On August 11, the daily tabloid newspaper, Yediot Acharonot, ran an editorial by Eitan Haber, former Director of the Office of the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Entitled “There is Nothing More Important,” it passionately advocated rapid implementation of PM Sharon’s plan of Israel’s disengagement from Gaza and made some fantastic claims. As it is brief, a translation reads as follows:
1) From our point of view, here in this grieving and anguished land, there is nothing more important than implementation of the disengagement plan.
2) A thousand press conferences of the Minister of Finance will not help Israel’s economy like – how difficult it is to write this – the evacuation of Gaza and all that Sharon’s plan involves. Deep in his heart, Bibi Netanyahu knows it better than others.
3) The economic, and certainly, the political and security world [sic], is likely to change course for the good, the day after withdrawal from Netzarim.
4) It is sad and painful, but there is no choice.
5) In the coming weeks and months, all our attention must be focused on the residents [of Gush Katif] who will see the destruction of their home, the soldiers and the people of Israel, most of whom will undergo a difficult trauma.
6) In many ways, Sharon’s plan will be a “watershed” in the history of the State of Israel; and it may even fill the pocket of every citizen here more than any economic plan.
7) It is important to note that the plan entails many dangers but these will never be as great as the dangers today.
8) Therefore, the group of politicians in the Knesset, the representatives of the Likud, Labor, Shinui, Shas, and the Aguda and others must put aside all divisions in order to focus on what is major, important and historic.
Let us now analyze its literal and deeper meaning.
Haber begins with the phrase, “here, in this grieving and anguished land,” borrowing nearly the exact words from Yitzhak Rabin’s speech on the White House Lawn of September 13, 1993, where he said: “We have come from an anguished and grieving land.” This is the rhetoric of Oslo. Next, Netanyahu’s work on the budget is far less important than Sharon’s plan.
The assertion that even Bibi knows this implies that he is not necessarily acting in good faith. Then, Haber promises an immediate and radical improvement of Israel’s economic, political, and defense fortunes, which will take place the day after withdrawal from Netzarim. While disengagement will be painful, there is no other choice. It is a necessary but traumatic sacrifice, particularly for the settlers. In spite of this, Sharon’s plan will be a watershed in the history of the State, and will put money in the pocket of every Israeli citizen. It will be painful, but anything is better than the present. And not the least, Sharon’s plan is a matter of such historical significance and central importance that everyone must support it.
Haber’s editorial offers some extravagant promises: Israel’s destiny will immediately change for the better; its position in the world will improve right after withdrawal; the immediate benefit of disengagement will be worth more Netanyahu’s efforts and will put an end to our overdrafts. Nearly eleven years ago, similar promises seduced Israelis, and Israeli society is still paying the terrible price.
Golan Lahat, a doctoral candidate at Tel Aviv University, has given us the tools for analyzing this type of language. In his study of the Israeli left and the peace process, entitled, The Messianic Temptation (Hebrew, Ha-Pitui Ha-Meshichi, Tel Aviv, Am Oved 972 series, 2004), Lahat describes the Oslo experience as an example of a failed secular messianic movement with totalitarian tendencies. He identifies four characteristics of secular messianic thought: turning one’s back on the existing present; recourse to revolutionary change and rejection of gradual bureaucratic reform; quick and immediate revolution; and certain knowledge that this is the one and only way to the truth.
If one compares Lahat’s points with Haber’s text, it is obvious that Haber suffers from such secular messianism, particularly in his desire to create a new reality within a very short period of time.
Lahat further explains that gradualism, particularly the gradualism of classical Zionism, requires strength, which is not to be found here. Instead, there is a disturbing expression of weakness and gratuitous despair (schmertz). The author argues that the messianic impulse of the Oslo era played on the desire of Israelis to end their condition of uncertainty. He points out that for the average Israeli, “The Peace” did not mean correcting past injustice but helping to pay for the next vacation or purchasing an apartment for one’s children. This assertion applies perfectly to Haber’s proposition of putting money in our pockets.
This type of language and thinking is dangerous because it misrepresents reality and rejects rational thought. Further, if one acts on a willfully distorted perception of reality, the results will surely be disastrous. We may give one example where this can easily be understood, namely, the sacrifice and the trauma which Haber so lightly demands of the settlers, who, are our fellow Israeli citizens.
With the outbreak of Palestinian terror after the signing of the Oslo accords, the Rabin government decided not to respond. Yitzhak Rabin rationalized the loss of civilian life by using the cursed and mendacious slogan, “sacrifices for the Peace” (Hebrew, “korbanot ha-Shalom”), an expression which probably was coined shortly after the murder of Ofra Felix on January 6, 1995. In February 1996, after the suicide bombing of Bus No. 18 in downtown Jerusalem, PM Shimon Peres declared: “Peace has its price in human lives as well” (Hebrew, “Le-shalom yesh mechir gam be-nefesh.”)
According to Golan Lahat, the feeling that prevailed at that time was that if the bright future was at hand, such losses had to be accepted with equanimity, because the worst would soon be over and a new day would dawn. But it was not to be. For the record, the “price of peace” has amounted to a total of 1,213 casualties as of last spring: 256 from the signing of the DOP in September 1993 to September 2000, and 957 from September 29, 2000 until March 1, 2004.
There has been no evidence of any soul-searching on the part of the architects and the dedicated apologists of Oslo, and none of these have come forward to take the responsibility for its costly loss of life. The great civilian losses which the Rabin government and its successors chose to accept is a subject which has been passed over in silence, but must be examined honestly, thoroughly, and critically and placed on the record. One cannot initiate a new historical era at will. There was only one Genesis (Bereshit). Proclaiming a new beginning of history from time to time may be a good way of repudiating one’s past responsibility. But history is continuous, and records are kept. Because those who participated directly and indirectly Israel’s most recent messianic misadventure, the Oslo process, have not accepted their responsibility for this great loss of life, they have no moral authority to ask their countrymen for sacrifices of any kind.
This article was published in Makor Rishon on August 20th, 2004