With the coming of summer, the public discourse has awoken from its torpor. The hot topic: Gilad Shalit. But even when it shows signs of life and breathes on its own, even when there is finally a collective topic not related to a vacation package or a jeep trip, the discourse is frighteningly sentimental.
The struggle to secure the release of the captive soldier has turned into a soap opera. There is his brother falling in love with a young woman in the protest tent, there is Tami Arad in a sweet photograph with her daughter on the cover of the newspaper, there are the noble parents and the impressive grandfather marching together, and there is the question posed to the prime minister: What would have happened had it been your son? With such opening credits, it is easy to mobilize support - as though if Shalit had had grumbling parents and a screeching grandfather, from Mitzpeh Ramon rather than Mitzpeh Hila, their fate would be less cruel.
Participants in the protest are careful to claim that it is "not political," as though a "political struggle" were a dirty word for forbidden and degrading activity, of the kind that would mar and stain the picture. That is an extremely childish kind of discourse. Shalit's fate arouses understandable emotions: Every parent thinks of his own son. But when the discourse is confined to the emotional realm, the real questions are blurred and swept under the rug beneath which we love to hide everything.
It is not only a question of the price we are being asked to pay for Shalit's release - and permit us to guess that some of the marchers will protest against it when the time comes. It is also a question of the next Gilad Shalits. If very few people are speaking honestly about the prisoner exchange, nobody at all is speaking about the more important question, of what Israel is doing to prevent more unnecessary victims like Gilad. That is political. But the answer can only be found in the political arena. There is no other option.
After Shalit was captured, Israel embarked on an unnecessary war, which received sweeping support, without any public discussion of its means and objectives. Even if, God forbid, other soldiers had fallen captive during this war, support would have remained strong. We are deeply moved by the fate of one soldier, but the question of whether it was right to embark on a war in which 13 Israelis were killed and dozens more wounded never came up.
And the thousands of Israelis and Palestinians who have been killed because of the occupation arouse almost no protest. The future casualties and the hostages of tomorrow, all the victims that are still to come because of the occupation, do not bring out any mass marches. After all, that is "political," so we won't talk about it.
Life as a soap opera, and the sentimental discourse that surrounds it, are evident in other arenas as well. Take, for instance, Haim Ramon, who was back in the headlines this week. Shortly after the forbidden and infuriating kiss - at the height of the Second Lebanon War, which he strongly supported - the then-justice minister said: "We are permitted another Kafr Kana, we are permitted to destroy everything." Only Eli Yishai, with his "We will turn Lebanon into a sandbox," could compete with him in explicitly urging the commission of war crimes.
But Ramon was not convicted for that, of course, nor does anyone remember it as a crime. A kiss is in; war is out.
Officers who allow their sons and wives to drive their military vehicles are a scandal. When those same officers are tainted by suspicions of war crimes, there is silence. A pilot, the son of an astronaut, being killed in an accident is a mega-story; an anonymous soldier being killed in vain during another unnecessary nighttime raid in Nablus is a non-story. The son of a former Supreme Court justice who was killed in a traffic accident gets major headlines; a battle to improve our transportation infrastructure is boring. Even the blows endured by our naval commandos affected us far more than the diplomatic blows we endured as a result of having hijacked the ships.
On social issues, too, everything is gooey and sentimental. Donations to a soup kitchen: touching. Economic edicts that destroy the poor: boring. Charity not only saves us from death, it also brings us to tears. But a battle for a more just and egalitarian economy is boring. That's how it is when everything is sentimental.
The time has come to move up a grade. The time has come to grow up and understand that everything is political - that the real solution to our problems is political, and thus the battle can only be political. Perhaps, borne on the waves of the pseudo-protest over Shalit, with blue and white shirts and yellow ribbons, we will finally wake up enough to raise other questions, less emotional but far more serious.
Maybe even something political, for a change?
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