Shooting and Shuddering

Recently, it seems that for the first time there is a complete, stoic acceptance of our bloody cycle of violence.

The Israeli reality does not always evince Shakespearean theatrical skills, but now and then it is able to provide well-made drama. For one thing, it sometimes launches to the front of the stage - from among the cloaks of the evil characters and the gloomy kings - the figure of the Fool: He provides comic interludes that sometimes only emphasize the seriousness of events. For a number of years now, this character has been played here, with considerable success, by Benjamin (Fuad) Ben-Eliezer (currently National Infrastructures Minister): A person whose somewhat buffoon-like appearance, rolling tongue and many years as a kind of courtier with access to the castles of the government and army is apparently allowed to speak aloud, without coming to much harm (but also without doing much good), all the things that are better left unsaid.

And thus, the man who a week ago said of Defense Minister Ehud Barak all the things that everyone else did not dare to say, this week fired off a triple-whammy: First he threatened Iran with total destruction if it attacks Israel, then he informed us that "hundreds of missiles are going to fall on Israel. There won't be anywhere in the country that isn't in the range of Syria's and Hezbollah's missiles and rockets." And for dessert, he added that nothing will come of the talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), that Marwan Barghouti should be released from prison, that we should talk with him and that we need the diplomatic process more than the Palestinians do.

All of this is true - so what? These are the sorts of things that "we don't dare speak"; the public likes to repress them and the policymakers prefer to wrap them up in empty verbiage.

And so too the countrywide "home-front exercise" that was held this week aroused the whole predictable wealth of reactions - from "expression of satisfaction" by those responsible for its "success," through media ridicule to giggles of relief and amusement ("It's just an exercise") by the participants in the play - those who pretended to be killed, those who pretended to be wounded and those who pretended to be rescuers.

Of all the reactions, only one was lacking, one that is truly requisite: regret. Regret and sadness that, even after 60 years of independence, after wars of choice and wars of no choice, after hundreds of generals and thousands of hours of diplomatic negotiations, "the next war" still hovers over us like a permanent cloud. The war for which the "preparation," with the running to non-existent shelters and the home front's insecurity, has already established itself as way of life that is taken for granted.

Ostensibly we have come a long way with respect to security, strategically, but the fact of Israel being a "regional power" with an apocalyptic arsenal for deterrence and punishment is not felt in Sderot, or in Ashkelon or "beyond" Ashkelon and not even in Haifa, which was bombed only two years ago. And coming soon - not in Tel Aviv either. In some respects our situation is worse than it used to be; after all, in the past there was at least a sense that the home front was protected and that the hopes for peace were ahead of us and not behind us.

There have always been those here who argued that there is no solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and that at best it is possible to manage it intelligently. Nevertheless, even when it was swept into the violence of terror attacks and reprisals, Israel never desisted from attempts to break somehow this nihilistic cycle: by doing good or doing ill, with rational thought or with gut reactions, with unilateral withdrawals or with crushing actions.

Recently, however, at least since Ehud Barak became defense minister, it seems that for the first time there is a complete, stoic acceptance here of this bloody cycle. Not only that, but the work of setting it spinning again is being done with a kind of creative exuberance that sometimes equals that of the Palestinian organizations.

As the futile diplomatic talks fade away into the unknown and are forgotten, center stage is again being taken by the production of "operations that will yet be spoken of": assassinations, provocative attacks, blood revenge and "settling of old accounts," even in the clear knowledge that these will once again ignite the region. And thus after every day of rejoicing come long days of shuddering and trembling before the terrible retaliation (but then, "we will know how to respond," and so on and so forth).

Maybe it is possible to break out of this: with dialogue, with truces, with tacit understandings, or with a sweeping, aggressive or conciliatory move. But there is something flawed in our play: The solution is always suggested by the Fool, not the king.