The Lure of Madness

Going crazy, which does have its pleasures, is a luxury that we cannot afford, but sanity is the first thing from which our leaders sober up.

Had an international board of experts convened to invent that action that exemplifies the quintessence of a national march of folly, it is doubtful that it would have achieved the perfection of the launching of rockets from the Gaza Strip into pre-1967 Israel. Even in comparison with past records for silliness, self-defeating behavior and missed opportunities, this is without a doubt a new Palestinian record.

It is doubtful that even the launchers of the rockets could state the purpose, or explain the usefulness, of attacks from within the very territory that Israel evacuated to the last meter: What are they trying to prove by this? That the Palestinians are incapable of behaving, and are not even trying to behave, like a normal state entity? That the "resistance" has become an end in itself, and will not stop at the Green Line (pre-1967 borders), or even at the Partition Plan borders? Or perhaps - which is worse - there is not even any plan, but rather a kind of demented nihilism that has become a self-definition?

It is a nightmare in its own right to fight an enemy whose logic, or even the method in his madness, you are already sick and tired of trying to understand. But it is a doubled and redoubled nightmare when we also have to deal with demons of our own, who are no less loony. Especially the sort who tempt us again and again to respond to their irrationality with illogic of our own and to get swept up together in the joys of reciprocal lunacy and self-defeating behavior, which has already been going on for generations.

And indeed, the mutual deterrence system of Israelis and Palestinians is reminiscent of the joke about the lunatic who threatened to jump off the roof and was persuaded to climb down only after another lunatic threatened to cut down the building with a razor, "because that nut is capable of doing that."

Israel's self-image is indeed one of a rational state, and the world still expects it to behave like the region's responsible adult. This self-perception also triggers our didactic, arrogant and moralistic view of the Arabs. However, alongside the sanity, the pragmatism and the resourcefulness that have contributed to Israel's impressive achievements, there has always existed a certain yearning that comes and goes, depending on the times and the depth of our despair over our neighbors: the temptation to go crazy. The dream of one day shedding the cover of fairness, restraint and purity of arms and acting like one of "the crazy states" (to use an expression coined by Professor Yehezkel Dror). A totally unpredictable state, exempt from responsibilities for its actions, horrifying its neighbors.

In this fantasy, after a series of provocations and annoyances in which "the notebook is open and the hand is writing" (as Levi Eshkol warned on the eve of the catharsis of the Six-Day War), Israel, like a lion maddened with fury, suddenly shakes itself and wreaks indiscriminate demolition and destruction all around it, and without the High Court of Justice or B'Tselem (The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Territories), drops bombs that weigh a ton, assassinates Arab leaders like Al Capone in the Saint Valentine's Day massacre, razes entire neighborhoods, shakes the windows in Arab capitals, destroys bridges and infrastructure, turns off the electricity and just plain shoots like a madman with all the weapons in its possession, even it has no clear effect - just because it has them. And then the Arabs will come crawling and say: "Okay, take everything, we've been convinced to make peace..."

The trouble with this fantasy is - how can we put this delicately? - that it has already come true. And more than once. In fact, it comes true every Monday and Thursday. And not only that, it has also worn thin through so much use: When F-15 planes are sent to destroy a metal workshop or kill a leader in a wheelchair and hordes of tanks gallop after launchers of primitive rockets and ministries and palaces of Arab leaders are destroyed twice a month, something of the cathartic effect of the redemptive craziness is lost, and everything becomes just barren routine. Moreover, we have already tried everything: occupation, deportation, withdrawal, bombardment, razing, re-occupation, closure, encirclement.

But the moment always comes when even the most moderate, balanced and benevolent prime minister "can't take it any longer" in the face of our neighbors' folly and cruelty: Only yesterday, he talked about "sangfroid," but now - after a big attack, and especially after an "attack on the army's honor" - he bangs on the table, like his predecessor, and declares that "the landlord has gone crazy," "the earth will shake" and "the restraint has ended." Now occupation, deportation, withdrawal, bombardment, razing, re-occupation, closure, encirclement and terror attacks will do the talking. And if this sounds tediously familiar, it is not because of us; it is because of them.

Despite the impassioned atmosphere among both the media and the public and despite the professional panic-mongers ("because of the soldier's abduction, the whole country is hanging by a thread" - Likud MK Benjamin Netanyahu this week), it must be remembered that we have won and survived until now thanks to cunning, sobriety, resourcefulness, sangfroid and trickery. Going crazy, which does have its pleasures, is a luxury that we cannot afford.

But this week, after about two months on the job, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's turn has come to bang on the table and announce craziness-until-the-Americans-stop-us. This just goes to show that sanity is the first thing from which our leaders sober up.