The mobilization of the Israeli public behind the "Five Minutes for Gilad Shalit" campaign should raise grave concerns for the Shalit family, and in fact, for family members of all soldiers serving in the Israel Defense Forces. It was virtually the final validation of the process of mystification that has surrounded the captivity of this soldier - a soldier no Israeli government has tried hard enough to get released.
The state president said, "We shall not relax our efforts." The slogans on the banners of the demonstrators read, "We shall not stop." But there is nothing that demonstrates just how much we have stopped and how much we have let ourselves relax than those minutes in which, just as on memorial days, every one stopped their daily business and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of one of the most powerful parties in government, led a prayer for Shalit's release.
In fact, standing still on behalf of Shalit has the exact opposite objective the minutes of silence we observe each year to memorialize the country's fallen and victims of the Holocaust. In those minutes of silence, the objective is to recall the terrible loss and to instill in each of us, collectively and personally, a sense of commitment to prevent a recurrence of such events. In the case of Shalit, standing still represents precisely the opposite - a sense of helplessness.
It was no coincidence that the citizens who paid tribute to Shalit were joined by Knesset members and cabinet ministers, those very same people whose job is to make policy and carry out policy. It is no coincidence, because the Knesset and the government are those who are behind the clear message about Shalit. It is a message of love and embraces, of bowed heads (or rolling eyes, depending on the political style ) and saying that "there's nothing to be done, it doesn't depend on us."
Helplessness often finds expression, in this case as well, in processes of mystification. In the past two or three years, many Israeli families have been leaving an empty chair next to the one awaiting Elijah the Prophet, for Gilad Shalit, at their Passover seder tables. There are many Israelis, in the media as well, who when speaking of Shalit use his first name. This is an intimate form of address that indicates a direct closeness felt by a public that believes in a mystical identity, as if the captured soldier were a biblical figure or a Christian saint.
Memorial ceremonies for a living soldier, for a real person, deliver him, his captors and rescue efforts on his behalf to the realm of the mystical world. And thus, through mystification, we push Shalit's fate out of the hands of the corporeal world, that world where decisions have to be made about policies and policies have to be carried out.
The Israeli government, which is the elected representative of the Israeli public, has full responsibility for bringing Shalit home. The mystification of his captivity is a public act that casts off this responsibility. It takes our sovereignty over our fate and our way of life out of our hands and transfers it, voluntarily and wholeheartedly, to the sovereignty of another world, one that is sublime and awesome, in which the rules of the game are bigger than we. In this act of casting things away, we do not merely lift off our shoulders the personal and public responsibility for Shalit's fate but also the understanding that the rules of the game in the Middle East are determined by us. By us, and not by some other, non-human entity, be it sublime or monstrous.
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