A Chance to Rethink

Hopefully, many people will read this book on Israel's situation today; it proves that from the heights of the ivory tower, it is possible to maintain eye contact.

"Sihot 'im asa kasher + 45 tmunot mitokh osef haomanut hayisraelit shel hafeniqs" ("Seventeen Conversations with Asa Kasher, and 45 pictures from Phoenix Israeli Art Collection") by Vered Levy-Barzilai, Kinneret Zmora-Bitan Dvir Publishers, 412 pages, NIS 84

This book deserves to have a book written about it, both because of its importance and in order to allow argument with its basic assumptions and conclusions. It is comprised of nine conversations "about the situation": "On Left and Right," "The Permanent Status Agreement," "The 'One Eye' Syndrome of the Left," "The Destroyed Bridge," "The Establishment of a State in Our Time," "Human Life," "The Purity of Arms," "An Abbreviated History of the Occupation" and "Refusal"; plus three additional conversations "about life": "The Meaning of Life," "Life in Hearts," "The Covenant of Pain"; and five conversations "about the texture," "The Rabin Heritage," "Education for Democracy," "The Media," "The Kibbutz" and "Faith."

This is a book worthy of being called "a book," because of late books have been published according to their form and not necessarily according to their content. Not every bound volume of "conversations" and of chance and hasty interviews is worthy of being called a book. It also has to be interesting; anything that bores the reader will be duly returned to the shelf. There is no obligation to waste time with materials that are tedious with respect to the literary plot of the intellectual challenge. A boring book, through whose crises it is impossible to wade, has but a single fate: to be rejected, neglected and forgotten.

Asa Kasher's joint effort with Vered Levy-Barzilai arouses interest because it embraces a whole world or more precisely, it embraces a world view that aims at reorganization of thought, at an internal logic insofar as possible, and even at perfection of analysis and formulation. It is also proof that it is possible to deal with complex issues in human language and with an approach that is accessible to all nearly. There is no need to pretend that without "professional language," which is reserved only for a fenced-in and defined "academic discipline," it is not possible to conduct cultural and philosophical discourse properly. Asa Kasher proves that from the heights of the ivory tower, it is indeed possible to maintain eye contact.

Kasher's worldview is measured and responsible, and being responsible in our time is to be moral. This is a balanced view, which does not offer the entire world "while standing on one foot," and not necessarily because of "holy balance," but because of the complexity of life's reality. I found myself agreeing with some important principles in the book, and disagreeing utterly with other no-less-important, or perhaps even more important principles. Kasher and Levy-Barzilai will no doubt be the first to rejoice in the clarifying disputation. They write: "In the camp that is known as 'left' a special breed of problem has appeared in the field of vision of reality. A considerable number of people regard the reality with one eye open and one eye closed. They see clearly any manifestation of Palestinian suffering, but do not see any manifestation of Israeli, Jewish suffering."

Shred of sad truthEven if things are formulated clearly and sharply, there is more than a shred of sad truth. "My" left sometimes feels not entirely comfortable when it is in the close proximity of its own extended family, in the close proximity of its people as though the egotistical closeness spoils the beautiful identification with every human being qua human being, and certainly with that human being who is a neighbor. Thus the left has not always radiated a generous amount of empathy toward local, national pain. This pain, like the flag, it has left to the right, which has made manipulative and cynical use of it for its own political ends.

The left has also hesitated to criticize the Palestinian side when reality demanded this. It is possible to criticize and harshly attack everyone: Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Deputy Premier Shimon Peres, the high command of the Israel Defense Forces and the Israel Police and the law-enforcement authorities in Israel. We have specialized more than anyone else in this criticism, which in most cases has been justified and even effective. But when the Palestinian leadership, whether in the days of Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat and despite the differences during the current era of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), fails and causes failure ... shh, don't comment! It is hard to know whether this approach expresses arrogance or abnegation with respect to the Palestinians or both at once.

I identify with Kasher's position, which negates outright any sort of refusal to serve in the military. Kasher also distinguishes refusal on the left from refusal on the right, and makes an effort to differentiate between them, but basically they are the same refusal and if not, it would be difficult to explain the difference at this time. As far back as about 25 years ago, I published in Haaretz an article entitled "Gush Emunim is grateful to Yesh Gvul." The title discloses the contents, referring as it does to the debt owed by the settlers to the conscientious objectors' organization. Perhaps today, after Kfar Maimon and prior to Gush Katif, the article that was written then, in the midst of the cursed Lebanon War, is more easily understood.

>b>Clear and present danger

Sooner or later, all the enlightened countries in the world have come to the conclusion that democracy and occupation cannot go hand in hand. Either democracy or occupation this is the crucial choice. The enlightened countries have relinquished occupation in order to save democracy; only we have not relinquished occupation yet, and therefore democracy is in clear and present danger.

"Enlightened occupation" is a literary invention. There is no need to be a determinist to know that occupation is governed by its own set of rules, and the dynamic of moral degeneration is inevitable. Who doesn't want to be an "enlightened occupier" both occupation and enlightenment, a real kosher bargain but no one can. Occupation is the diametric opposite of enlightenment, and let us not take its name in vain.

