Araba region
Photo: Shmulik Teger

Are we beautiful or ugly?

Israeli old-timers may be clinging to a dream that never existed

Several months ago we gathered for a family celebration. I was sitting near a successful farmer I haven't met before who grows vegetables for export in the Arava region. The hosts were aware of my own proud farming roots, which is why they decided to sit us together.


Very quickly we were drawn into an all-embracing conversation regarding the belief in the continued existence of the "beautiful Israel", which has been weakening to the point of becoming different and ugly.


I told him something he already knew: That in our generation, which joined the army in 1973, those who didn't go to officer's course went to elite units, and this was taken for granted. Those who forged their military medical profile actually pushed it up, in order to be the best. Now, I told him, in the wake of the cursed war in Lebanon, people are arguing whether they were fighting for the Olmert-Peretz caprices or for the State of Israel. They are no longer willing to fight for Olmert-Peretz and their ilk.


I asked him what can one say to a grandfather, my 90-year old-neighbor, who was one of the first commanders of the Haganah underground and the IDF, and lost his brother in the War of Independence. What can one say to him now, after his grandson died in this war. The grandson already completed his mandatory military service and proceeded to build a magnificent farm with great investment – and now there is no successor.


My partner to the conversation shared his own personal story from the Yom Kippur War. To this day he shudders when he recalls that knock on the door, 34 years ago, that informed him that his brother was killed in the fighting. His world went dark at once, he said, as if he was hit by an ax. He went out alone at night to his vegetable hothouses and was amazed to see that the moon and stars continued to shine. In the stillness of the night he noticed the sound of water continuing to flow through the irrigation system.


He told me that he then understood that the world continues to exist and has life in it. In the last war, he added, his reservist son caught the first flight from the US and came back to fight. And this will continue to be the obvious thing to do, he told me.


"This is what you should be telling that grandfather," he said. "The State of Israel, ever since its establishment, exists because of the five percent that lead it, and this is how it will continue. An outstanding five percent will always continue to lead it, and nothing is in vain – we always had ugly people here too."


The bubble

It was an incisive conversation. Not far from us, the dancing continued, yet we chose to continue our debate regarding the beautiful-ugly Israel. "You have an advantage," I told him. "You live in a bubble, in your private heaven in the Arava, and you can spare yourself the ugly noise of central Israel." He insisted that he isn't detached from current-day Israel, and I told him that I wish he's right.


The next bitter battle will pit fathers who loved the army in the past, and are passing this on to their sons, against those who encourage their sons to evade military service. The beautiful Israel has started to grow ugly, and frontline soldiers who saw friends exploding before their eyes have started to demand answers from their ugly leaders, who they no longer trust.


Some of them chose to channel their political suffering to the enemy's population and direct all their guilty feelings there. It happened to privates who receive orders and also to generals who issue orders.


The compassion shown to residents of southern Lebanon and Gaza, who were indeed caught up in this tragedy, is certainly appropriate – yet showing compassion to residents of Kiryat Shmona and Sderot is even more appropriate. After all, we left both Lebanon and Gaza, we uprooted communities for the worthy political goal of peace – yet we still remained guilty somehow. Despite all the self-criticism, we should recall that we're still being fired on within the Green Line by Gazans, and that Hizbullah abducted soldiers on the Lebanese Green Line.


Looking back at it from a distance of two generations since the State's establishment, it turns out that we were educated, and are continuing to educate our children, to follow ideals that don't quite exist. Partly because we were lied to along the way, and also because we lied ourselves without knowing and realizing it. For us, the current generation of fathers, it's hard to accept that there is no solution for both peoples, who are sitting on the same land, without a natural border. We can neither swallow nor vomit this. This is the modern-day version of Jacob and Esau.


Our society becoming more brutal

In the current generation, we are saluting the dead to a lesser extent, as well as their parents who are left to fend on their own. In this generation we're mostly scared of those who return from the horrors of the front and can testify. We give them citations, which they indeed fully deserve, among other reasons because they agreed to abandon themselves, with the permission of authorities.


Those who seek comfort are trying to revive a dream that never quite existed to begin with, and to realize a dream that is not easy to leave behind.


Ben-Gurion realized this and allowed famed author Yizhar Smilansky (known as S. Yizhar) to express national catharsis when he published his books and was also Ben-Gurion's close associate in the Knesset. That way, we were officially more beautiful and drained our guilty feelings through Yizhar.


Yizhar bravely attacked the part played by the ugly and brutal Israel, and Ben-Gurion was great enough to agree to that, as long as he was not attacked personally. (As if Dayan and Sharon of the 1950s acted independently.)


And so, we hated Menachem Begin, a modest and wonderfully decent man, but not one of us – because he truly aspired for law and order, security, and peace, in that order. He proved it when he first dispatched Air Force planes to bomb the settlement of Elon Moreh and transferred it from private Palestinian land to state-owned land. Then, he dispatched fighter jets to bomb the Iraqi nuclear reaction. Later he evacuated the Sinai, using IDF bulldozers, to the last grain of sand in the peace deal with Egypt.


We couldn't forgive him for being the most genuine adherent to the law in our country, which is so accustomed to winks. We couldn’t digest his Polish pathos and impeccable manners. We, the influential Israelis of yesteryear, preferred to burp in public in true Sabra charm. We saw life only through the covered sights of Left or Right – an endless series of subjective arguments.


And this charm has turned into the new Israeli clone: A society that is becoming more brutal, where elderly faces are being crushed in their own homes, while other faces are being pulverized on the streets.


And now, let's go back to the beginning of the debate – has the other Israel turned blind? Is it beautiful when it comes to weighing its decision, but mostly ugly when it comes to its actions? I wish I was more certain, just like that truly beautiful farmer, who continues to export vegetables, for the glory of the State of Israel.


The writer is a communications consultant and lecturer at the University of Haifa


פרסום ראשון: 08.30.07, 14:17
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