look, walk and talk like a president but is certainly not from these parts, since he is completely detached from reality. One was immediately struck by his alienness, his naive eccentricity, when he mumbled, "I believe ... that there [will] be a signed peace treaty by the time I leave office [in January 2009]." Where does this man live, and where do we live? Absolutely no one knew what he meant. Only a few souls grasped onto him, nodding their heads in agreement and pretending to understand. And no small child was to be found who could point out the truth.
As usual, the children stole the show. (For some reason, the presidential dogs remained behind in Washington.) "Bush touched me," said one of the singing-dancing children, while a girl said, "Bush hugged me"; "He hugged me and had his picture taken with me," another boy boasted.
It is very easy to turn a forgiving smile toward good children, and much more difficult to forgive adults who behave like children, elbowing their way onto the red carpet and shoving their way to the dinner table, taking insult if there is no room for them. We too were insulted: It's not nice to see a cabinet behaving like a kindergarten.
The visit ends today. What will remain of it tomorrow? Not much, if anything at all. Bush will continue striding into the sunset of his presidency and Ehud Olmert will lie in the mud of his survival. No outposts will be moved, no checkpoints will be removed, the Qassam rockets will continue to rain on Sderot and the negotiators will chew their cud, and a 2-year-old toddler from Khan Yunis will be ripped from his parents' arms on the way to open-heart surgery. Hearts will be stonier than ever.
Through the window of time, people look on and ask: Why is your chariot so long in coming, Mr. President, seven years it tarried, why tarried the wheels of your chariot?
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