The divide we didn't know

In this season of introspection, Israeli society is struggling to understand the meaning of the withdrawal from Gaza. For all our conflicting assessme

October 11, 2005 21:55
4 minute read.
boy in orange stares down line of soldiers 88 dise

disengagement 88. (photo credit: )


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In this season of introspection, Israeli society is struggling to understand the meaning of the withdrawal from Gaza. For all our conflicting assessments, though, one conclusion may be asserted: The withdrawal exposed an unbridgeable divide between two Israels that speak mutually unintelligible languages, that inhabit opposing universes of values and conduct. A culture war between a beautiful Israel and another, opposing Israel. Yet those camps cut across the predictable divisions of Left versus Right, religious versus secular. What we discovered about ourselves during the withdrawal, and what will gradually seep into our collective consciousness and transform us, is that we are divided and united in ways we didn't quite understand before. In beautiful Israel, right-wing soldiers bit their lips and evacuated relatives and friends from settlements they believed should remain forever. And left-wing soldiers wept at evacuating Israelis from homes they believed should have never been built. In the other Israel, there are resisters on the Right who are ready to dismantle the army, our last consensus institution, for the sake of their Torah of wholeness. And there are resisters on the Left whose tender conscience won't allow them to fight the existential terror war that was declared against us. IN BEAUTIFUL Israel, the preferred discourse is brotherly love. It was spoken by the residents of Netzarim, who embraced the soldiers who protected them and were now evacuating them. And it was spoken by the members of Yad Hanna, once the most radical kibbutz, who invited uprooted settlers from Homesh to live with them. In the other Israel, the preferred discourse is taunting. It was evoked by right-wing protesters who mocked and cursed soldiers, called them robots and demanded they disobey orders. And it was evoked by left-wing spokespeople who delighted in the defeat of the “colonialist” project of Gush Katif. In beautiful Israel, introspection and self-criticism are valued. There are left-wingers who admit they made a disastrous mistake in empowering Yasser Arafat and drawing a false distinction between an extremist Hamas committed to Israel's destruction and a supposedly moderate Fatah that accepts the existence of a Jewish state. And there are right-wingers who admit that they were blind to the demographic dangers of annexation and disdainful of their opponents' anguish over the moral consequences of occupation. IN THE other Israel, no one ever makes political mistakes. Thus Greater Israel failed because of the hedonism of the secularists or the legal troubles of the “Sharon family.” And the Oslo process failed because Israel wasn't forthcoming enough, or because Ehud Barak spent more time talking to Chelsea Clinton at dinner in Camp David than he did to Arafat. In beautiful Israel, political discourse is passionate but careful not to delegitimize your opponent. In the other Israel you are permitted to call your opponent Nazis or fascists and invoke the most extreme historical associations to express your righteous rage. In beautiful Israel, democratic norms are defended for all. In the other Israel, democratic norms are upheld only when they favor your side. Like those on the Right who railed against Sharon's contempt for democracy during the pullout debate but kept silent all those years when his bulldozers were working for them. And like those on the Left who for years railed against Sharon's contempt for democracy but kept silent when that was turned against citizens of the Right. An abyss, indeed. Fortunately for the future of this country, the majority of Israelis, Right and Left, secular and religious, belong to beautiful Israel. The writer is a senior fellow at the Shalem Center and the Israel correspondent for the New Republic.

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