A State in a Time Warp

But what of the diplomatic process? Surely it is imminent. Sharon smiled and blinked and swayed as he answered a direct question. `The diplomatic process ... ahh ... is actually already well under way ...'

Best efforts notwithstanding, it was hard to ignore the somewhat mechanical way that Israelis embraced the "spontaneous joy" that erupted after the latest basketball victory - yeah, another one - by Maccabi Tel Aviv. But really now, how are we supposed to keep it up?

How many times can you lift the same championship cup to the drone of the announcer and the roar of the crowd? Ten times, twenty times, thirty, forty, fifty times? How many times can you sing, "We Are The Champions," and pretend you only just heard the news? How many times can you re-hear the "telephone call between Pini Gershon and the prime minister," repeat the same exact cliches, recycle the same "spontaneous stream of humanity heading for the city square," and on the following day, the "spontaneous gathering in the park?"

We have grown so accustomed to re-enacting our lives - and not doing anything that wasn't done the last time - that it comes as no surprise that even our few moments of revelry and joy have the flavor of used chewing gum.

If this is how it is for "spontaneous celebrations," then what can we say about the institutionalized holidays? On ordinary days, our lives seem to take place in a time warp; but during the spring festivals - if that is what you could call Holocaust Day, Memorial Day and Independence Day - we are bounded by a vast mechanism that ticks away like a clockwork orange.

As if in some primeval ritual, it all takes place as we precisely and meticulously recycle the ceremonies and tributes from last year, and from all the years preceding it: The same ceremony on Mt. Herzl, the same refrain that accompanies the same marching, the same songs attending the same occasions; not to mention the recycling of the same cliches. The rule is: Never do anything different, never do anything new.

There is nothing wrong with ritual: Ceremony provides an anchor at festive times of our life, raising up the ordinary, alleviating uncertainty by its very predictability. In Israel, ceremonies play an important role in shaping identity: Go figure who or what we would be - Basques, perchance? - were they to take away our Memorial Day ceremonies, our torchlighting ceremony, our Israel Prize ceremony at the designated time?

Still and all, in recent years, not only the melancholy days of national mourning, but also the holidays and expressions of joy seem increasingly less uplifting, and increasingly more like symptoms of what is called "obsessive-compulsive disorder." Over and over, the same songs at the city square; over and over the same tributes.

How much longer can they show the same faded Israeli films on TV, themselves recycled year in, year out, and still feel any sort of festive emotion? It is as if some sort of spell has been cast on both day-to-day Israeli and its festive counterpart, forcing us to tread water as we cling to the stagnation, simply out of a fear that things could be worse.

Even the diplomatic process seems to be revolving in a sort of endless loop. But why "even?" Because, on the face of it, there is nothing more innovative, original or bold, no breakthrough greater, than Sharon's disengagement plan.

Nevertheless, the devil is getting his due: Somehow, the diplomatic process slips away the closer we get to it. Wasn't it last year, or maybe two years ago, that the prime minister promised in his holiday interview that by next year, "the diplomatic process will be well under way?"

Yet on this year's Independence Day we saw him give the exact same interview, using the same words to the same interviewers, and closing with the same words ("ahh ... A happy holiday to all ... ahh ... the People of Israel") wearily dropping out of his mouth, like a crumb at the end of the meal.

But what of the diplomatic process? Surely it is imminent. Sharon smiled and blinked and swayed as he answered a direct question. "The diplomatic process ... ahh ... is actually already well under way ..."

Except that the process is so well under way that we might have passed it without even noticing. For the disengagement - the nickname for the diplomatic process - is taking place at full force. Not a day passes that we don't hear about it: How they will be evacuated, how they will drag away, how they will demolish. When? As we speak.

In other words, in June, which is the same thing as July. Meaning after the holidays and the "Three Weeks," mourning period, which is August - give or take a day or a month. And the diplomatic process after the disengagement? We will always be happy to renew it, if and when - if they gather weapons, and when they absorb the fact - we will always be happy ...

Meanwhile, Sharon and all his bold plans seem to want to be swallowed up - like Maccabi victories, like the holidays, like the ordinary - into the same time warp in which nothing can happen that has not already happened.

And when it does happen, it will not happen before first being stripped of all genuine meaning or innovation. After all, we wouldn't want the disengagement, which is an unprecedented step, to serve as a precedent for anything, right?