The Sleepwalkers

The napping syndrome is beginning to look endemic, like a contagious disease transmitted by the tsetse fly in Africa. A whole government fell asleep in the hot summer.

Sleep is good for your health, but when sleep sneaks up on leaders of countries in mid-activity it's not good for public health. Our own Ehud Olmert was recently caught sleeping at the height of a ceremony, and this week he dozed again during a visit to the north of the country. And Shimon Peres was caught doing the same during a television interview. One's heart melts at the sight of the fallen eyelids.

What does an ordinary person do when he's tired? He lies down. But Olmert has to prove that with him it's dubious business as usual, while Peres proves that he's as energetic as an indefatigable hyperactive kid.

Your breath is taken away by the art of the doze. The sleep of the more-or-less just doesn't stop the prime minister from delivering congratulations at the ceremony, or from promising to improve bomb shelters during his visit to the North. Nor does it prevent his energizer deputy from continuing the interview with his chin drooping on his chest. After all, Olmert is a past master at uttering recycled promises and well-worn cliches while only partly conscious, and Peres is capable of warning Iran in his sleep. If Mahmoud Ahmadinejad watched the interview, he must have been appalled to see that his threats are being received here with equanimity.

Well, maybe this is the right way to shame our enemies and put them in their place. The napping syndrome is not confined to these two alone. It's beginning to look endemic, like a contagious disease transmitted by the tsetse fly in Africa. A whole government fell asleep in the hot summer, as the Winograd Committee described so vividly. A smidgen here, a morsel there, the committee sprinkled praise on those who batted an eyelid or exhibited rapid eye movement on their watch. In the end, though, the committee deleted even the shadow of praise, as the chief interogee complained - all compliments about him were devoured.

Cabinet minister Avi Dichter, for example, dozed and dozed until he suddenly snapped out of it and cried out this week about the abandonment of a citizen who was run over. He even sat down and wrote a moving article, one of those palm-clasping, finger-wrenching pieces about how we have deteriorated - "My soul finds no surcease," he wrote.

A pity that Dichter, previously in the Shin Bet, now in the police, doesn't snap out of it more frequently to cry out about bleeding soldiers awaiting a delayed evacuation, about sick people and women in labor at checkpoints, about homosexuals who are beaten up by cops, about foreign workers who are brutally persecuted and about Darfur refugees who are locked in by Dichter's men. It's not enough to know when to sleep - you also have to know when to wake up.

Yuli Tamir, the minister of education, is also asleep while her colleague's policemen pound students and drag them like carcasses in the market, while Leora Meridor and Avraham Shochat volunteer to skin them. And Dalia Itzik, acting president and full-time speaker, is not only sleeping but also dreaming, and in her dream Jerusalem is compacted together, and masses of ambassadors flock to it and raise it above their chief joy. And Daniel Friedmann, the justice minister, closes his eyes when unqualified judges are appointed in the religious courts and opens them when someone requests that we appoint worthy judges. And it's unnecessary to mention a defense minister who, it's true, doesn't get enough sleep at night, but dozes during the day to muster strength as chairman ahead of the party primaries.

First it was "quiet, we're shooting," and then "quiet, we're sleeping," and the public is asked not to disturb the sleep of the just. One wants to call to them in the spirit of the great poem, Arise, desert errants, come out of the slumber.

On second thought, the heart reveals to the mouth that it's better for them to continue traveling in their sleeper car, as on a night trip to Sderot. One can never know when the harm they do is worse: in their sleep or while awake; sleep and slumber, keeper of Israel.