The Beauty of Inertia

On the one hand our leaders speak lofty words, on the other they cling to the status quo for fear that in the future the situation will be even worse.

Of the innumerable cliches that landed on our heads like fireworks on Independence Day this week, one sentence stood out. It was said offhandedly and seemed to sum up in a few words everything that Israeli leaders tried to say in dozens of speeches. It was an Israel Defense Forces officer, who uttered a kind of ultimate wish to a television reporter. "I hope," he said against the backdrop of tanks and armored vehicles, "that in the next 62 years we will continue to do what we did in the past 62 years."

No senior official, from the most festive of platforms, summed up as well as he the mentality that motivates our leaders, and perhaps us all, in the Israel of 2010. He meant well, the old boy, he wanted to utter words of encouragement. It's not his fault that his words revealed a pathetic truth: In the absence of any positive vision, with the total loss of hope for peace ("Not one minister in the forum of seven believes in peace with the Palestinians," as Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon put it), without any desire for change, with a built-in and profound fear of the future, whatever it may be, only one wish and slight hope remains: inertia, just surviving.

We hope it will never end, whatever it is, as long as it's familiar: On the one hand the achievements of technology, agriculture and the economy, on the other a dozen wars, an occasional military campaign, gas masks, a surprise from our intelligence agencies, opening IDF bases to the public on Independence Day, the Bible Quiz, settlers hitting soldiers, rejecting peace plans out of hand, diplomatic isolation.

Did we say "never end"? Let's be satisfied with renewing the contract for another leasing period of 62 years. And then, as Defense Minister Ehud Barak likes to say, "The IDF will know what to do."

Israeli leaders' relation to time may be unique in the world: On the one hand they swear an oath and speak lofty words (as did the president, prime minister and foreign minister on Independence Day) about specific units of time like "forever and ever" and "never" in which we will stand up for our rights and work energetically. On the other hand they cling to the status quo, whether diplomatic, military and political, for fear that in the future the situation will be even worse.

Only in the period of time that includes the present and the immediate future - which is the leader's bread and butter - nothing can be found except for the "Concerns in Jerusalem." The only personal and national vision is to carry on until the end of his term and end it without a commission of inquiry, police investigation or an International Court of Justice. And the only direction left for activity is the past: embracing national heritage sites, studying biblical verses, swearing every day by a new archaeological "rock of our existence" and announcing (as did the Education Ministry) a project for setting the Declaration of Independence to music. Next week maybe they'll announce choreography for Operation Entebbe.

Meanwhile, Israel is becoming a kind of museum piece: anachronistic, frozen in place, fragile and not to be touched, stuck somewhere in the 1980s. Occasionally, like a former star who hopes to make a comeback, it still tries to restore its former glory with some military initiative or a daring assassination operation with mass participation. Like Norma Desmond in "Sunset Boulevard," Israel informs Cecil B. DeMille that it's ready for its close-up, without understanding why catcalls, rotten tomatoes and extradition orders have replaced the former cheers and admiration.

Even an age-old sight has a moment of birth, said the poet Alterman, and to that we can add that even a birthday sometimes has an age-old look. Independence Day has become popular despite, and perhaps because of, its strict secular and sometimes grotesque rules of ceremony and ritual, which focus mainly on the worship of national symbols and the army.

But when every day we have a holiday of declarations and oaths, and not even one ordinary moment of activity, and when all the days of the year resemble one big childish Independence Day with lots of nationalist gestures, symbols, flag-waving and an IDF display, who notices the difference?