If Only Palestine Were Finland

Can the country of saunas and stoic serenity really be compared to the land of heat waves and short fuses? Can the land of forests and islands - 187,880 to be precise - be compared to the land of two lakes that we insist on calling seas?

HELSINKI - "What I concluded with the Americans is that we don't deal with some of the settlements until the Palestinians become Finns - we got a `Nobody to talk to' document that will only be revoked when Palestine is Finland."

Palestine, Palestine, if only it were Finland. The Finns don't know about that wish, expressed by Dov Weisglass in an interview with Ari Shavit, and which has become a classic in Israel.

Not even the Finns who care deeply about Israel. Some raise their eyes in perplexity, others smile with satisfaction or embarrassment, and there are those who seek profound insights in what for them is a seemingly surprising statement by the prime minister's advisor.

It is amusing to find out just how far the interpretation goes in the country that the advisor-poet intended for comparison. Thus, for example, Gideon Bolotowsky, the leader of the 1,500-member Jewish community of Finland, assumes that Weisglass' remarks recalled the Cold War, a comparison of Israel surrounded by enemies - "after all, it's not just the Palestinians who are against you" - and little Finland standing up heroically to the huge Soviet Union.

"Weisglass understands the Palestinians will never know how to ski like the Finns," Bolotowsky jokes.

"No doubt he would like to trade them in for our neighbors, the Russians."

Or Ben Zyskowicz, chair of the conservative National Coalition's parliamentary faction, the main opposition party. He's the only Jewish member of parliament in the history of Finland. The son of a survivor of Maidanek, married to a Tatar-Muslim woman, he is one of the most popular politicians in his country. The Jewish community regards him as an address for every issue. Circumcision, for example. A lively debate on the issue has been sparked by some cases of malpractice in the Somali community, leading to demands for an end to the "anachronistic custom that harms human rights."

Zyskowicz also goes far to find some significance in Weisglass' "odd" remarks, guessing that Weisglass was apparently referring to events toward the end of World War II, when Finland, on the losing side, was required to evict the remaining German forces from its territory. "A thousand of our soldiers were killed in the Lapland War, which broke out as a result between two countries that had been allies until then, Germany and Finland," says Zyskowicz. "That's what Weisglass is hinting at: the change in which we changed sides and turned our Soviet enemies into our friends."

Hannu Takkula goes in a completely different direction. A former deputy chairman of the Center Party, which belongs to the government coalition and a member of the European Parliament, Takkula finds many points of similarity between Finland and Israel. As far as he is concerned, "Weisglass meant our common mentality.

The Finns, like the Israelis, are practical people. We say what we think and don't beat around the bush like the Arabs."

Israel and Finland, says Takkula, are like twin countries. Both have strong national identities and a powerful desire to preserve their independence in the face of neighboring powers. Finland and Israel are young countries, with small populations where everyone knows everyone else. Both lack natural resources, but are "high-tech fanatics," both regard investment in education as enormously important, both speak unique languages spoken by nobody else except them, and both have adopted ... a blue and white flag.

Twin countries? Helsinki is snowy and frozen. Ten degrees below freezing. Even at the airport an illogical silence envelopes the traveler. The suitcases arrive in five minutes.

The cab driver listens quietly to the music of Abba's "Waterloo," so quietly that you wonder if even he can hear it. That's how he's used to it.

It seems nobody here has ever been in a real traffic jam. Many Finns, it seems, probably wouldn't know where to find their car's horn. Quiet here is considered a virtue, to be silent a sign of wisdom.

So can the country of saunas and stoic serenity really be compared to the land of heat waves and short fuses? Can the land of forests and islands - 187,880 to be precise - be compared to the land of two lakes that we insist on calling seas?

Israel is ranked 26 on the world's country corruption list. Finland is No. 1, the least corrupt of all. On a list of safest cities in the world, Jerusalem was listed 210 out of 215. Helsinki was second. Israel is 88th for quality of water. Finland is first. Israel is 19th in economic competitiveness.

Finland is in first place. A high school student in Israel is ranked 30 out of 41 in math, reading comprehension and science. Finland? First, of course.

That's it in a nutshell. Besides, it wasn't us that Weisglass demanded be Finns, it was the Palestinians.