'A Wonderful Country' gets its wartime satire just right

Contrary to common belief, war is not the time to shut up, it is the time to speak out.

eretz nehederet 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
eretz nehederet 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
An odd image appears on the screen. It is the plump face of a gray-haired man, his eyes shut. It is a very familiar face, although it has not been seen for a long time. But it takes exactly two seconds, as the beeps of hospital monitors chime in, to recognize it with certainty - it's the face of the comatose Ariel Sharon. The dim sound of broadcasts from Lebanon tugs at his consciousness, and then, all of a sudden, his eyes snap open - he awakes. "What a bad dream I had," he says in a tired voice. The bedside TV shows tanks rolling into Lebanon. In his mind, he is still the defense minister commanding the first Lebanon war. He regains his vigor. After all, there's a war to run. He has to talk to Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan, the PM, we can't let that bloody Arafat get away. "Raful, get me Begin on the phone!" he orders. This was the masterful beginning of the special "War Edition" of Eretz Nehederet (A Wonderful Country), the top-ratings, top-actors, top-fun satirical show, which was broadcast Friday evening and rebroadcast Saturday night. The comedians on the program were called up for emergency reserve duty, to save us all from the media's discourse on the new round of violence, getting more and more hackneyed by the second. The show has always known how to puncture holes in the nation's long-faced atmosphere, holes that are by no means too big or too offensive, but just the right size to let in some fun and criticism. This special edition had it all, all the ridiculous aspects of this conflict that many people - those who are not too terrified in the bomb shelters - had thought of, but couldn't really put into words. They had President Moshe Katsav, who is under investigation for alleged sexual harassment, clad in a white bathrobe adorned with the national flag, up in the North "sympathizing with the citizens of Israel," but actually having a quick tryst at a resort. Of course, Katsav said that now was the time "to forget the past." Eretz Nehederet got it just right - when the war's raging, apprehension and patriotism take over, quite understandably, and quite fortunately for the leaders and other public figures, whose incompetence and misdeeds are shoved off the headlines. The banks, which "embrace the North" in their ads, but still screw the northerners, were also targeted by the show. Roni Daniel, Channel 2's military correspondent, who always knows what's best for the army and for Israel's defense, corrected all of the anchor's reasonable suggestions and questions, repeatedly saying, "That's not precisely correct." In a play on a mobile phone company commercial offering special services to "help" northern Israelis, Ehud Olmert's face appeared next to 1800-who-do-I-turn-to and 1800-how-do-I-get-out-of-this numbers. A supremely confident and nonchalant Chief of Staff Halutz, foot on the table, and IDF Spokeswoman Miri Regev appeared elated at being in the limelight. Singer David Broza played the guitar and sang interminably in a bomb shelter, ultimately driving all its inhabitants to prefer the risk of getting hit by a Katyusha outside the shelter to his perpetual, maddening performance. Obviously, our cordial acquaintance Hassan Nasrallah was a guest on the show, amusing everyone with his "beyond beyond Haifa" and "beyond beyond beyond Haifa" promises. At this point one could begin feeling uncomfortable. I happened to see the show at the home of family friends who had a kid from bombarded Haifa sleeping over. I couldn't escape the thought that he might be offended, or that this might exacerbate his fears. But this is the strength of Israelis, and of A Wonderful Country. Although their cities are suffering from barrages of rockets, and soldiers are dying on the battlefield, without mocking the affliction of the run-of-the-mill citizen or the fate of the fallen, they know very well how to look at things through a prism of good judgment. If our generals are unfit or act inappropriately, we discuss it, not suppress it. If our leaders are dangerously green, we will be aware of it, not turn a blind eye. Contrary to common belief, war is not the time to shut up, it is the time to speak out. And a speck of good humor can do no harm.