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150109 -
Haaretz - Twilight Zone - Gideon Levy

One could go to the sources and quote Leo Tolstoy, for example: "Patriotism in its simplest, clearest, and most indubitable signification is nothing else but a means of obtaining for the rulers their ambitions and covetous desires, and for the ruled the abdication of human dignity, reason, and conscience, and a slavish enthrallment to those in power. And as such it is recommended wherever it is preached. Patriotism is slavery."

And also: "How can we speak of the reasonableness of men who promise in advance to accomplish everything, including murder, that the government; that is, certain men who have attained a certain position; may command?" One can also resort to talk about "the last refuge of a scoundrel." But there is another way: to admit that you, too, are a patriot.

One could also quote an e-mail from Mahmut Mahmutoglu, in Turkey: "You are one of the most beautiful voices ... I have yet to see or hear from Israel ... Tonight, after reading your article, I have come to have hope for peace and believe that humanity will prevail." And there is also Robert, the talkbacker from Israel, who responded to that same article of mine by writing, "I am not a doctor, but that man is sick." Or the reader George Radnay, one of hundreds, who wrote from New York: "Internal exile; a la Russie; should be instituted in Israel. You and other enemies of the human race should be exiled to Sderot. With no possibility to leave! Preaching hatred from comfort and fat wallet, and with a passport; must be countered in the name of decency and peace."

The vast majority want to impose a total ban on all criticism, on every expression of alternative thinking, on every heretical sentiment, especially when it relates to this war, of which I am already tired of calling accursed.

In this war, as in every war, an evil spirit has descended on the land. A supposedly enlightened columnist describes the terrible black smoke billowing out of Gaza as a "spectacular picture"; the deputy defense minister says that the many funerals in Gaza are proof of Israel?s "achievements"; a banner headline, "Wounds in Gaza," refers only to the wounded Israeli soldiers and shamefully ignores the thousands of wounded Palestinians, whose wounds cannot be alleviated in the overflowing Gaza hospitals; the brainwashed commentators revel in the imaginary success of the incursion; the brainwashed soldiers are gung-ho for battle, for killing and for the mass destruction of the others, and maybe also, heaven forbid, of their own, and wipe out whole families, including the women and children; appalling Darfur-like images from Shifa Hospital show children dying on the floor; and the patriotic response is to shout: Three cheers! Hurrah! Well done! All hail the country that does these things.

Cry, the beloved country; that is not my patriotism, which is nevertheless supreme patriotism. In fact, the furious responses to every scrap of criticism give rise to the suspicion that perhaps some Israelis know deep within their desensitized hearts that something terrible is burning beneath their feet, that a vast conflagration is threatening to burst through the thick, stupefying, contorting and obfuscating fog that covers them. Maybe we are not as right as everyone promises us morning and night, maybe something horrific is happening in front of our wide-shut eyes. If Israelis were so sure of the rightness of their cause, why the violent intolerance they display toward everyone who tries to make a different case?

This is precisely the time for criticism; there is no time more appropriate. This is exactly the time for the big questions, the fateful questions, the decisive questions. We should not just ask whether this or that move in the war is right or not, not just wonder whether we are progressing "according to plan." We also need to ask what is good about these plans. To ask whether Israel?s very launching of the war is good for the Jews, good for Israel and whether the other side deserves it. Yes, to ask about the other side is permissible even in war, perhaps above all in war. To know that the "children of the south" are not only the children who live in Sderot, but also the children of Beit Hanun, whose fate is immeasurably more bitter. To cringe with shame and feelings of guilt at the sight of Shifa Hospital is not treason: it is basic humanity. To take an interest in their fate, to ask whether their suffering is unavoidable, wise, just, moral and legitimate is an absolute necessity. To ask if things could have been done differently. To ask whether it would not have been more fitting to try a language other than the language of violence and unrestrained force that we invoke as a matter of routine, the only language in which we excel and in which we are articulate, believing that there is no other. This is the time to ask about our moral visage. This is exactly the time; there is no more appropriate time; to cast doubt on the wisdom and the usefulness of this awful war, to look also at the blood and the suffering on the other side of the border, on the other side of humanity.

This cannot be solely the time for militarism, for the uniform and for the fanfare of war; this is also the time for humanity, for a critical view, for compassion. This is the time for a critical, humane, thinking media, not only media that is insensitive, bestial and blind. This is the time for a media that reports the whole truth, not only our one-sided propaganda truth. This is precisely the time to inform the public about the whole picture, on both sides of the border, however harsh it may be, without blurring it, without hiding anything, without sweeping the horror under the rug. Let the media consumers do as they wish with the information; delight in it, grieve over it; but let them know what is being done in their name. That is the role of everyone with eyes in his head, a brain in his skull and above all a beating heart in his chest.

People who make use of all their senses in trying times are no less patriotic than those whose restraint is lost, senses dimmed and brain washed. This is also the time for the patriot to say: Enough.

Patriotism? Who can measure what contributes more to the state, to which we are all bound by thick cords of steel, blood and feelings? Does joining the unseeing and stupefying chorus contribute or destroy; or could it be that the real contribution to democracy and the image of the state lies in raising the tough questions, precisely at this time? Is this the time to silence people and shatter the already fragile democracy here, or for an attempt to preserve not only the right to be silent but also the right to shout out? Are the handful of people who are trying to preserve Israel?s human image less concerned about the country?s fate than the majority, who now see everything through the barrel of a gun?

And since when is a majority a guarantee of justice? Do we lack examples from history ? modern and ancient, world history and Israel?s history ? in which the majority was fatally wrong and the minority right? Does a different voice, quiet and ostracized as it may be, but which nevertheless emerges from a darkened Israel to cast a ray of light into the world?s bleakness harm Israel?s standing in the international community, or does it perhaps enhance it? A whistle in the dark is still a whistle, even in a time when the darkness into which we have plunged Gaza is nothing compared to the thick black darkness that has descended on Israel. Now is the time to ask the questions that will certainly be asked later, to voice the criticism that will be voiced afterward, but of course grossly late. And who is a traitor? Who will decide for us whether launching this war of folly is patriotism and rejecting it is treason? Will it be the militants, the nationalists, the chauvinists and the militarists among us? They, only they? Do they have an exclusive franchise on patriotism? Or will it perhaps be the right-wing American Jews; those who get orgiastic whenever Israel kills and destroys; who decide? Is it not the case that the terrible damage that Israel is suffering because of this war is the greatest treason of all?

I have covered other wars. In the winter of 1993 I saw in besieged Sarajevo sights that have never been seen here, at least not until this war. How can I forget the old Bosnian woman who was digging in the earth with her fingers to find a few roots to eat? How can I forget our panicky running in the streets to escape the snipers, the bomb that struck the market and the music that blared from an old radio on a heavily clouded evening in the midst of the darkness and the siege: "La ultima noche." The last night. Last summer I covered the war in Georgia, where I saw refugees fleeing for their lives, carrying all their meager belongings in their hands, their eyes filled with fear and rage.

In both of those wars I felt remote, cut off, desensitized as a war correspondent who moves from one battle to the next. There we were not accomplices; my son?s friends and my friends? sons were not accomplices to a crime. So it was easy for me, relatively and emotionally, to cover those wars. But not here and now. Here and now it is my war, our war, the war of us all, for which we all bear responsibility, of which we are all guilty. And therefore it is incumbent on us to make our voice heard, a different voice, a "hallucinatory" voice to the ears of the desensitized, a voice that is "traitorous," "base," "Jew-hating," "contemptible"; and different. This is not only our right, it is our supreme duty toward the state to which we are so bound, we patriotic scoundrels.



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