Conjurers and scarecrows

July 2, 2010

In News The Israel-Palestine Conflict

The scarecrow

There is a long tradition of frightening people over the release of terrorists. The suggestion of talking to the Palestine Liberation Organization was once an especially frightening scarecrow, as was the establishment of a Palestinian state.

By Gideon Levy

Our landscape is strewn with monuments, but there is one thing we have even more of: scarecrows. That sorry, ridiculous rag doll, hands stretched wide in a helpless gesture, intended to frighten (birds ). In recent years the birds have begun to fear the scarecrows less and less; they realize it’s just a trick. But in Israel, it’s the people who the scarecrows frighten, even the people who themselves put them up. The politicians and the generals invent the dolls to frighten, at home and abroad, until they themselves grow fearful of them, just like the Golem of Prague. The latest scarecrow: the release of terrorists “with blood on their hands.”

The dreadful numbers are being conjured up: The prisoners who were released in the past killed Jews again. The conclusion: no to a Shalit swap. But this is just another scarecrow. Terror ended after the Palestinian leadership came to the conclusion that it does not help move anything forward, and because Palestinian society is bleeding and desperate. Until the next generation of fighters grows up, there will be no significant terror – whether jailed terrorists go free or not. Even the term “blood on their hands” is only intended to daub the scarecrow with war paint. Both sides have blood on their hands – and we had better not compare whose hands are more stained.

There is a long tradition of frightening people over the release of terrorists. The suggestion of talking to the Palestine Liberation Organization was once an especially frightening scarecrow, as was the establishment of a Palestinian state. Abie Nathan went to jail for months because of his contacts with the PLO, yet later on five prime ministers spoke to the organization’s leaders and the PLO became Israel’s pet partner. Those who supported a Palestinian state were once considered traitors, until all of Israel, from Bibi to Tibi, began advocating this solution. The latest scarecrow is talks with Hamas, which quite closely resembles its predecessor.

Before Operation Cast Lead, we created the fear of Hamas arming itself, of Iranian weapons being smuggled through the tunnels and of Al-Qaida cells being established in the Gaza Strip. That all collapsed like a house of cards with the Israel Defense Forces’ brutal campaign, which encountered no real military resistance. Where were the Iranian weapons? Where was the arming? It was all a scarecrow.

And when every teenage boy with a pipe bomb is considered a “senior Hamas man,” and every armed man labeled the head of the military wing of Islamic Jihad, the country floods with scarecrows of our own making. A whole system of government and security propaganda, alongside the frightening chorus of the media with its abundance of pundits with an agenda, have seen to it that we never miss one fear-mongering campaign.

The song of the scarecrow also warned against lifting the blockade on Gaza, until it fell silent and nothing happened. Remember the roadblocks; for years they told us that the daily hindering and humiliating of tens of thousands of people were essential to security. Most of the roadblocks were eventually lifted and look what happened – the fear-mongering collapsed and nothing happened.

Right before the disengagement we erected another scarecrow: the specter of civil war. The evacuation of settlers will lead to bloodshed; Zo Artzeinu will block roads and paralyze the economy. But nothing of the sort happened. And yet the scarecrow did not give up: The fear of the settlers still hangs over our heads. Every successive government has been afraid of that paper tiger.

Looking for more? We were told that the withdrawal from Sinai would be a disaster; better Sharm al-Sheikh without peace, otherwise we’ll be left with a piece of paper. That died, too. But then another scarecrow was resurrected: Evacuating the Golan will lead to mortal danger. The Syrians will dangle their feet in the Kinneret. But the cold feet here were ours: Sowing that fear was enough to avoid reaching a peace agreement with the Syrians. When that scarecrow topples as well, no one will ask what we were afraid of – just like we were afraid for no reason for so many years of another scarecrow: withdrawal from Lebanon. The whole world wants to destroy us, another scarecrow.

And on the domestic front, we have also put up quite a few scarecrows: from “Israel is drying up” to swine flu. Remember the fear of the plague and the horrific descriptions of hospitals falling apart?

And finally, perhaps the threat that Iran is going to drop a nuclear bomb on Israel – despite all of Israel’s deterrent strength – will also reveal itself to be a hollow weapon. After all, with our history, we cannot tell the difference between a scarecrow and a true threat. Meanwhile, experience reveals, hands down, that this country is awash in many more dangerous scarecrows.