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Israel's Obsessive Worship of the Dead

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Air force navigator Ron Arad, in an image published in 2008.
Air force navigator Ron Arad, in an image published in 2008.Credit: AFP
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

The insane hunt for the body of missing Israeli navigator Ron Arad can only be described as state-sponsored necrophilia. This search is not the only symptom of necrophilia in Israel’s behavior, especially in recent years, but it is the most serious.

Israel searched for the watch belonging to Eli Cohen, a spy that was executed more than half a century ago, for the overalls and shoes belonging to Zachary Baumel, returned draped in the national flag in a morbid ceremony in the Russian president’s office, and still for the remains of the two soldiers killed in Gaza.

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A country that scorns human lives when it comes to others sanctifies the bodies of its own dead. It’s always supposedly done in the name of values, always half the world is involved in it, orchestrated by Israel’s dark entities, which can once again demonstrate the secret of their glory. And it always raises questions as to the rationality and mental health of those behind these sick operations.

As if this were not enough, Israel also trades and profiteers from the bodies. Its refrigerators are full of them; it holds dozens of bodies of Palestinians as “bargaining chips.” If that isn’t necrophilia, what is.

Everyone is satisfied. The bereaved families, the only ones whom the matter involves, are longing to know as much as possible about their loved ones; the media blows up the stories to grotesque proportions purely for profit – stories of pain and heroism sell – and of course, the entities of darkness that get another opportunity to add to their halo of mystery and to their budgets. Open a grave in Lebanon, abduct an Iranian general in Syria and get headlines.

And the prime ministers love it too: Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu across from Vladimir Putin with Baumel’s shoes; Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is new, but he has already revealed a scoop in the Knesset. Operation Arad failed again, but the headline in the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth was: “Israel’s long arm,” as they love, as their readers love. A security official said the operation “advanced Israel” (where to?) and “focused efforts” (on what?). An obligatory text in every lesson in linguistic acrobatics.

What’s so bad, ostensibly? The state is looking after its soldiers, living and dead. It could be moving, but it could also be repulsive, infuriating and dangerous. When the necrophilia becomes the main thing, when lives are risked for it, when a huge amount of money is poured into it and when actions are taken that a law-abiding country should not take, we can’t be thrilled over the pyrotechnics.

Why is Israel allowed to abduct generals to Africa to pry information from them? Would it be legitimate to abduct Israeli generals to Africa to pry information about a dead Egyptian soldier? Was it legitimate to hold abductees from Lebanon in an Israeli prison and torture them for years, just to extricate information they didn’t have about a dead navigator?

There must be a moment at which a country puts an end to the insanity and says: “Let’s deal with the living.” But this is a country of secret agents. James Bond from al-Nabi Shayth cemetery in Lebanon, coming to theaters near you. Our eyes glisten, nobody’s better than we are. But the secret agent games never really lead anywhere, just like the targeted assassinations, whose power is mainly in the tall tales that go along with them. It’s not just a way to boast – we have the Mossad, which abducts people and opens graves everywhere – it’s another way of distracting attention from the important questions. The only discussion going on now is whether the operation failed, or whether it just didn’t succeed. Nobody asks what the purpose was.

What is the purpose of the bombings, targeted killings, sabotage, fires and mysterious incidents in Syria and Iran, if at the end Iran is a stone’s throw from a nuclear bomb? What came out of this, other than glory to the agencies of darkness?

And what came out of the targeted assassinations of Palestinians over the years, except to satisfy the urges of the perpetrators? There was a time when all these operations could be draped in security considerations. The Arad insanity could be draped in chatter about “heritage.” But in the end, the question we can’t avoid arises: When will we be weaned and grow up?

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