The Israelis Who See the Light a Little Too Late

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The Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. A mistake not to have removed the Jewish community from Hebron after the Goldstein massacre? Credit: Reuters / Haaretz Archive

The radio was on, and from a distance came the familiar voice. I have an affinity for voices that cry out in the wilderness. It was the voice of the ex-president, who for once cast off his rhetorical suit and spoke plainly. I was sure that his remarks would make the headlines that very day. But no; not a word in Haaretz, and in other papers barely a mention; just a boring photograph and a few dry quotes from the annual memorial for David Ben-Gurion. So does influence wane: What should have been the main headline is relegated to the back pages; what could have been considered the speech of his lifetime failed to resonate, and withered away.

Shimon Peres’ words addressed open wounds. “Israel misses leadership,” he roared, “that does not sell fear, that does not disparage foreign relations with other states, leadership that protects national unity even when there are disagreements, leadership that sows hopes of peace.” Harsh words, words like spurs that conjure up the figure of Israel’s first prime minister, and that pierce the ribs of the incumbent. And all the honored guests returned, satisfied, to their government offices.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s interminable tenure is also an albatross around the neck of Peres: his neck, our burden. True, it was not Peres who raised him, but he raised him up, and cast himself down, and us with him. When Netanyahu’s historian-father died, the then-president eulogized him with these words: Your father studied history, and you, his son, are making history. Thus, a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate became an advocate for a peace-hater, justifying his sins for all to hear. His intentions are serious, insisted the defense lawyer; he will yet surprise you all.

That’s the problem with “The Gatekeepers.” Those former Shin Bet security service chiefs interviewed in the documentary film say all the right things about the devastating effect of the occupation. But they say so belatedly so as to dilute the impact of their words which are uttered long after violence has devoured from outside, and terror reigns inside, and there is no more gate to keep. They are weak and powerless, and their overdue criticism will go down as a footnote of willing collaborators who unwillingly woke up to the truth. And as long as we’re talking about half-hearted regret, then we should add a full-hearted confession: We have erred, we have led others to err, forgive us.

I confessed a terrible, possibly two-fold mistake for which I must apologize. In “Three Shots and Twenty Years,” a collection of articles in memory of Yitzhak Rabin (Am Oved, Hebrew only), I wrote: “We erred when we tried to pursue the Oslo process gradually, and in so doing we permitted its opponents, from this side or that side, to sabotage it at every opportunity. When making one’s way along the edge of the abyss one must advance with a single measured yet daring step, rather than skip ahead with several confidence-building steps.”

We made another bitter mistake when we failed to remove the Jewish community of Hebron after the Goldstein massacre in the Tomb of the Patriarchs. “The evacuation of Hebron first,” I wrote, “is a sign of additional necessary evacuations. Our entire history would have changed for the good, for the possible.”

Not only Peres; Ari Shavit also writes wisely, but also too late. He too was lured and lured others into believing that Bibi would yet lay the golden peace egg. Last week, in “The Middle East challenge: a Western-Arab-Israeli pact,” he reprimanded America’s neoconservatives for the “their senseless war in Iraq [which] didn’t heal the region and didn’t spread democracy in the east, but the opposite. It created a catastrophic chain reaction that led to the rise of the Islamic State.”

I did not check the archive, but I recall only a single opinion piece that appeared prior to the uprising in the Israel media against Bush’s adventures in Mesopotamia; it was not written by Shavit.

Shavit’s craving for a “ground intervention” grew in the Second Lebanon War, when in the final, and unnecessary, 48 hours he called for intensifying the incursion and the mourning. And this newspaper, of all papers, went off the rails and called for “boots on the ground” in a hysterical main headline.

We have nothing against wise guys who take the wrong path for years and then suddenly see the darkness for what it is. On the contrary, we’re on their side, as long as they are now wise enough to call light day and darkness night.