A Great Silence Over the Land

From one end of the world to the other people are taking to the streets to demonstrate against the war. Only in Israel, which is more likely than most of the world's countries to sustain military and political harm, does silence prevail.

The United States is poised to go to war within missile's throw of our homes, but no public discussion is taking place in this country, either about the necessity for a military campaign or its rightness. From one end of the world to the other people are taking to the streets to demonstrate against the war. Only in Israel, which is more likely than most of the world's countries to sustain military and political harm, does silence prevail.

Almost the only position that is getting a public hearing is that of the establishment and its spokesmen - in favor of war. Some of them are not even trying to hide the fact that they are eagerly looking forward to this. Commentators from various fields are busy explaining the array of golden opportunities that will become available to Israel after the war - the economic crisis will be resolved as though it never happened; Yasser Arafat will be removed; peace will be at hand; liberal democracy will be introduced throughout the Arab world; tourists will again stream into the country; and as a special bonus we will at long last be rid of the irksome intervention of Europe in our region.

Channel 2's Arab affairs commentator Ehud Yaari this week described the preparations for war in captivating sports terms - the "volleyball team" is already prepared, he explained, and the "soccer team" is still on its way, meaning the U.S. air force and land forces. No one is talking about the death and destruction a war will entail, no one is daring to press the question of whether they are necessary. Faithful to the approach that has come to dominate political thinking in Israel, according to which political problems can be resolved only by bringing into play as much force as possible, a crushing blow to Iraq also seems to hold out great promise.

The military correspondents are preoccupied with daily declarations to the effect that "the deployment of the defense establishment for the war has been completed." Completed? There's are shortages of suitable gas masks and gas masks that have been recycled, fire-fighters who have no idea what they are supposed to do, public bomb shelters that are sealed tight, tens of thousands of foreign workers, and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, who are defenseless - so what's "completed?"

Questions about the morality of a war, whose victims will be above all the Iraqi people, and about the double standard of the United States, which chooses its targets of attack with selective vested interest, are not raised at all.

This rash of one-sided commentaries, some of which are aggressive and vulgar - "France is a whore," Dan Margalit wrote in the daily Ma'ariv on Friday, and Channel 10 News described the Iraqi ruler as the "butcher of Baghdad" - are almost the only voices heard in Israel. International writers like Paulo Coelho and John Le Carre have expressed themselves sharply against the United States. Our writers are silent. In every country, statesmen and politicians are speaking out against the war, but not in this country. Masses are taking to the streets. Here, there is hardly any sign of this. Yesterday evening there was a protest demonstration in Tel Aviv, organized by the radical left, but it did not bring tens of thousands into the streets.

Why, in all the radio and television current events programs is another voice rarely heard, a voice that is against the war and believes it is unnecessary, that it will not contribute one iota to peace, stability or freedom, and which is motivated by hypocrisy and self-righteousness? Isn't such a voice legitimate?

All this is especially puzzling given the findings of a public opinion survey by the Dialogue Institute, published last Thursday in Ha'aretz. It turns out that nearly half of Israelis are against an immediate war - 20.4 percent think the U.S. should refrain completely from attacking, and another 23.4 percent are in favor of an attack only if all the inspection and mediation efforts fail. Figures in America are amazingly similar but there at least the voice of protest is being heard, not to mention in the majority of the states of Europe.

How does it happen that the voice of nearly half of all Israelis is not given expression? Why are they showing such indifference in the face of developments that are liable to endanger everything they hold dear? These events recall very strongly the Israeli positions regarding conflict with the Palestinians. The majority of Israelis - 54 percent, according to the Dialogue survey - support the dismantling of some of the settlements, but they are not lifting a finger to make this a reality. The majority - 58 percent, according to the Peace Index - are also in favor of a Palestinian state, but are doing nothing to help bring it about.

Everything - terrorism, occupation, unnecessary killing by both sides - is accepted as some divine decree against which nothing can be done. Within the cloud of complacency and inaction that has fallen over Israeli public life, even the gross pollution of the sea with sewage because of lengthy failures by the authorities was taken with stoic detachment and submission - this is how things must be.

It was not always thus. The blunder of the Yom Kippur War generated waves of protest that eventually brought down the government. The Lebanon War brought masses of Israelis into the streets, bringing about a commission of inquiry and the removal of Ariel Sharon as minister of defense. But today? People are scooping up nylon sheets and water bottles and entering their safe rooms, without even a word.