Why should I make up stories if my life provides them one after the other? I’ve always suffered and enjoyed the curse of having a too-interesting life.
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My first meeting with him was 15 years ago. The Shalvata mental health center had invited me, as minister, to see what the Education Ministry could do for the patients.
We toured the place and talked with the patients about their needs. Toward the end of the visit I received an offer I should have refused — to visit the closed ward, where the dangerous patients were kept. What could I do? Look like a coward?
We had barely opened the locks when a large muscular man walloped me in the face. I remember my glasses flying into the air; I staggered like a blind man but didn’t fall. The security guards were caught off guard. Only Tal Mehi, my driver and friend from Sderot, kept his composure and overcame the assailant.
After we calmed down and set off, I thought to myself: Wasn’t that a normal reaction for a mad man in the presence of an unwanted guest? Haven't you ever felt you’re going crazy in days of anxiety and hatred? I have.
Then I remembered a similar story that Ehud Olmert, the health minister at the time, told the Knesset after visiting a similar institution in Jerusalem. A patient ran after him shouting “Menachem Begin – a great man, and outstanding leader; Yossi Sarid – a dog, a son of a bitch.” To the minister he sounded perfectly sane.
Lo and behold, last week at the bus station I bumped into the guy from Shalvata. “Do you know me?” he asked? I said no. He told me his name and how we had once met at the institution. “I was feeling very unwell at the time and punched you,” he said. “For many years I’ve wanted to ask you to forgive me.”
“I’ve already forgiven you,” I said. But he held my hand and wanted to make sure. “Are you just saying that?” I assured him and we hugged. “How did you get there when you were feeling unwell,” I asked.
“I was a soldier in the Givati Brigade, and the whole time we only went into Gaza and out, in and out. Gaza drove me crazy.”
He’s not the only one. Gaza is driving Israel crazy, from the days of David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Dayan and Ariel Sharon to Benjamin Netanyahu and Moshe Ya’alon in the past month. Gaza blurs the line inside us between sanity and disease. Only a wise nation could be so foolish as to rule Gaza from within or without.
How awful that place is, in its starvation for bread and life. And now, in 29 days, Gaza has been turned over. A refugee flees a sniper at Khirbet Khizeh, the Arab village in S. Yizhar’s 1949 novel, then he’s hit by a missile in the Gaza town of Khuza’a 66 years later. And if all the donkeys in the area drop dead, what will the Givati Brigade commander’s messiah ride on?
“When Hamas leaders come out of their hiding places, they won’t believe their eyes,” the commentators recited in unison. And what about us? Do we believe what it is in Gaza that drives us crazy? It scares us — of ourselves.
What more harm or evil can we cause them and us in the desperate encounter between the third generation after the Holocaust and the third generation of Nakba refugees? Gaza is the ugliest scar on our face, which we furiously try to erase. Each time we reopen the wound.
The sanctimonious Golda Meir once said we’ll never forgive the Arabs for making us kill them. Operation Protective Edge forces us to update this dictum – we’ll never forgive these criminals who are turning us into war criminals, too.