Avraham Burg: Disengagement
Disengagement, by Avraham Burg
LE MONDE | 17.08.05 | 13h20
[Translation updated 19 Aug 11:40 am--Nur]
The Disengagement Plan: the association of these two words has become so banal that the meaning has become a confused tangle. It’s better to lay bare the truth: the Israeli government has no real “plan”. It has nothing with which to fill the enormous black hole which has opened up in the Israeli soul.
This plan contains nothing authentic because it is merely a convenient ploy of the Prime Minister. But this “non-plan” has coalesced into a fine flower of Israeli political opportunism: the Labourite old guard is silenced by the ticking of their personal biological clock, other individuals are lured by ministerial posts and the clueless don’t understand what is going on. The process by which the plan was adopted swept away what little remained of Israeli political culture and has condemned us to this benched democracy, which has sprung up in the anarchy of the last few days.
Ariel Sharon has gone beyond all political convention. The contempt of the Prime Minister and his circle for the decisions of their party has demolished the fundamental principal of political life. The plan is bad not only for the offhand manner in which it was adopted; it is bad because of its provisions. The plan hasn’t a partner or a vision. It doesn’t look past its nose.
We are victims of an enormous fraud: the sacrifice of an insignificant and meaningless settlement area in Gaza on the edges of the Sinai in exchange for the perpetuation of misdeeds and the perversion of the Israeli soul in the heart of Hebron, in Ytzhar, Beit El and at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, transformed into an altar upon which our sons are bound.
And yet, it’s the best of the worst disengagements possible! After it’s over, not only will the face of our Israeli democratic politics emerge wrinkled and fatigued but from this point forward the national illusory enterprise termed, “colonization,” is on the path to its own inevitable destruction. Without a doubt this is the reason why it is worth paying such a high price!
The continuing existence of Israel is not ensured. No one knows if we will survive as a state or if we will be dispersed to the four winds. But I know one thing—redemption does not come through messianism, and territorial expansion will not bring us security. To the contrary. The more the far-flung colonies subject others in secret to the wrong to which those who despised us for generations had subjected us, the faster our national spirit races to its demise.
For a long time now, masked behind the label of “Zionism", there have been three narratives--half-fiction, half-reality,--which have conditioned Israeli attitudes: the security idol, the sanctification of colonies and the superiority of the Jewish religion. All powerful themes endowed with imposing means and objectives which have sanctified that which was once forbidden. And although over the last few years our moments of security have been fleeting and fragile intervals during which we renounced arms for an instant to negotiate, negotiation remains difficult for us.
Dialog has been erased as a concrete alternative from our consciousness. In the name of security, it is permitted to shoot and kill, to expropriate and dispossess and to harass and mistreat. Take all the talk by settlers about the “discrimination” and "oppression" they say they face, multiply it by any factor you please, and you will begin to feel what the Palestinians have felt for many long years without us paying the slightest attention.
An umbilical cord ties this false security to colonization. Although this illusion is regularly shattered with every war Israel has waged, security and the colonies have remained inextricably bound. The result? A protective barrier at our borders, a barrier around our colonies to guarantee their security, another to fence in the towns and villages –of the Palestinians- and yet another along the Jordan River. This country has become a walled compound in which a terrorized people is emprisoned. Do you call that security?
As to the Jewish religion, what infamy it is made to endure! So much contempt and racism are embedded in these words: A Jew does not expel another Jew – the colonists’ slogan. Belief in the superiority of one’s genes! The sovereignty of a master race, in the name of God. And a Jew who assassinates the Prime Minister—what would you call that?
A Jew is nothing but a man, with all his strengths and weaknesses. Nothing is innate or assured. The choice of the Jewish people by God is not a guarantee, nor does it come with a moral commitment or a constant drive to improve and to comport oneself with humanity. All that has been shoved aside to make way for the trident of deceit of these last few years: racist Judaism supported by violent colonization and protected behind a flawed notion of security.
But I call a halt when I hear settlers threaten “fratricidal conflict”. Are they my brothers? No! I have no genetic “brothers” other than my two sisters. But I have brothers and sisters who are of the same mind and who share the same values.
If you are an evil man, a whimpering oppressor or an occupier armed to the teeth, you are not my brother, even if you observe Sabbath and obey every religious rule in the book. And though a scarf may cover every hair on your head and you strive to practice charity and to do good works, if under that scarf there is a head which places the sanctification of “Jewish lands” before the sanctification of human life, then you are not my sister but my enemy.
