Nurturing a Trauma
August 2005
An outsider looking at recent events in our little country would surely be impressed by the method and professionalism with which the 'Disengagement Trauma' is being constructed. Government authorities, the military and police, the settlers, the extreme-right organizations, the communications media - they all appear to be working in perfect coordination to demonstrate to the world and to ourselves that moving some 8000 settlers back to their homeland is an awful trauma for Israeli society, morally, socially and economically.

The purpose of constructing this trauma is perfectly obvious - if it is so painful to do this with just 8000 people, it would be unimaginable with regard to the 120,000 settlers on the West Bank!

It seems obvious that this grand production, in which all the participants know their roles and play them to perfection, while empathizing with 'the other side', was devised by talented PR people and is carried out by highly skilful central staff and field operatives. The weakness of this spectacle lies in its transparency - you simply cannot fail to notice the crude stitches, the lack of spontaneity, the pre-arrangement, the guiding hand. This is not to say that there are no genuine emotions involved, strong passions, frustrations and despair. What I am saying is that these emotions are cleverly channelled by brilliant manipulators into a 'national trauma' with obvious political objectives on which all the sides involved in this so-called struggle are in full agreement.

This strategy contains two potential dangers:
1) When incitement is part of the program, there is always a risk that certain individuals would take the demagoguery seriously and carry out a real atrocity, with unforeseen consequences. The terrorist attack by a Kahane disciple in Shfaram was such a case. Yet, despite the general shock at the horrible act, it was not likely to lead to a significant political development. The real danger lies in the possibility that a similar crime would be committed against the Palestinian population in the Occupied Territories. In that setting, a deadly terrorist act could indeed have grave long-term consequences.

2) Riding the tiger of religious-political fanaticism is an extremely dangerous exercise. Our political and security systems have already dealt with two such insane policies in the past twenty years - first, the cultivation of Hizbollah in the 1980s as a 'balancing force' against the Shiite movement 'Amal', which was predominant among the Shiites of Southern Lebanon; later, building up 'Hamas' as a counter-force to the PLO. It appears that the Israeli authorities have learned nothing from these fiascos. Perhaps they believe that Jewish religious-political zealots are essentially different from their Muslim opposite numbers. Well, they are not!

I am not suggesting that the orange demonstrations of the past few weeks indicate an attempt at a religious-nationalist uprising, or even at undermining democracy. Indeed these forces and their well-coordinated confrontations with the army and police have forced the authorities to question seriously, for the first time, issues of police violence and the legality of such measures as preventing buses from setting out to a demonstration (an experience familiar to Israeli peace campaigners); of the civil right to demonstrate (likewise restricted repeatedly when exercised by the Left); of the use of various means of dispersing angry demonstrations (e.g., tear-gas, rubber bullets, let alone live fire, etc.).  

On the other hand, this does not mean that the religious-nationalist elements do not intend in future, in certain potential circumstances, to seize power even by force. They are well organized, many of their young men serve in military units created for them, most of them carry weapons, and they have loyal supporters throughout the armed forces, even in the lower and middle officer ranks. Their rabbis do not hide their belief that 'God's authority' (i.e., their own) is higher than the State's, and they have latent supporters throughout the structure of government. Above all, they refuse to acknowledge the State as the highest source of legal power, and their loyalty to their rabbis and to what they call 'the Torah' has in reality replaced their loyalty to the State of Israel and its institutions. So the possibility of such a power seizure does exist, and so does the suitable setting. But it will not happen now. Not yet.

Had the Government really intended to evacuate the settler population from the Gaza Strip in order to advance an inclusive and honourable peace accord with the Palestinian people, it could have done what the French government did in Algeria - announce six months in advance that, from 15 August 2005, the Israeli authorities would maintain no more representation in the Gaza Strip. The armed forces would vacate the region, the State institutions would lock their offices, the switches of the electrical and water systems would be turned off, and control of the region would be handed over to the Palestinian administration, police and military. Every settler family would have a handsome sum, between 750,000 and 1,000,000 Shekels, deposited in their bank account in Israel - and that would be the end of it. The settlers are adults and should be able to cope with the change, given appropriate help by the State.

But this was not the way it was done. You cannot construct a trauma without 'action', without forcible evacuation, without scenes of soldiers and policemen beating or weeping, settlers cursing, women settlers with babies in their arms wailing aloud. Without all these it would be impossible to convince the nation - and the outside world - that it would be impossible to withdraw from the West Bank, to evacuate any more settlements - impossible psychologically, operationally and indeed financially.

The spectacle will end in mid-August. The crisis will come when the planners of the grandiose project will discover that while some Israelis have understood and internalized the message, the world at large has not.

Anybody who imagines that the Palestinians, with their diverse organizations, which are or are not subordinate to the weak Palestinian Authority, would accept an agreement that would not include in their future state all of the West Bank and East Jerusalem - as well as the Gaza Strip - is living in cloud-cuckoo-land.

I very much fear that a lot of blood will yet be shed, and our society will continue on its moral and economic downward spiral, before it finally understands that there is no other solution to this conflict.

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