Israel's Transformation From the Promised Land to the Guarded Land

We should thank the Egyptian people for having exposed in its nakedness another corner of the colossal waste of public money on illusions.

Our situation - woe betide us - has never been worse. Nor has it ever been better. It all depends on the perspective from which you look at it.

In Egypt, an angry mob attacked the Israeli Embassy and tried to occupy it. Ostensibly, very bad. But to the same extent, very good. Because all of a sudden that particular superfluous institution, about whose security costs to the Israeli taxpayer it's best not to ask - that is, the expense of the security of the premises and the security of the functionless functionaries who served there, they and their wives and their offspring - all of a sudden, this institution has become the apple of every Israeli's eye.

Israel embassy attack, Cairo, Egypt
Eran Wolkowski

I have visited Egypt many times, and most of the times I had any contact with Israel's diplomatic representatives in Cairo, I had to admit it was a bad joke. I remember one ambassador who made it his daily aim to cut every denunciation of Israel and Jews out of the newspapers and send them to the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem. Often these were translations of items from the Israeli press.

Others didn't even bother to do that, and confined themselves to worrying about the fact that their life was in danger all the time and therefore they had to avoid as much as possible any contact with the surroundings. I met Israeli diplomats who were so afraid that, during their years in Cairo, they did not attend any cultural event - neither a film nor an opera nor a concert. They lived ensconced in their luxurious official residences in a suburb, and flew to Israel every two or three weeks in order to "recharge the batteries."

The only service in the area of culture that the Israelis offered Egyptians was the library at the Israeli Academic Center in Cairo. But over the years that too became a joke because of all the security restrictions. Due to all the suspicion, eventually it was not even possible to borrow books; thereafter the number of pages one was allowed to photocopy from a book was also limited.

Since few Israelis travel to Egypt, they have not had the opportunity to encounter all those ridiculous things. The people who encountered them were Egyptians - precisely those Egyptians who were interested in Israel. For example, all those hundreds and thousands of students studying in the Hebrew departments of Egyptian universities and the lecturers who teach them.

I once met a Ph.D. student from the university in Tanta, a small city in the Delta, who was writing a thesis about the works of literary critic Baruch Kurzweil. All his attempts to contact anyone at the Israeli Embassy to obtain all of Kurzweil's works for him from Schocken Books in Tel Aviv proved futile.

Another doctoral student desperately needed a volume of stories by Benjamin Tammuz. I bought the book for him and when I asked one of the Israeli functionaries involved in their own security to get the book to him, he blanched. The student, he said, had to come to read the book on the premises of the embassy library. It must not be removed from there.

About five years ago, a blockbuster film called "The Embassy in the Building" reached Egyptian screens, starring Adel Imam, the greatest of all Arab comedians. Imam played a debauched Egyptian engineer who, returning to Cairo after a few years away, finds that his neighbor in the building where he lives is the Israeli ambassador. His life becomes hell. The call girls he invites to his home go through body checks by the Israeli security guards, and the terrorists who mean to blow up the ambassador's apartment blow up his by mistake. I joined the gales of laughter at the Metro Cinema, where the film was screened.

The film showed accurately what Israel refuses to see: that it has changed from the promised land to the guarded land, becoming a caricature of a state under siege that has transformed the need to defend itself into a national ethos and its supreme value.

Thus, in many respects there was something nearly amusing in the occupation of the embassy compound by the Egyptian mob last week, especially if we connect it to the previous episode in the series, which was the comedy called "The Ambassador in the Building."

The tough guy security guards from the first episode were suddenly revealed to be helpless and in need of the help of the Egyptian security forces to rescue them. In Episode 2 of the series, it also turned out that, after all, Israeli security is a myth and it does not ensure the safety of the security guards themselves, never mind the people they are supposed to secure.

Therefore, the prophets of doom among us can relax: The occupation of the embassy in Cairo was nothing more than the production of a film. All this on condition that we look at the embarrassing situation of the occupation of that embassy in an Egyptian way - that is, with a bit of humor - and deep in our hearts thank the Egyptian people for having exposed in its nakedness another corner of the colossal waste of public money on illusions.

If I were the state comptroller, or the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, or even a member of the Trajtenberg committee, I would send them - the Egyptian people - flowers for having courageously cast light on the layer of excess fat created by the body living in fear of anything that is not itself. And the name of that fat is security.