'Celebrations' That Miss the Point

In our changing world, with a government that can't find its way, but is preparing for another war, can anyone guess what we will be 'celebrating' during the course of the 21st century?

The idea of demolishing the houses in Beit El's Ulpana neighborhood reminds me of a Jewish joke about the "wisdom" of the people of Chelm. Early in the morning the sexton used to walk through the streets of Chelm to remind people that it was time for the Shaharit morning prayer. One day the weatherman announced that snow was expected the following day. The locals didn't want the sexton's footprints to spoil the beauty of the blanket of snow, so the city's wise men convened for an urgent meeting to find a solution. It was decided: Tomorrow, four men will carry the sexton on their shoulders.

Just at this time - when an entire country is perturbed about the houses in the Ulpana neighborhood and the prime minister defeated a bill to legalize settlement outposts built on private Palestinian land - the country is involved in two "celebrations": the 30th anniversary of the Lebanon war and the 45th anniversary of the Six-Day War. The Six-Day War was preceded by days of anxiety in Israel, and among world Jewry, due to threats Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser was making on the radio that Egypt intended to massacre the Jews.

I was in Paris at the time, and was at one of the amazing demonstrations that took place in front of the Israeli embassy. It's hard to forget the sight of conductor Arthur Rubinstein, semi-conscious, crying and shouting, "They'll kill all of us," as French President Charles de Gaulle, a tough man, warned us not to fire the first shot. Not only did we not take his advice, but the Egyptian air force ended up being destroyed by French planes. De Gaulle's furious response was an embargo and a switch to a pro-Arab policy.

The country was hypnotized by its own military might. Its leaders, who didn't understand that what we had captured wasn't ours, made no effort to translate the military victory into a diplomatic achievement. Moshe Dayan said that he "was waiting for a phone call," Golda Meir announced that "there is no Palestinian people." And it was actually Mapai - the predecessor of the Labor Party - that began to build in the territories. While Israel was waiting for a phone call, its exaggerated self-confidence led it into the War of Attrition.

The first Lebanon war was born during Prime Minister Menachem Begin's second term, following political upheaval. Ariel Sharon was the defense minister and Raful (Rafael Eitan ) was chief of staff - appointed by Ezer Weizman as a man of action "who doesn't jabber like his predecessor [Motta Gur]"; and in fact, his coronation speech contained 12 words. But from then on he didn't shut his mouth. Sharon and he concocted the Lebanon war, misleading both the government and the public.

To this day it is not clear whether or not Begin knew what a mess he was getting the country into. In any case, when he went on his famous visit to Lebanon's Beaufort fortress, he looked confused. He asked one of the officers, "Did they have machine guns?" The embarrassed officer answered in the affirmative. Another question was, "Was it hand-to-hand combat?" This appearance reinforced the suspicion that Begin may have fallen victim to Sharon's description of the war's objective.

Begin summoned Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, the leaders of the opposition, and explained to them that it was a matter of clearing a 40-kilometer strip of land in Lebanon in order to prevent the terrorists from firing on Israel's northern communities from there. It's a matter of 48 hours, he said. "Maybe even 24 hours," added Sharon, who was present at one of the meetings. The Knesset approved the operation, and only a single MK voted against it, Yossi Sarid. And so, instead of engaging in the ostensible defense of the northern settlements, our tanks quickly found themselves in the plaza of the Lebanese parliament in Beirut. The goal was to bring the Maronite Jumayel family to power. Simply incredible.

Did Begin know? Did the government approve, or was this a war of deception as many claim? On June 20, 1982, during Begin's visit to Washington for a meeting with President Ronald Reagan, the prime minister declared at a Jewish convention: "We will not leave Lebanon without peace, even if they shout 'Gevalt.'" We couldn't swallow it and we couldn't spit it up, we were stuck there for about 20 years, until we left overnight.

Both in the first and second Lebanon wars we should have understood that it's not enough that the Israel Defense Forces are strong and can go anywhere. The time has come to wake up from the dream that it's possible to build a new Middle East by force. The humanitarian situation in the region calls upon us to find another way. As then-Egyptian President Anwar Sadat said to Begin the very last time the two leaders met, "Menachem, at this moment 50,000 mouths [who will have to be fed] were born in Egypt." Only now can we understand what he meant, only now do we see how desperate the situation truly was.

We are celebrating the 45th anniversary of the Six-Day War, the 30th anniversary of the first Lebanon war. In our changing world, with a government that can't find its way, but is preparing for another war, can anyone guess what we will be "celebrating," God forbid, during the course of the 21st century?