As befits the absurd nature of language, the Hebrew phrase "ticking hourglass" was born during a live broadcast, concocted by an enthusiastic sportscaster who didn't think too much about the impossibility of the image. This linguistic pearl has enjoyed great success: People frequently use it when they want to be well-spoken but don't pay attention to the literal meaning of their words. In Israeli public life, this strange mix of words can also be used intentionally, to reflect the way the political establishment views time as an element that is both present and absent.
The teachers strike is about to end because it has reached a point beyond which the entire school year is considered lost. The strike in institutions of higher education is expected to end in a few days for similar reasons - because otherwise the entire semester goes down the tubes. Strikes at the airport are short because they are very tangible; their digital clock flickers unceasingly on the arrivals and departures boards.
By contrast, police investigations and judicial proceedings are drawn out indefinitely because the output of the systems responsible for law enforcement is not measured by the clock, or even by the calendar. Public administration decisions and government initiatives - such as dealing with trafficking in women, freeing the beaches of the Kinneret from illegal takeover and building the separation fence - are also implemented through unreasonable extended processes, without anyone being required to give an accounting for it. When has a senior civil servant been fired or a minister punished because a task he is responsible for has been creeping along for years?
The attitude toward time that is espoused by the public sector and its elected officials stands opposed to the attitude of all reasonable people in their personal lives.
In general, individuals run their lives with a high level of awareness of the significance of time. People base their priorities and organize their lifestyle in accordance with the hours of the day and the seasons of the year. But such cycles are not sufficiently present in the shaping of the state and its image; a target date is just a recommendation, and a time set for implementation is just a promise. Even when it comes to decisive matters of war and peace, the government acts as if time is of no importance. Look at the haste with which the decision was made to fight the Second Lebanon War and compare it to the long history of negotiations with the Palestinians.
The war between Israel and the Palestinians has been taking place for 40 years; it is conducted without the fear of the clock or the pressure of the calendar. This violent struggle is viewed as an unavoidable presence, as a habit, as a shadow that can't be shaken off. This approach dictates the handling of the conflict: Those in power are busy managing it rather than striving to end it.
The absurdity cries out to the heavens. After all, the conflict with the Palestinians exacts a human toll from Israel, confounds its ability to have a normal existence, takes up a great deal of its resources and causes much damage in many spheres. Nonetheless, Israeli society is not alarmed by the conflict; no deadline is set by which to end it.
In contrast to the teachers and lecturers strikes, which are causing damage that will be evident only in the future, the curse of the conflict with the Palestinians can be felt every day. Nonetheless, the state has gotten used to it and has reconciled itself to its continuation.
Were this country's citizens to bother looking back, they would see that time is not indifferent; it leaves an imprint. Were they to look, they would remember that the demographic clock is ticking and bringing Israel closer to the moment in which it is liable to lose its Zionist identity, that the national clock certainly works on the Palestinian side and is increasingly turning them into a challenging force, that the Islamic clock is moving at an insane pace and is threatening to flood the conflict with religious fervor, that the technological clock has not stopped and is granting dangerous capabilities to scattered terror groups. They would also see that the hands on the biological clock (the state is already 60) and the social, moral and ethical clocks are continuing to turn and are eroding Israel's power. The days pass, a year ends - and only this war remains forever.
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