End of an Era

This disengagement gives rise to thoughts of political gloom and doom on the day after. Nevertheless, it is an opportunity, however small, to disengage from the nationalist madness that has seized control of the Israeli identity.

So routine has the term "disengagement plan" become that it is blurring our understanding of what is involved. So the truth must be told: the government of Israel does not have a true plan; and worse the government has nothing with which to cover the huge pit that is now taking shape in the Israeli psyche. This is not a genuine plan, because it was a momentary caprice of the prime minister. The "non-plan" acted as a magnet for Israeli political opportunism at its finest: by the elders of the Labor Party, who are driven by the power of a personal biological clock and do not live according to slower political time; individuals who thirst for power; and a few other innocents who simply don't understand what it's all about.

The process by which the plan was approved smashed to smithereens what little remained of Israel's political culture and doomed us to many more years of disabled, crippled democracy, conducted in the shadow of the anarchy of this period. The prime minister gave the boot to every political convention and simply led everyone down the garden path. Just as there is no capital market without a stock exchange and no family without partners, so there is no democracy or politics without parties. The disrespect shown by the prime minister and his associates for resolutions passed by his own party - their contempt and utter disregard - destroyed the basic concept of political life.

But the plan is bad not only because of the defective processes of its authorization; it is bad mainly because of its content. It has no partner and no vision. It does not look a millimeter past its own nose. And any looking that there is portends only calamity. It is a vast fraud: sacrifice of the unimportant and insignificant settlements in Gaza and in the Sinai approaches in return for perpetuating the wrongs and perversions of the Israeli soul in the heart of Hebron, at Yitzhar, at Beit El and in patriarchal tombs that have become altars for binding living sons.

Nevertheless, this is the best worst disengagement we have. After it, not only the face of political democracy will look wrinkled, damaged and injured; at the same time, the national enterprise of illusions known as the settlements is also starting its inevitable collapse. For this reason alone, it may be worth paying such a high price.

The existence of the State of Israel is not yet assured: no one knows whether we will survive as a state or will be exiled again to every corner of the earth. The one thing I have no doubt about is that redemption will not come through messianism, the good life will not be brought about by expansion, and national level-headedness becomes ever more elusive the more the remote settlements do secretly - but in our name - to others what our haters did to us across the generations.

You are not my brother

For many years, three stories, partly true and partly fiction, nourished Israel. Under the overall rubric of "Zionism" they were: the god of security, the sanctity of settlement and the superiority of the Jewish religion. Three vastly powerful and resource-rich concepts, which became ends that justified even what had until recently been considered unacceptable and abominable. Even though it emerges time and again that the only periods of security we enjoyed in recent years were the brief and fragile intervals in which we momentarily forsook the lethal weapon of the struggle and talked - talking remains difficult for us. Dialogue has been erased from our consciousness as a true alternative. In the name of security we have the right to shoot and kill. In the name of security we have the right to expropriate and dispossess. In the name of security we have the right to harass and abuse. In the name of security we have the right to shed the image of God with which we were born. Take all the settlers' screams about discrimination and laments about suppression, multiply them many-fold, and you will feel what the Palestinians have lived with for many years without our seeing or feeling.

This distorted security is bound umbilically to the settlement enterprise. It used to be said that the security border would pass along the outer extremity of the most distant settlement. Even though that delusion was shattered over and over in every Israeli war - from Tel Hai in 1920 to Kfar Darom in 1948 to the Golan Heights settlements in 1973 - security and settlement were nevertheless intertwined to the point of being inseparable.

A security fence along the border, a fence around our settlements for their security, a fence to besiege and imprison their towns and villages, a fence along the Jordan. The whole land is one big fence and within it are imprisoned frightened people. Is this what is meant by security?

And the Jewish religion - it is enduring so much abuse. So much superciliousness and racism underpin the words, "A Jew does not expel a Jew." The belief in the superiority of the genes, the lordship of the nation of lords in the name of God. But a Jew who murders a Jewish prime minister - yes? Because a Jew is only a human being, with weaknesses and with powers. Nothing is innate, nothing is automatic, and even God's choice of the Jewish people is not guaranteed without a moral commitment and without constant labor toward self-improvement and more humane behavior. All of this has been shunted aside in favor of the unholy trinity of recent years: racist Judaism resting on violent settlement and protected by a distorted security conception.

When they threaten me and talk of 'a war of brothers,' I stop dead in my tracks. Are these my brothers? No! For me, fraternity and being a national family are not the product of an automatic pilot. I have no genetic siblings other than my two sisters, my parents' daughters. I have brothers and sisters in values and spirit. If you are a bad person, a whining oppressor or a strong-armed occupier, you are not my brother, even if you observe Shabbat and uphold the religious precepts. And if a kerchief covers every hair on your head and you give charity and do good deeds, but everything that is below the head covering is devoted to sanctifying Jewish soil and takes priority over the sanctity of human life as such - you are not my sister. You are my enemy. Automatic Judaism, without self-criticism and without moral commitment implies an unacceptable racist doctrine.

