How many soldiers did you kill today?
It was ludicrous for Israel to demand that the Egyptian Foreign Ministry "calm the public" in Egypt: The public in Egypt is looking for answers, not "calm." It wants to be convinced that its government is not sweeping the bodies of Egyptian soldiers under the dunes of Sinai to blunt criticism of Israel, and that the government of Israel is not deceiving its government.
The dust stirred up by the documentary film on the Shaked commando unit, which blinded the eyes of Egyptian intellectuals and politicians last week, has now settled. By Thursday, the Egyptian government had authorized Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit to "do what is necessary" to attain information on the "case of the murder of Egyptian soldiers" by Israel during the Six-Day War. A copy of the film was delivered to the Egyptians and the local press was able to move on to other fascinating topics: anticipated amendments to the constitution, extensive quotes from the State Department's critical report on human rights in Egypt, and corruption scandals in government ministries.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry can perhaps breathe easier too, despite the fact that no new date has been set for the visit by National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer to Egypt and that the Egyptian intelligence minister, Omar Suleiman, who canceled his planned visit to Israel, has not yet set a new date in his appointment book. But this is a bureaucratic calm, whose effect is like that attained by urinating on dying embers: The immediate fire is extinguished but the smoke and signs of ash will remain for a long time. This is because it entails not only a murky affair of 40 years ago, but also the image of Israel as a malevolent state.
This is the image that has created the huge gap between bilateral relations at the official, state level and the lack of acceptance of Israel among Egypt's intellectuals, artists and general populace. On one hand, there is a reasonable level of military and intelligence cooperation between the two states, and there has also been significant progress in the commercial sphere, with the establishment of free-trade zones in Egypt.
But on another level, there is almost a boycott of Israel. Israel does not participate in the book fairs or film festivals, and it is kept away from any unofficial discussion of regional issues. Israel's academic center in the heart of Cairo is regularly suspected of serving as a spies' nest, and its embassy was the subject of a satirical film by comedian Adel Imam.
This is a combustible gap that regularly sets off hallucinatory conflagration. One time it is tales of "poisonous" Israeli goods being distributed in Egypt, another time it is the attribution of a local AIDS outbreak to Israel, and more specifically to the Mossad. And at other times, it is "serious" cases of espionage.
The interesting thing is that in these instances, as in the case of the "Shaked Spirit" film, Israel is trapped together with the government of Egypt in the same pit. If Israel is the villain, then the government of Egypt is seen as its collaborator. "Do you think the government of Egypt is serious in pursuing the Israelis who are responsible for the murder of the [Egyptian] prisoners?" the opposition newspaper Al-Wafd asked its readers.
The results of the newspaper survey are similar to the election results: 95.6 percent think not. One of the survey responses stated: "Brother, the government of Egypt does not have time for these matters. It is busy with the problem of bequeathing Mubarak's reign." And another response: "How cheap is the price of the Egyptian people in the shadow of this government."
And indeed, when a regime is perceived as unworthy, unfair and corrupt, these characteristics are immediately and almost uniformly attached to all of its actions, whether it is peace with Israel or the neglect that led to a horrible train fire, or the sinking of a ferry in the Red Sea. The "regime" is to blame for everything.
This is why it was ludicrous for Israel to demand that the Egyptian Foreign Ministry "calm the public" in Egypt: The public in Egypt is looking for answers, not "calm." It wants to be convinced that its government is not sweeping the bodies of Egyptian soldiers under the dunes of Sinai to blunt criticism of Israel, and that the government of Israel is not deceiving its government.
Therefore, the problem is not whether the documentary film pertains to Egyptian soldiers or to Palestinians, or whether the Egyptian diplomats who view the film will be succ essful in convincing the public that, indeed, "only" Palestinian fighters were shot to death. The question is whether a state that has signed a peace treaty with Egypt can win the trust of that country's public. This will not be accomplished by providing a copy of the film, but only through implementation of a comprehensive policy that understands, first of all, that the Arab public - in Egypt, in Jordan or in any other Arab state - will find it hard to calm down as long as Palestinian civilians are being killed and as long as Arab territory continues to be occupied. Without this type of policy, the "Shaked Spirit" will continue to be just a symptom that even when it abates, does so only until the next eruption.