Let’s be frank: There will be no “fratricidal conflict” here. Should a more violent conflict break out, it will be called civil war. Because this “conflict” does not oppose the children of the Jewish people in all their diversity. It is a pitiless battle between good and evil. All the “good” are on one side: our people and theirs, -the Palestinians-. Against the all the “bad”-- and they are in abundance.
The end of the classic Zionist narrative asks the question: what will be the future national Israeli narratives, assuming we are required to have them? Observing the present allows one to glimpse into the future. The orange ribbons of the opponents to disengagement are clearly linked to the yarmulke, the phylactery, the prayer shawl, prayer books and the vocabulary of religion.
The hard core springs primarily from the religious public: religious Zionists, ultra-orthodox nationalists and spiritual hybrids of new-age Judaism, which is manifested in unchecked barbarity on the hilltops of the West Bank.
Meanwhile, other members of Israeli society sit on the sidelines of the struggle. Israeli Arabs are out of the game while the majority of secular Jews watch in amazement the physical and mental “disengagement” of the religious settlers, who until recently held high the banner of modern Israeli Zionist identity.
Something has gone off kilter in the religious community. From this moment forward, their supreme ideal, “the land of Israel”, no longer opposes itself to values such as life, Western modernity or the desire for peace and security. Not at all. Their ideal is squarely opposed to the State of Israel. We are far removed from carrying out an occupation contemptuous of all opinion or from executing innocent Palestinians-- the preferred activity of some “originals”. But are in the midst of a war declared against all the symbols of sovereign power. The “orange” versus the army and its soldiers, the settlers against the police and its officers of the law and the believers versus democracy, its authority and its office-holders.
This is because the fundamental Israeli instinct is one of democracy. The democratic system, despite shortcomings, permits us to live together and to agree on how we disagree. The challenge raised by the halakha--religious law against the Law, by the synagogue against Parliament and by the rabbis against sovereignty—that is the real "disengagement".
Until the arrival of Ariel Sharon's twisted initative, substance and values were a blur in Israel. Every rightist movement vainly attempted to stuff Judaism, territorial nationalism and democracy into the same political bag.
The Left once resisted. This is not Judism, this is not our national vision, they declared. And their tears flowed over a democracy in the throes of occupation, together with its lies and illusions. A sterile and petrified Left from whom the clarion of identity and banner of patriotism had been snatched --from the very founders of the State of Israel-- and handed without so much as a tip of the hat to the new standard bearers: the religious nationalists.
With a swift cut of his sword, Ariel Sharon has severed the inextricable knot. It is now apparent that nationalist nationality and religiosity grounded only in the halakha and in its masters cannot coexist with the true core of identity uniting the majority of Israelis--modern, democratic and willing to compromise. We have before us a unique occasion for a society striving to modernize its perspectives. A space is opening itself up to let in fresh air and original thoughts. The Israelite may once again return to claim his role in Jewish responsibility.
There is a dire and pressing need to create a new Israeli identity whose first words are not a Jew does not… but a Jew does… A Jew cherishes a close and natural link with the spiritual wellspring of Jewish culture. He carves a modern interpretation of precepts of his religion and of the rules that have become obsolete. He integrates tradition and progress. A Jew creates a synthesis between Judaism and universality, Judaism and Israeli-ness. For this positive Jew, Israel is a generous country, open to others, to what which is different and to those who live among us.
The Judaism of the modern Jew says yes to peace and no to xenophobia. His national culture is like someone with self-confidence and who aspires to peace and not a paranoid individual who depends on the violence of weapons.
I believe neither in this disengagement nor in those who sponsor it. Politically, I see only dark days ahead.
This is because I only believe in non-violent, long-term dialog and in the absolute and communal rejection of the infected sores which eat away at us and them –the Palestinians— for whom this disengagement, amidst the orange and black tide, holds a glimmer of hope. It is clear that this dubious evacuation has very little to do with terrorism or our Palestinian neighbors. But it is a small step in the right direction--to disengage ourselves from the nationalist insanity that has taken over our identity.
Avraham Burg is an observant Jew, the former Speaker of the Knesset and the former President of the Jewish Agency.