Let us draw a distinction: there will be no "war of brothers" here; if a more violent struggle ever breaks out, it will be called a "civil war." Because it is not a war between the diverse streams of the Jewish people, but an uncompromising struggle between good and bad. All the good people, theirs and ours, on one side, arrayed against all the bad people - and there is no shortage of them - on both sides.

Land of Israel vs. State of IsraelFollowing the passing of these classic Zionist narratives, the natural question that arises is what the future Israeli national stories will be and whether there will in fact be any. Looking at the present, we might be able to see the direction of the future. The visibility of the orange ribbons signaling opposition to disengagement - is closely linked with skullcap, flapping tsitsit (ritual fringe), tight shavis (head scarf), prayer book and a religious vocabulary. The hard core of the disengagement opponents comes mainly from the various religious groups religious Zionists, nationalist Haredim (ultra-Orthodox), and the spiritual hybrids of New Age Jewry - those who run wild on the West Bank hilltops. The other Israeli sectors are apparently not taking an active part in the struggle. The Arabs are totally out of it, and many - perhaps the majority - of the country's secular population is flabbergasted by the human and psychological disengagement of the religious settlers, those who until not long ago were the standard-bearers of the modern, Zionist, Israeli Jewish identity.

Something has gone awry with these religious people. The Land of Israel as a supreme value is this time not being posited against other values - human life, modern Western values and the aspiration to a life of peace, tranquility, quiet and security - but is engaged in a frontal clash with the State of Israel. The Land of Israel against the State of Israel. This is no longer about an occupation that is taking place far from the eye or the killing of innocent Palestinians as a hobby of "unconventional" types; it is about an open war against all the symbols of Israel's sovereign government. The flaunters of orange against the army and its soldiers, settlers against the police and its policemen, believers in God against democracy, its authority and its elected representatives.

Precisely because the basic Israeli instinct is a democratic one, and even though there are things here we do not like, it is clear to us nonetheless that the democratic system, with all its faults, is the only one that makes it possible for us to continue living together, to continue to agree about how not to agree. The defiant challenge by halakha to the law, by the synagogue to the Knesset, by the rabbis to sovereignty - that is the real disengagement.

Until the twisted initiative of Ariel Sharon, there was a total blurring of spheres and values. The right, in all its shades of color, was in favor of the hopeless attempt to integrate Judaism, territorial nationalism and democracy into one political package. And the left, with its various groups, stood by and watched: This was not its Judaism, this was not its nationalism, and it shed tears for democracy, which lay dying in the face of the occupation and the delusional lies. It was a sterile, stunned left, its herald of identity and banners of patriotism wrenched from it and from the movements that created the state, and transferred, without parade or ceremony, without respect and honor, to the new standard-bearers that heralded a new identity religious and national.

Four decades of warningSuddenly, abruptly, Sharon's sword cut the intractable knot. And it turns out that xenophobic nationalism and religion that relies exclusively on halakha and its teachers cannot coexist with the true, modern, democratic, compromise-prone core identity of the majority of Israel. In response to the disengagement plan, the outgoing carriers of identity are declaring that they are disengaging, forsaking and in practice discarding their monopolistic responsibility for Israeli identity and its components.

This is a unique opportunity, one rarely offered to a society that is trying to alter the flow of its currents. An inviting vacuum has been created at the center of our existence here, and there is space for new winds and original opinions. Israeliness can reclaim its role in Jewish responsibility. There is a vital, burning need for a new Israeli identity that begins not with the words "A Jew does not," but with "A Jew does."

A Jew does maintain a close and natural connection with the spiritual sources of Jewish culture; a Jew does have a new and modern interpretation of precepts and norms that have become outdated; a Jew does integrate tradition and progress; a Jew does forge a synthesis between Judaism and universalism, between Israeliness and Judaism.

For this positive Jew, Israel is an open and generous place for the Other and for those who are different, for the stranger who lives among us. His Judaism says yes to peace and no to xenophobia; his culture is a national culture of self-confidence that pursues peace, not paranoia that is founded on violent military security. It also involves a renewed effort to integrate the Israeli experience both in the Middle East and within the democratic West, which is moving with resolve to the place where swords are buried and plowshare and pruning hook are again taken to hand.

I do not believe in this disengagement or in those that are implementing it. I see political gloom and doom on the day after: because I believe only in long-term, nonviolent dialogue and only in a total, coordinated and agreed severance of the terminal ills on our side and on theirs. Yet that said, within this black-orange sea this is a ray of light.

We are a survivor people that is not extreme, an adaptive culture, not a suicidal one. Therefore, whenever zealotry mixed with messianism and self-righteousness took the reins of power, we reached a terrible dead end. The pattern is there at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple, in the holocaust of Betar and the Bar Kochba revolt, in the period of Sabbatai Sevi, and in the time of Gush Emunim, the Bloc of the Faithful. Four decades of warning are now showing their result. It is clear to many that this bad and bizarre disengagement is not from our Palestinian neighbors or from terrorism. This is disengagement, small and meager, from the nationalist madness that has seized control of our identity.

Avraham Burg is a former speaker of the Knesset