The Elephant in the Middle of the Room

A moderate rank-and-file settler must be horrified at those who are now presuming to represent him, and who look like a cruder caricature than the last of 'the leftists' could have ever imagined.

The closer the disengagement gets, the more reminiscent it is of the famous story of the Blind Men and the Elephant: Each blind man feels a different part of the elephant with his hands the trunk, the tail, a leg and is convinced that this represents the essence of the entire thing. In the same way, some of the security-oriented people consider the disengagement an answer to terror, and others who are feeling its hind parts consider it support for terror; those who are feeling the governmental aspect consider it a test of democracy and the rule of law; the left is feeling the evacuation plan and is convinced that it is the start of the return to the 1967 borders, while the settlers are feeling the trucks and see it as a Holocaust; Sharon's office is feeling the international satisfaction, and sees it as a long political pause. This may be the source of the results of the latest surveys, which indicate that most of the public supports the disengagement, but is divided as to whether it will help or harm us.

However, while feeling this strange animal perhaps a mammoth, perhaps an ancient mastodon clear outlines of a real and frightening entity are being consolidated. Maybe this is "the elephant in the middle of the room" (in the words of the expression that describes a very oppressive and obvious problem, which everyone is careful not to even mention, because of fear of confronting it). In our case, the "elephant" is the repressed truth about the true nature and essence of the settlers' movement.

For a generation, the "settlers' leaders" were able to camouflage and perhaps even to repress from their own consciousness the true essence of their movement, and that was part of the secret of their success: With the camouflage ability of a chameleon, like Woody Allen's "Zelig," these masters of disguise managed to perform on our stages as men of all historical seasons. To their credit it should be said, that more than they cunningly disguised themselves, they were reflected in the eyes of the beholder through mists of anachronism, nostalgia and inertia. To the Yigal Allons and the Yisrael Galilis, they looked like the Yiddishkeit version of the socialist Achdut Haavoda party; to the Begins and the Shamirs, they looked like members of the right-wing Betar movement and followers of Trumpeldor; to the Guris and the Naomi Shemers, they seemed like the successors of the Palmach and the kibbutz (although with a small crocheted skullcap, which was almost invisible behind the mane of hair and the good looks); to the Rafuls and the Sharons they seemed like a civilian version in a checked flannel shirt of the peulot hatagmul, the acts of retaliation against Arabs; to the yuppies they looked like upwardly mobile strivers, living five minutes from Kfar Sava. Is it any wonder that their act succeeded for so many years?Until the disengagement came and changed the rules of the game. Suddenly all the camouflage and the masks were torn away; suddenly all the quasi-logical "settlement," "security," "agricultural" and demographic reasons were pushed aside. They were replaced by mystical explanations, openly messianic terminology, yellow flags of "the Messiah"; comparisons to the Binding of Isaac, and other exaggerations in sermons by perhaps-rabbis, perhaps-inciters ("This war is about God and his Messiah, and we see it as a war over everything" Rabbi Kaminetsky; "This is going to exile" the "moderate" Rabbi Rosenne); statements such as "we are the soldiers of the army of Yesha," and outright declarations of war against the Israeli state, its symbols, its government and its army, all these exposed the authentic mystery of the settlement movement, as it really is: a messianic, mystical, fanatically religious sect, whose aim is to drive a spike into the heart of Israeliness and to operate as a separate regiment even within the army opposed to any attempt at normal nationalism.

The opponents of the disengagement could have continued to play their game had they planned their actions wisely; had they, for example, attacked the genuine and earthly weak points of the disengagement. But in the trance of religious-messianic extremism that they have whipped themselves into, the settlers have eroded their own weapons and sealed their own fate. And perhaps that is the power of the primeval truth, that it bursts out in the end with unstoppable force: When faced with the possibility of the evacuation of Gush Katif, it erupted like lava, and behold, it is entirely religious-messianic, destructive, totally nuts.

For years, the settlers tried to hide the fact that their demonstrations are almost always limited to wearers of skullcaps and headscarves. Now they are no longer attempting or able to deny the messianic-religious nature, and the fact that with their tricks and their "demonstrations" which have turned into a declared revolt against the state they attract everything that is marginal, eccentric and crazed, as long as it is covered with a cloak of "religion" and is fighting Israeliness. Is there any greater alienation and self-defeat than what the settlers are now doing to themselves? A moderate rank-and-file settler must be horrified at those who are now presuming to represent him, and who look like a cruder caricature than the last of "the leftists" could have ever imagined. But it is not a caricature it is apparently the image itself.

It takes quite an effort to enumerate the positive aspects of the disengagement. Here is one of them, perhaps the main one: In a chain reaction, which has been caused by the settlers themselves, the frontal confrontation with the elephant in the middle of the national room has become unavoidable.