Shalit Is Returning to a State in Psychosis

Israeli society now wraps itself in a self-righteous cloak of self-praise: How concerned we are about the fate of a single soldier. And what about the fates of many soldiers, of an entire army, an entire people?

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

This weekend even Gilad Shalit's aftershave was a topic for discussion. A top-drawer commentator reported to the galvanized nation, in infinite earnestness, that the psychology experts of the Israel Defense Forces recommended that his family pack a bag containing his favorite aftershave, to ease his return. An electronic sign at the entrance of a Tel Aviv bar flashed a message that was no less grotesque: "Special prices for shots of Absolut and Finlandia ... Welcome home, Gilad Shalit."

Shalit will return on Tuesday to his home, as has been hoped. He will return not to a country but rather to a telenovela in which emotions are forever and always the only language. It must be hoped that he will return in good mental health, but he certainly won't be returning to a healthy society. He will return to a society in psychosis. The national psychosis surrounding his fate began the day he was captured, and is now reaching its peak. The IDF readied a few sets of uniforms for him, it was reported, in the event that the national boy lost a great deal of weight - the main thing is to show him off in uniform, as befits a war hero.

Yedioth Ahronoth has already launched a sales campaign disguised under the banner of "Do you want to write to Gilad?" and the hundreds of thousands of yellow ribbons that fluttered from every tree and the side mirrors of every car will flutter for the last time in the autumn breeze. Israel will once again pat itself on the back in sticky solidarity, in brotherhood and in mutual responsibility - there's no one like us.

Over the weekend a retired brigadier general already wrote, "That's exactly the difference between us and them." (What exactly is the difference? That wasn't clear. ) And a general in the reserves declared: "Hamas has a heart of stone" (as if someone who detains tens of thousands of Palestinian prisoners, some of them political, some of them without trial, some of them held for years with no family visits, has a heart of gold ).

In the last five years not a single Israeli has remained apathetic about Shalit's fate. That is how it should be, and it is cause for pride. That humanization of a single soldier, with a (pale ) face, with (noble ) parents and a (worried ) grandfather, and even his having been turned into a "boy," is a sign of a humanitarian society. One can even somehow accept the frenetic nature of Israeli society, which goes from one extreme situation to another in a flash. The two soldiers who were killed during Shalit's abduction are unknown soldiers, Shalit became an iconic hero; Yitzhak Rabin turned overnight from a despised prime minister into a saint. MIA soldiers have been forgotten, other captive soldiers never became national symbols, and only Shalit became what he became.

Five years with only a rare news broadcast that did not mention his existence. Apparently there was something about Shalit and about his parents that captured the nation's heart. And this too is only for the good.

The problem starts with the ridiculous crowns we claimed for ourselves and with the hypocrisy, emptiness and blindness characterizing them. The campaign to free Shalit, which was not free of repellent aspects, such as the efforts to prevent visits to Palestinian prisoners, turned into a campaign of the state, a pressure release valve for the demonstration of caring and civil involvement - hollow and shallow, just like the "candle youth" who sobbed over Rabin's murder and voted for Netanyahu in the next election.

Who isn't against terror and for Shalit's release? But that same sobbing society did not for a moment ask itself, with honesty and with courage, why Shalit was captured. It did not for a moment say to itself, with courage and with honesty, that if it continued along the same path there will be many more Gilad Shalits, dead or captured. In successive elections it voted, again and again, for centrist and right-wing governments, the kind that guarantee that Shalit will not be the last. It tied yellow ribbons and supported all of the black flags. And no one ever told it, with courage and with honesty: Shalit is the unavoidable price of a state that chooses to live by the sword forever.

No one ever asked it: Why is it permissible to negotiate with Hamas over the fate of a single soldier yet prohibited to do so over the fate of two bleeding peoples?

Instead, Israeli society now wraps itself in a self-righteous cloak of self-praise: How concerned we are about the fate of a single soldier. And what about the fates of many soldiers, of an entire army, an entire people?

Israelis celebrating outside the protest tent in Jerusalem, after Israel and Hamas reached a deal to release captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, Oct. 11, 2011.Credit: Emil Salman



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