Last week I asked my students to design postcards for Israel's 64th Independence Day. Only one of them drew a dove of peace flying through the sky with an olive branch in its beak. This child must be growing up in an exceptional home.
The truth is that peace is off most Israelis' radar screens, which is why there is nothing said about it during our national holidays.
When I was a child, on Independence Day we would wave little blue-and-white flags to the sounds of "I was born for peace, may it only come," and Memorial Day was marked with the stubborn hope that in the future there were would be no more casualties of war. Today, no one would dare express such hopes at these ceremonies; the remarks would ring hollow in a country that has officially taken peace off its agenda.
This is a dramatic, historic development that for some reason is being accepted with equanimity. The aspiration for peace, even on a declarative level, had always been a foundation stone of the Zionist enterprise. Peace as a value, as a basic and existential idea. Peace as a reason for living, as a comfort, as a promise. Not the kind of peace chewed up over the years by sterile, technical expressions like "diplomatic process," "road map," "Clinton initiative" or "Annapolis."
In truth, our abstract desire for peace had always been a rather false, self-righteous daydream. "Our hand extended in peace," had always been extended rather weakly, to be taken with a large grain of salt - and yes, sometimes it got burned.
But giving up on peace is far-reaching, with gloomy ramifications. The vision of a better, more logical future has been exchanged for wallowing in the memory of the Holocaust, desperate efforts at public diplomacy and a compulsive preoccupation with "threats" (of terror, Iran or anti-Semitism ).
This destructive process has reached its zenith under the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, with his intense encouragement. This is the same Netanyahu who was elected to his first term in 1996 under the slogan "Making a Secure Peace." At that time, any attempt to win an election without a clearly declared commitment to the peace ethos would have been political suicide. Less than a generation later, everything has changed.
It's hard to understand why Israelis have abandoned the basic idea of permanent arrangements. After all, the two official peace agreements that Israel signed with sovereign regimes have held up unchallenged since then. Even the nonbelligerency arrangements on the Syrian border have been carefully observed, without a peace agreement.
It was the two unilateral withdrawals, with no agreement and no partner, that have resulted in hostility and belligerency from both Lebanon and Gaza. The problematic interim agreements on the West Bank, which involved no real compromises or decisions, have also been a source of trouble.
But Israeli intelligence and initiative, the same qualities that bring forth Nobel prizes, high-tech prowess and a flourishing armaments industry, are not being harnessed to achieve peace. And when the former Shin Bet security service chief says that negotiations with the Palestinians were neglected due to coalition considerations, he is targeted by the slick propaganda of irresponsible politicians and tendentious journalists, who issue personal and embarrassing insults, and complain about "style" and "timing," with nary a word addressing the man's hair-raising claim.
Now, it seems, we will soon have an election, and Israelis will allow their candidates to sell them a horizon without peace. How is that possible?
Apparently this obsession with security has made Israelis addicted to militarism. The difference between means and ends, between tactics and strategy, has been blurred. Everyone seems to have forgotten that Sparta didn't last long and Masada fell by the sword.
To mark the 64th anniversary of Israeli sovereignty, interviews with the chief of staff were the main media feature and pictures of the Israel Air Force flyover remain the definitive symbol of Independence Day. The flyover was on the front page of all the following day's newspapers, with one showing an F-15 in the skies of Tel Aviv under the headline, "A moment of pride." The tired picture of the same fighter jets in the skies over Auschwitz is also considered by many to be the ultimate achievement of the Zionist enterprise.
What are we so proud of? Of made-in-America war machines that were purchased with millions of dollars of American aid and are flown by Israelis to mark national holidays or days of mourning?
The real pride will be when we can again send a dove of peace to the skies, with an olive branch in its beak, for the glory of the State of Israel.