Eventually, one way or another, happily or sadly, intentionally or not, a heavy lull descends on all battlefields, even the bloodiest. It happened in Austerlitz, it happened in Gettysburg, it even happened in Stalingrad, and sooner or later that lasting quiet will also grip Gaza.
Will quiet embrace Gaza merrily, the way the Beduin to its west clutch the quails they hunt in large nets? Or will quiet wrap Gaza somberly, the way Israeli factory workers do to the chickens they package to its east? Will quiet arrive resolutely, like a victorious emperor's entry to Rome? Or will it sneak sheepishly, like an unfaithful husband to his wife's funeral? Who knows? All we know is that arrive it will.
And when quiet finally arrives in Gaza, and in Sderot, and in Ashkelon, and Beersheba, too, we had better know what to do.
FOR WHAT to do with war we have all learned.
We have learned to grit our teeth, to clench our fists, to shut our ears and wipe our tears, to run for cover, to hug the dispossessed, to shelter the displaced, to soothe the distraught, to bandage the wounded and to bury the dead. But what shall we do once quiet arrives? How will we cope with its deafening noiselessness, how shall we stomach its smokeless air and how shall we face the blandness of its routine, the freedom of children running through endless fields as thoughtlessly as a hound in an English wood, the eventlessness of pushing strollers toward dusk between the grocery store and the nearby park, the pointlessness of storming a banana split at the neighborhood mall without considering the proximity of a weapon, the enmity of its bearer, the unluckiness of a casualty and the lawlessness of luck?
Yes, the day will arrive when we will no longer arouse the timeless quest to put the Jew to shame and render him fair game. But before that heavy lull finally descends on Gaza, Ashkelon and Ashdod, too, a lighter lull will arrive, one that will feel as slippery as an ice plate, as tricky as the devil, as unreliable as a fox in a chicken coop and as suspicious as footsteps in the long-empty apartment across the hall.
Give it several days, weeks or, at most, months and arrive it shall, synthetic, bitter and fraying, wrapped in an agreement, tacit or written, trumpeted by pundits, for or against, and celebrated by mediators, innocent or cunning. And when that lull arrives, all had better know what to do; for what to do in the face of war, all have learned by heart - we to fight back, they to fight forth, Brussels to say "now, now," Paris to shout "gling," Prague to whisper "spring," Cairo to flail a finger, the UN to wield a pen, Washington to wave a carrot and Ankara to spew a flame.
But what will they all do once that misleading, shaky, artificial lull descends on the battlefield, wrapped in anticipation of the very next round, the one for which all the previous rounds' lessons will have been learned - thoroughly, needless to say - the one whose ammunition carts will tower even taller, the one whose suicides will die even happier, the one whose mediators will dress even smarter, the one whose damage will be even more collateral?
Well there is plenty they all can do.
EUROPE CAN put its euros where its mouth is, and - having told the Jews to fight proportionately - now tell Hamas to build proportionately.
"Look there," the European envoy waving his immaculate hand across the eastern skyline of rolling fields, handsome houses and industrious factories, will be able to tell the wildly bearded Hamasnik to his left, "look at what the Jews did there; you can do the same here. And unlike the Jews, who built what we see there with their bare hands while our parents watched idly from afar, where your enemies had left family buried and property robbed - you have us, and our money, too, for we will pay for quiet anything, to anyone - even to you.
"We will give you whatever it takes to build here an oasis, and you will be like Dubai, like Bahrain and like Doha - only with rain. And you can also have a train, a train to Beirut, a train to Aqaba, a train to Damascus and one even to the Kaaba. And you can have here resorts, like Dubai's Atlantis, and you can have here banks, like Riyadh's Al-Rajhi, and you can have here a soccer team, like Cairo's Zamalek, and you can have here malls, and schools, and a Riviera, and a promenade, and a marina, and a puppet theater, too. Heck, Gaza can be an inspiration for the slums where we stuff our own Arabs, in Marseilles, Brussels and Madrid, too."
An Egyptian representative will then concur. "Now is the time. We are going to develop the northern Sinai. By El-Arish in the east you can have farms and fishing wharfs, by Port Said in the west we can share an industrial zone, and along the Bardawil Lagoon in the middle you can have hotels, spas and sanatoriums where tourists will gaze at the flamingos that lead an exceptionally pleasant life there, so close to where you have specialized in ruining lives - ours, theirs and theirs, too, not to mention yours."
And while the Gazan gazes emptily at the babblers about him, the Jews will have a task of their own, one that will fortunately not depend on this one's sincerity or on that one's reliability, or on the early lull's durability. The day the lull arrives, our leader, whoever it is that morning, can say: "In 1953, while Gaza cultivated its culture of destitution, blame and bloodshed, we built Sderot, out of nothing, with refugees who had lost everything in Iraq, Iran, Morocco and Romania. Since 1987, when the current Palestinian violence began, Sderot took in a new wave of immigrants, this time from Russia, Ukraine and Ethiopia; within a decade its population had more than doubled, to nearly 20,000. Now we are going to double it again. I myself am moving there, and so should you.
"Sderot, which was only declared a city in 1996, but even so has already produced a quality college, a film academy, some of Israel's finest rock stars, an attorney-general and a defense minister, will now be turned into a metropolis of 40,000 people. It's nothing this country hasn't done before. I hereby declare Sderot a fully tax-free zone, for everyone but me: not because it is distant, and not because it is arid, but because this is what we are all about, because this is our best reply to what we face, and because the quiet we now hear is not yet the final lull. But a day will come and the lull that ultimately conquers all battlefields will also arrive here. You can count on that, just like you can count on Sderot's tax exemption to be lifted that very day."
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