Text size

A straight line connects the turbulent and dramatic scenes that are now accompanying the evacuation of Gush Katif and a scene that took place at the old train station in Sebastia in the mid-1970s. It was during one of the many attempts by the government to evacuate an early core group of settlers that had "settled" there that Rabbi Moshe Levinger appeared suddenly in front of the cameras - seized by visible agony, shouting and wailing, tearing his shirt and ordering his flock "Kriya! La'asot kriya!" (to make a tear in their clothes as a sign of mourning.

In order to understand the full significance of the drama this week, in which the settlers demonstrated the entire array of emotions in the human arsenal - weeping, anger, scolding, hysteria, lunacy, humiliation, pathos - we have to return to that first scene, which took place over 30 years ago, and in effect determined for generations the nature of the play that has been performed on our stages since then.

That same solo performance gradually became more powerful and picked up speed, until it turned into the mass spectacle that was seen this week. To sum up the structure and meaning of this drama, what we have is 30 years of emotional blackmail, using all the melodramatic methods of the Yiddish theater.

Prayers, embraces, crying, festivals, weddings, endless victimization, surprises and an expectation of miracles, Torah scroll dedication ceremonies, songs, dances, guilt feelings and pangs of conscience, imposing fear by means of hysterical outbursts, eliciting tears in gestures of nostalgic kitsch, Zionistic schmaltz, emotional kvetch - in this theater, all means are acceptable.

And what will testify to their success is the fact that after the "kriya," the settlements began to proliferate unhindered all over the territories, with an increasingly vigorous and enthusiastic nod from all the Israeli governments, including the most leftist and secular of them. This proliferation of settlements had no logic whatsoever aside from emotional-religious logic - not demographic and not economic, not security-related and not political; but who can resist "a little Yiddishkeit"?

Israeli governments became a captive audience, were dragged after the settlers or encouraged them even when it was clear to any sensible person that the rules of melodrama, in which primeval emotions and desires predominate take place on a plane that differs from that of reality, which is subject to the laws of nature, statistics, demography, geography. But with the pseudo "pioneering spirit" of the settlers, all of political Israel entered an era of magical thinking: vague, fatalistic, "faith-oriented," somewhat childish thinking, with an expectation that things would work out somehow, that "time would solve things," and "the Americans would arrange it."

This week we will therefore see not only "the struggle of the settlers," but also a struggle between two types of mentality, between which Israel itself is now wavering. Every encounter we have witnessed between an officer or a soldier on the one hand, and a belligerent settler on the other, has assumed an almost theological significance and looks like a confrontation between rational adult thinking and irrationality, or deliberate infantility. But is there a significant difference between the settlers and the army, between Ariel Sharon and Moshe Feiglin? Why complain about people who are crazed with sorrow, incited, naive or being misled, when the same type of magical thinking has characterized most of Israel's governments (and particularly the "great minds" of the Labor Party)?

It's enough to look at the map of the Gush Katif settlements, at the pretty names of the dozens of settlements that are stuck like an enclave within the densely populated, hostile and overcrowded Palestinian enclave, in order to understand that the "lunacy" is not limited to the hilltop youth.

Really, what were those Yisrael Galilis and Yigal Allons (post-Six-Day War Labor Party leaders) thinking to themselves when they stuck the settlements there? And what were the Shimon Pereses and the Ariel Sharons thinking when they promoted the Sebastias and the Kedumims (the first Jewish settlements)? That they would succeed in defying demography, geography, topography? That millions of Palestinians would simply evaporate due to the very fact that they were "surrounded" by enclaves that were themselves besieged? That the Syrian-African rift would create a fold in the earth that would connect Netzarim with Ashkelon? The sin of these "Mapainiks" (Mapai was the forerunner of the Labor Party) is perhaps greater because they expected a miracle even without believing in God.

"Listen to the voice of reason," a police officer begged an older settler this week - one of those who screamed "Why?!" Like overgrown babies who don't understand the connection between cause and effect; "I hope that you will accept the logic, that you'll understand," added the officer. In the manic surrounding atmosphere, this statement was almost heartbreaking. And the same was true of Sharon's "address to the nation," which, although it was condemned as lacking Churchillian charisma, was important in the very fact of its simple call for pragmatism, common sense, "the voice of reason." If today this self-evident voice sounds weak, creaky, stammering and half-hearted, that is because it hasn't been used for over a generation.