Sleepwalking From Ancient Rome to Netanyahu's Israel

But there’s a difference between Rome back in the day and the here and now, and this difference is arrogance.

Saja Abu Fanni
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Saja Abu Fanni

“Then those years and the people I knew through them disappeared. It was as though they and those years were as dreams,” wrote the poet Abu Tammam al-Ta’i in the eighth century. A few centuries later, Baha al-Din Ibn Shaddad alluded to the poem over Saladin’s freshly dug grave.

This war too will disappear as though it were a dream. Even those who fell, they too will be as dreams. Their fate will be no better than that of their predecessors, the sons of this Hundred Years' War that reaps more and more victims.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talks about a new horizon, but if it were rain we would see the clouds on the horizon. The circle is exhausted from spinning in place on its axis; “That which hath been is that which shall be, and that which hath been done is that which shall be done; and there is nothing new under the sun.” And history, with terrible tedium, continues to repeat as if we were in the time of Genesis.

The tunnels, the discovery of the latest war, are like rocks, the weapon of the weak. In the first century, when Simon Bar Giora was surrounded by the Romans, he chose to hide in a tunnel. Bar Giora even issued an order to kill any of his fellow soldiers who tried to surrender.

Since the neighboring states, unlike the situation today, did not supply him with weapons, he wrapped himself in a white shroud to strike terror in the hearts of the Romans. But the Romans, battle-tested and wise to terror tactics, weren’t impressed. They captured him.

And since the logic of the conquerors never forgives the logic of the conquered, which challenges superiority and principles, the Romans’ blood boiled at the chutzpah of the tunnel-dweller, who refused to surrender and fought to the end. Bar Giora, a noose around his neck, was brought to the Temple of Jupiter in Rome in a victory parade, during which he suffered lashings.

There he was executed by being thrown off the Tarpeian Rock — what barbarity! Today, praise God, we have the button method. One push and the mission is accomplished.

Generations from now, columnists will search, just as we search, for historical evidence that can shed light on current events. But there is no need to wait years to recognize that “all is vanity,” as our wise Ecclesiastes said.

Since if we were to subtract (subtraction, as we know, is one of Netanyahu’s favorite activities) the victims of the military operation on either side, as well as the great destruction, we would find that the last day of Operation Protective Edge was amazingly similar to the first. Rockets were fired from Gaza at southern Israel; Israeli planes bombed high-rises in Gaza.

“It’s as if we were walking in place,” the Arabs say. For that reason, anyone who wants to avoid death and destruction is supposed to act in real time, not in retrospect. Those who spouted jingoism during the war yield belated insights, like mushrooms after thunderous bombardments.

Belated insight is better than a permanent idee fixe, granted, but it’s still sour grapes. And sourness has become a slogan of the war; most of these wise men recognized the truth and said nothing. Some voices were louder than the drums of war.

Still, there’s a difference between Rome back in the day and the here and now, and this difference is arrogance. What do Israelis who demand decisive victories want? Did the killing of hundreds of Gazan children not tug at their hearts?

To kill 2,200 residents of Gaza, which has a population of 1.8 million, and to do so in just 50 days — that’s like killing 27,000 people in Syria, whose population is 22 million. That’s an achievement President Bashar Assad can only envy. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State, can only dream about it.