Cemetery Politics

It's interesting that what embarrassed people about the story of the transfer of terrorists' bodies to the Palestinian Authority was the government's zig-zagging, and not the treatment of the dead themselves.

It's interesting that what embarrassed people about the story of the transfer of terrorists' bodies to the Palestinian Authority was the government's zig-zagging - that is, the tactical, political and diplomatic issues. The defense minister painted the prime minister into a corner, the national security adviser was summoned to intervene, members of the "septet" of seven key ministers objected and the Palestinian minister for civilian affairs leaked the story.

The treatment of the dead themselves - sorting the bodies by date, classifying the dead for negotiating purposes, freezing the talks because of a pathologist's identification error - seemed to bother no one.

This necrophilic discourse should be seen for what it is: dealing with death in the terminology of life. Cemetery politics.

Imad Awadallah, for example, was a "senior member of Hamas' military wing." Then he died and was buried in a cemetery for terrorists in the Jordan Valley. This is a neglected cemetery; it looks like a big field of sand surrounded by brambles - "difficult terrain conditions," they call it. The cemetery is nearly overflowing; the death business is flourishing in this area.

The fact that he died and was buried and that his body is rotting makes no difference: As far as we're concerned, he doesn't make the list to be transferred. It's a matter of principle. And the principle is that death is a continuation of life, just in a different form. In other words, he is still alive, this dead guy, so there is no chance that we'll return him to the PA. Who knows, he might come back and carry out more attacks.

That returning bodies is considered a "gesture" indicates that we have adopted the primitive ideas prevalent in this region, ideas that embrace violence and debase the dead. When Hezbollah demands the release of hundreds of terrorists' bodies in exchange for the bodies of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, we instinctively learn that political deals involving human bodies are likely to achieve very valuable results. We internalize this fact and subsequently make use of it.

The experience of war covers up the humanitarian worldview; our consciences evaporate in the face of our feelings of revenge. We cannot disconnect ourselves from the offensive customs of our enemies and avoid playing this contemptible game. From this perspective, Israel has managed to integrate into the Middle East very well.

You have to listen to Interior Minister Eli Yishai's objection to understand the source of the darkness that envelopes us. "Why would anyone think of making this kind of sweeping gesture when Gilad Shalit hasn't merited any sort of gesture?" he asked. "It's better for us to retain anything that might be able to shorten Gilad's captivity by even one minute."

"A sweeping gesture," that is, moving rotting bodies a few hundred meters eastward. "Anything," that is, bodies, but what about a finger, foot, eye or nose? And of course "Gilad Shalit," the national insurance policy that now launders all sorts of immoral behavior.

This conduct is an accurate metaphor for the tombstone we once called "the peace process." The conflict's permanent mantle of death has now been wrapped around the ultimate issue: bodies. The concept of "freezing" is being used in a macabre context (Ehud Barak: "I froze the talks on the issue" ); the worn cliches, like "terrorists with blood on their hands," are now being imposed on people who aren't here anymore; and the "right of return" has suddenly acquired a new, almost parodic, meaning.

This parody could almost be a satire. When members of the cabinet and the septet expressed their anger over the decision to transfer the bodies, Barak was forced to defend himself, saying, "During the talks with the Palestinians, we discussed transferring bodies that are in an improvised cemetery. These bodies are disappearing and soon there won't be anything to transfer."

Hanoch Levin couldn't have phrased it better.