We the Living / Necrophilia

The cabinet meeting began on an encouraging note yesterday, when the prime minister announced to the world that construction in Jerusalem is just like construction in Tel Aviv. In a detailed, orderly manner, he reminded us of past pronouncements that augured ill but ended for the better.

On the eve of Menachem Begin's departure for Camp David, he announced that he would relocate his permanent residence to the settlement of Naot Sinai. Before Ariel Sharon's first visit to Washington, he proclaimed that Tel Aviv shared the same fate as the Gaza settlement of Netzarim. We all know how that turned out. An erect posture before takeoff is sometimes a guarantee of a hunched back upon landing. If only Netanyahu would act as Begin and Sharon did in their time.

The cabinet meeting started promisingly. It's just a shame that it ended with a disappointment. You have to believe that the Labor ministers' discomfort, which Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog talks about in this newspaper today, is getting worse. But it's preferable to suffer from transient depression inside the government than chronic depression outside. For example, in the opposition.

The cabinet decided by one vote against building a bomb-proof wing at the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon in an appropriately designated area. Instead, the wing will be built further away. Construction will be put off by at least a year, costing us at least NIS 150 million.

Much like Abraham paid 400 shekels of silver to Ephron the Hittite for a plot of land to bury his wife Sarah, we will all pay hundreds of millions of shekels to Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman for quiet on the coalition front. Your dead have been buried, so they must not be disturbed while they rest in peace. Those bones can be disturbed only if they do not belong to Jewish people but rather pagans, whose memory we are commanded to protest. Anybody who is not Jewish is simply a heathen.

We bow our heads in respect to the Health Ministry's director-general, Dr. Eitan Hai-Am, who is resigning in protest - if only there were many others like him. And we shame those who are quick to take his place.

While the decision itself is a scary one, what it symbolizes is horrifying: In the eyes of the Israeli government, the dead take precedent over the living. Judging by its policy, this is a necrophilic government. Say the word "grave" and it will tell you its preferences. If the Haredi parties prostrate themselves on this gravesite, then the wisdom of their ministers is wholly undetectable to the naked eye, as is their accountability.

Gravesites take precedence over security, which in itself has become a subject of Israeli idolatry, because the delay in construction is tantamount to endangering lives. Maybe luck will betray us and a Qassam rocket will land on somebody's head.

The dead don't care. They have time and patience, and they won't die a second time. But the living can wait. It's not like there's anything urgent going on as rockets explode nearby.

This is how decisions on all issues pertaining to life and death are reached in Jerusalem. The dead have the right of way, and the wholeness of the coalition takes precedence over everything. Interior Minister Eli Yishai is allowed to come unhinged and build everywhere in Jerusalem, and Litzman is allowed to come unglued and build in just one spot in Ashkelon, the one site that has been chosen by his reckless rabbis.

The dead will not sing their praises, but the living will continue to exalt the virtues of our heavenly ambassadors and their gatekeepers. Just wait and see - the next time the voting booths are opened and the ballots are counted, their wicked god will emerge from the blue box.