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While the cheapness of life in Israel has reached insufferable proportions - hundreds are dying and thousands are injured in suicide bombings and military actions, and hardly a day goes by without victims and funerals - there is something astonishing in the obsessive preoccupation with the fate of specific individuals, live or even dead, who were abducted and imprisoned "by animals," as Prime Minister Sharon calls them.

Gap between compassion and callousness

Indeed, there is a strange gap between the profound compassion and concern Sharon displays toward the fate of the retired officer Elhanan Tannenbaum and what appear to be the soldiers' bodies - a sort of soft-heartedness to the point of weak-mindedness and dizzying concessions - and the almost inhuman callousness he demonstrates toward millions of Israelis, those whose everyday has turned into bloody routine, and their lives into an existential hell.

But Sharon demands that they suffer in silence and muster "staying power," with no solution whatsoever, no renunciation of a grain of dust, no hint of basic human compassion, the kind that would drive any other prime minister to lift every possible political stone to stop the hemorrhage.

Without underestimating the value of bringing the prisoners home, which is sublime and important to us, it yet stands in glorious isolation among other Israeli values that have been brutally trampled.

Strange how this is the only thing that can shake Sharon out of his apathetic, obtuse nap. Whoever follows the man's history must surely notice that this strange gap has accompanied him all along - from the retaliation operations, which consisted of especially unrestricted acts of revenge, following the injury of relatives of members of "the unit," through the war in Lebanon, in which hundreds paid with their lives for 18 years, triggered by Sharon's feigned anger over one shot at a single person - ambassador Argov.

Sharonologists will possibly point out that the same strategic rage - the kind that moves mountains, initiates operations, starts wars of choice - awakened in Sharon after the murder of minister Rehavam Ze'evi. At the same time, dozens of victims of suicide bombings merely strengthened his mantra, or tantra, "restraint is power."

Privatization as a world view

Is this a general human quality - identifying with the fate of the individual and closing up to the bitter fate of hundreds and thousands? Perhaps this is a special quality of Sharon and his government?

Privatization not only as an economic vision, but privatization as a world view, a mood.

It is strange, how in Ariel Sharon's era almost everything suddenly becomes personal, privatized; everything is somewhat childishly reduced, focusing on individuals: the Palestinians and the rest of Israel's enemies have been reduced to "Arafat"; the cabinet has been reduced to "Omri"; the national survival vision has shriveled to "my sons"; "Dubi Weisglass" is the result of the foreign policy's reduction; Condoleezza is what has remained of America and Israel's international interests.

Perhaps also "the fear for Tannenbaum's safety and the soldiers' bodies" - with all its importance - has turned, as far as Sharon is concerned, into a sort of sublimation-cum-substitute for the peace and security of us all.