And how can it be that "the enlightenment does not corrupt" if since 1967 this country has changed its face beyond all recognition and has become an ugly and tortured nation, buffeted about by an evil spirit of nationalism, a messianic and fanatical spirit? And how can it "not corrupt," if even reasonable, usually normative people who in different, ordinary circumstances would behave like upright citizens, are suddenly finding themselves behaving like jungle beasts?

Kasher goes on to claim: "The most important moral question is not how we will end the occupation, but rather how we will end the terror." Neither correct nor moral. This statement implies a condition, which again sticks its head in the noose, which inevitably leads to hanging. So which comes first the terror or the occupation, the occupation or the terror? They will say: First end your occupation. And we will say: No, no first you end your terror. And where does this take us? Back to square one.

This issue of occupation and terror should be formulated and conducted in a different way: Neither precedes the other, and everything is prior. Each of these illegitimate manifestations occupation and terror, terror and occupation is illegitimate in its own right, absolutely and unconditionally. We must not wait for them to end the terror, and only then end the occupation, and they must not wait until we end the occupation and only then take it upon themselves to end the terror. Thus both sides will wait forever, and neither side will fulfill its obligations in the meantime.

'War of choice'Kasher says: "The State of Israel has refined the value of the sanctity of life and brought it to heights that challenge other countries. In this respect we are definitely a light unto the nations." Not true, and it is even immoral to say so. Not all of Israel's wars have been wars "of no choice," and their victims could have been spared and saved. Who if not Asa Kasher knows that the Lebanon War, for example, was a "war of choice," and to the best of my recollection he said so himself at the time. If there was a "war of choice" (and it was not the only war in which "there was a choice")that Ariel Sharon fomented with malice aforethought, then how is it possible to argue that we are "a light unto the nations"? We are not even a light unto ourselves. Wars of choice are barren and unnecessary wars, and their victims are unnecessary, sacrificed in vain. And will a state that sacrifices its sons in this way boast of pride in "the principle of the sanctity of life" and of bringing it to "heights that challenge other countries?"

Kasher says of the separation fence: "I am not talking about all the details of the route, but rather about the very fact of the idea of building such a fence." Although a philosopher busies himself more with the idea and less with its realization, in the case before us the realization is the main thing, because the idea as an idea is acceptable to the vast majority of Israelis and even the vast majority of the international community. The problem, then, is in the details, which are not details at all but rather the problem in its entirety.

Building a fence to make it difficult for the "ticking bombs" coming our way that is perfectly fine. However, building it on land that is not ours, separating family members from one another, people from their work places, students from their schools, patients from their clinics this is harassment. Had Israel built the fence on its own land, or in the worst case along the Green Line (pre-Six-Day War border) fine, there would be a fence and that would be a good thing. But who ever heard of a person putting a fence up in his neighbor's yard, even if only to protect himself from that neighbor? On this important point Kasher's reasoned philosophy is flawed with an unacceptable degree of evasiveness and avoidance.

Of the "security forces," Kasher says: "The IDF and the Shin Bet security services do not need 'reporters and commentators,' who will draw their attention an intelligence hitch or its grave consequences. In no discipline is there a need for critical, amateurish assessment in order to come to the conclusion that in a given event there was a professional failure, or to draw professional conclusions." Kasher is mistaken, badly mistaken. The IDF and the Shin Bet are very much in need of criticism, like every organization that by its nature is far from perfection. The IDF and the Shin Bet are no worse than other organizations, but they are not necessarily better either, and precisely because they deal with matters of life and death, close scrutiny within the organization will not always suffice.

One more comment and that's it: It is not entirely clear to me why Kasher gives unlimited credit to one, single element within the establishment-governmental mosaic: the army. We all identify with the IDF, we all want it to succeed, but human beings are in charge of the IDF and they are not always immune to the lust for personal advancement, to quarrels, to lies, to whitewashing, to external considerations and to the "the opinions of the great" those who are their superiors and who have the power to promote them or block them. Perhaps the IDF, as a demanding and hierarchical system, is less tainted, but still in a painful and dangerous way.

Kasher does damage to the army by isolating it as though it was and remains a "nature reserve." In this nature reserve, more worrisome patches of felled trees have been discovered recently. Investigations of various operations have also been revealed to be entirely dubious themselves. The first investigation following the killing of British peace activist Tom Hurndall in Rafah by IDF gunfire ended as usual with "the solders acted in accordance with the instructions." Only when Hurndall's mother and father, along with the British government, were not content with this and applied ceaseless pressure, did it suddenly emerge, in a further investigation, that the gunfire had been aimed on purpose, to hit the target. The investigation in the Wadi Haramiya affair, in which nine soldiers were killed by an improvised rifle, also ended in a version of proper conduct. Some of the bereaved families have friends in the Knesset, and through them they proved that the investigation was full of holes; the subsequent investigation was quite different.

It is to be hoped that many people will read this book. It is a book that necessitates using the mind, reviving dead brain cells and rethinking everything. At the event celebrating publication of the new book, held two weeks ago at Kibbutz Ga'ash, Kasher, upon hearing the comments, promised to go back and think some more. Like him, I promise to do the same.

MK Yossi Sarid's new book of poetry was published this month by Yedioth Ahronoth Books.