Too Close for Comfort

"Kod kachol" ("Code Blue") by Zvika Amit, Matar Publishing, 369 pages, NIS 84.

MK Gila Finkelstein, former principal of the Zeitlin religious high school in Tel Aviv, has asked Attorney General Menachem Mazuz to launch a criminal investigation against Zvika Amit, author of "Kod kachol" ("Code Blue"). She also requested that Mazuz order the book to be removed from the shelves and forbid all further distribution of it. The reason: Amit's book describes a right-wing military coup, and Finkelstein fears it will "create an atmosphere of hostility and hatred toward this sector of the public."

But the hostility and hatred, as it turns out, actually seem to be running in the opposite direction, if what recently happened on the Walla Web site is any indication: After a favorable review of the book appeared on the site, some of the surfers saw fit to call the reviewer "Goebbels" and demanded that he be prosecuted for incitement.

Luckily for us, a military coup is at this point only a fictional scenario. As long as Israel considers itself a democracy - formally, at least - it is still legal to publish books that point to the dangers of having the country's public life overrun by the messianic, violent discourse of the West Bank and Gaza settlers.

Finkelstein, interestingly enough, did not speak out when texts far more culpable of "incitement" were published - for example, works of futurist fiction in which Palestinians seize control of Israel after the signing of peace agreements, or the books of Barry Chamish, in which, among other things, a militia of assassins works under former prime minister Shimon Peres to kill people who oppose the Oslo Accords. What's more, "Code Blue" is hardly the first Israeli novel to describe a military coup; indeed, the best-known example is Amos Kenan's "The Road to Ein Harod" (Am Oved, 1984).

The plot of "Code Blue" is set in present-day Israel: Having already resolved to withdraw from Gaza, the prime minister decides that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be ended by establishing a Palestinian state and evacuating the West Bank settlements as well. To thwart his plan, which will mean the end of the settlement endeavor, several individuals and organizations join forces to pull off a military coup. The book strikes a note of contemporary relevance not only by alluding to the planned Gaza withdrawal, but by offering thinly fictionalized characters who, despite some changes in detail, are easily recognizable from Israeli public life. These include the Sharon-like prime minister; the settler leader Gavrush, an ex-kibbutznik turned observant Jew, who now leads a Zionist religious party; and Gitlis, an extremist right-winger and head of the "Jewish Identity" movement, who plots to take over the Likud party.

Lunatic fringe

The familiarity of the characters, combined with the novel's profound engagement with present-day Israeli reality, send a chill down the reader's spine. This supposedly fictional future comes across as fairly realistic. In fact, not much about the book goes beyond the probable and presumable - not the idea of a military coup, not the people involved in it, not the passivity of the left wing, and not the catastrophic consequences of all of the above. In this context, it may be important to remember MK Danny Yatom's claim, made at a conference held a month ago on the occasion of the book's publication, that a military coup is possible when religious Jews become a majority in the military's high command.

Indeed, alongside various radicals and wild dreamers from the lunatic fringe (such as those pursuing the construction of a third Temple), Gavrush, the moving force behind the coup, is aided by many of the army's top officials. In fact, the coup is successful mainly thanks to the support of the army, with its high-ranking religious officers - all settlers in the West Bank and Gaza - and the one-quarter of enlisted men who are also observant Jews. After all, as Zuckerman, the rabbi affiliated with enlisted yeshiva students, says of them, they "will go wherever the halakha [Jewish law] tells them to go. Our people know that they must first of all obey God."

The perpetrators of the coup, in other words, are not envisioned as extremist kooks. On the contrary: The book shows them to have a firm foothold in Israel's centers of power; they are the establishment's very flesh and blood. Gavrush, for example, is part of the prime minister's close circle and occasionally meets with him for intimate, amicable briefings.

The coup itself happens easily, without a single gunshot being fired, without the least resistance being shown. It brings to power Major General Ran Aviram, whose zealous convictions ultimately drive Israel to destruction. In a cynical paraphrase by the author on the settlers' current slogan, "We have love, and it will triumph," Aviram announces that the country "will be founded on the love of Israel, the love of Eretz Israel, and the love of Israel's Torah." The coup, he explains in a television broadcast, has taken place in order "to keep regions of the country from being handed over to strangers, to prevent civil war and to strengthen the country's Jewish character."

Before it's too late

The new regime, which is in fact a theocratic, fascist dictatorship, enforces with great resolve and fervor trends that already exist in real-life Israel today. Thus, through this slight radicalization and by distancing the described reality from us (after all, these actions are taken by a benighted regime and not, God forbid, in our name), the author allows us to view ourselves from the outside, and to understand the dangerous implications of our assent-through-silence to intolerable acts.

These include censoring the media under the exalted principle of "national security"; enforcing "Jewish" laws; forbidding public transportation and entertainment services to operate on the Sabbath, as well as the sale of non-kosher food; having the military interfere in labor disputes; sending dissidents to the "X camp" - the fictional counterpart of the secret Israeli detention center Facility 1391 - from which they never return; using the emergency provisions enacted by the British Mandate, and never repealed, as a legal means of sanctioning military rule; and imposing military rule on Israel's Arab citizens. The West Bank and Gaza are reconquered, of course, and the relentless war on terror announced by the new regime is monstrously realized as mass population transfers, massacres and the eradication of entire Palestinian villages.

As in Reverend Martin Niemoller's poem "First They Came for the Communists," this book, too, aims for anyone who finds the above description appalling, in the hopes of jerking readers out of their calm complacency before it's too late. The Israeli left, as depicted in the book, is lax and spineless, a fact that the author repeatedly stresses. The left's absolute passivity after the coup is explained simply by one of the characters: "We were silent then, and so we're also silent now!" Over dinner, a group of friends sadly wonder what might be done against the new regime, and one of them says: "`We're doing the only thing we can do' - and he helped himself to another serving of lamb chops."

Marginal women

If the pathetic helplessness of the left is one of the book's more conscious critical themes, the miserable status given to women has no possible justification. "Code Blue" is not just, as it declares, a "political thriller," but a genuine dystopia, a book about the collapse of a utopia (in this case, the Zionist one). As often happens in this genre, the roles of women are marginal; they appear as secretaries or wives, and certainly do not take part in the fateful events described. Even Rinat, the only central female character, a leftist history professor at the Hebrew University, exists in the text only by virtue of her role as Gavrush's lover, and of course by virtue of her sexy body. It is unfortunate that a text taking such a critical position should replicate the marginality of women in all those arenas of power and influence (religion, politics, the military) and, as usual, leave it to the men to make history.

What lingers after finishing the book is not only the question "Could this really happen?", as proclaimed by the cover, but also the question of how this book will seem in a decade or two, and how the reader then will react to its complete rehabilitation of Ariel Sharon.

The writer is a doctoral student in Bar-Ilan University's hermeneutics and cultural studies program