The Israeli-Palestinian Show That Always Ends the Same Way

Why should the directors change the script if we, the audience, keep coming time and time again, not demanding the slightest review?

Shaul Arieli
Shaul Arieli
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The names of Gilad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach and Naftali Fraenkel are written in flames on the eve their bodies were found. Tel Aviv, June 30, 2014.Credit: David Bachar
Shaul Arieli
Shaul Arieli

The curtain rises. The actors take their usual places. No one needs written notes in order to play their part. They are all veteran actors in a show that has been going on for two decades. The audience doesn’t change either, coming to every show unwillingly. The TV cameras spread out and the broadcasters take their seats, which are still warm from the last event. The text is known and no directors are needed. The content of the drama is known and only the name (of the Gaza military operation) changes: “Summer Rains,” “Cast Lead,” “Pillar of Defense.”

The opening scene is chosen from several alternatives: “unacceptable” rocket fire, the assassination of a senior member of a terrorist organization, the murder of innocent youths, an abduction of a soldier for the purpose of a prisoner exchange. The show starts with the selected opening scene. Supposedly, there is no background, no past, no incitement, no whipped-up frenzy and preparation of public opinion or a frozen diplomatic process. Only the “here and now” exist, and public opinion is geared to focus on that alone.

The second act can also be selected, although the choices are more limited: The air force attacks dozens of targets in the Gaza Strip; rocket barrages in retaliation for the assassination of the senior figure. The second act is accompanied by a painful “repeat” option. One can press this button again and again. This act can last up to two weeks, with the only difference being the number of casualties among the audience. Their role is not only to serve as spectators but to play a leading part, as the victims, the protesters and the supporters of the main actors. The extent of damage incurred by the audience is the determining factor in deciding whether to proceed to the third act.

This too can take two forms. If one of the sides was hurt in a manner that “crosses a red line,” the campaign will begin with a concentration of forces and declarations by both sides of how much pain will be inflicted on the other side if the third act actually unfolds. Occasionally, this act is only partially played out – “to the outskirts of Gaza” or to “the edge of the built-up areas.” Analysts love this part; it enables them to expatiate on the imminent “collapse of the organization” or on “the morning after.”

If it’s the other side that gets mauled, the actors have to dispense with the final scene. Other actors who had been lurking behind the scenes move to the forefront: American, Egyptian, European and other delegates. The redeeming formula for ending the show is produced. It’s never to the liking of all the actors but they agree to get off the stage. Each side goes to his own corner, not forgetting to mark his part in the drama with a victory sign.

Everything is folded up and the curtain comes down. Graves are dug and the bereaved families are left with their grief. The analysts sum up. Billions have gone up in bomb smoke. The buildings that were re-built after the last round return to rubble.

Not one of the directors or the actors, veteran or newcomers, bothers to look at the screenplay, perhaps adding a section that will provide some background to the drama, or maybe trying to write a different ending. Why should they? The audience always come in droves, partly unwillingly. But it’s always there, a full accomplice.