Living in a state of denial

National problem-solving has never been easier. It's a question of peace of mind over matter or substance.

cabinet 224 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
cabinet 224 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
I have just found a way to bring about world peace. All you have to do is declare it and let cognitive dissonance do the rest. The advantages to this method are clear. It's so-o-o 21st century: quick, easy and cheap. It requires only a meeting at which to announce that peace has been achieved. To save on time and costs, this could be done by video conference call. The quicker the better, in fact, because - and this is the flip-side - no one can guarantee how long this peace is going to survive. It could be over by the time the last photographer has shot the historic event. On the other hand, with such low costs and little effort involved, you could just sigh and announce a new agreement. And let's face it, even years of diplomatic talks and impressive ceremonies are no guarantee that peace will last much longer than it takes the average Hamas recruit to reload the magazine in his sub-machine gun or buckle up a belt of explosives. I think if Yasser Arafat could be given the Nobel Peace Prize for his part in the Oslo Accords, I deserve some kind of award in 2008 for coming up with this foolproof method. At least I care. And I don't stand to gain anything from it. The idea came to me as I listened to the debate on the terms of a possible prisoner release. Israel's position until now has been that it would not release terrorists "with blood on their hands." This could be broadly translated to mean prisoners "with blood on their minds," not just those guilty of carrying out attacks in which victims were wounded or killed but those who attempted such attacks and failed, and those who dispatched them, or aided and abetted them. At the December 24 top-level meeting in Jerusalem the talk focused on possibly changing the criteria so that there would be a sufficient number of security prisoners eligible for release in a swap with Hamas for Gilad Schalit - the poor soldier has been sitting in who-knows-what conditions for a year-and-a-half for the crime of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Although the deliberations were carried out behind closed doors, reportedly the suggestions on making the category more flexible would allow the release of those who organized attacks that failed (I mean they must feel pretty miserable anyway); those who killed Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel (what color blood did their victims leave on the murderers' hands?) and those whose attacks resulted only in physical and psychological trauma but not death (Can't you just hear their mothers saying "Better luck next time, habibi!"). AT FIRST, like the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), right-wing MKs, and most of the radio call-in listeners whom I heard in the early hours of the morning, I too dismissed this idea. But now I think we might really be onto something. Why stop with just the prisoner exchange criteria? Whenever the goalposts are too far away, we could simply bring them closer. A water shortage? No problem. Just redefine the Red Line in the Kinneret national reservoir and there will be plenty of water. Unemployment? Adjust the definition of what counts as not working. Traffic accidents? Don't include anything that doesn't result in fatalities. Rising crime levels? Change the criteria of criminal offenses. Declining standards in schools? Well, you get my point. I tested my method at home. I put together a cheese sandwich and defined it as supper. I flicked a duster around and decided that it counted as cleaning. I moved a pile of papers from the kitchen table to a shelf in the spare room and was pleased to see I now had no need to spend time filing documents from 2007. It might not be healthy or even sustainable but it certainly made life easier for the test period. Coming back to the national level, were Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to announce unilateral peace, it would give him time to solve domestic problems. (Of course, many of these are also instantly solvable. The university lecturers' strike, for example, would be over in a second if you just announced that this year the summer vacation had been extended. No semester, no strike.) This problem-solving method is not as revolutionary as it sounds. With supper made in a minute, the house clean and the paperwork done, I found I had time to sit down and watch the news and chat to friends. My thoughts were immediately drawn to Sderot as several discussions on how to protect the town have been held recently. A friend who lives there in a home without a shelter or protected room has what is defined as - I kid you not - a "protective wall." Pre-hostilities, so long ago her first-grader was not yet born, this was just known as the living-room wall. For the past few years, when missiles fall, she literally lines her family up against it and prays. WITH THE Home Front Command reassessing how best to protect the country in the event of non-conventional warfare - it could be that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has other instant solutions for world peace, no matter how the US readjusts its intelligence assessments in such a wonderfully problem-solving way - I was reminded of the old sealed-room method. Back in the early 1990s, I was skeptical that the plastic sheeting on the windows would keep out a Scud missile if Saddam Hussein's men threw it hard enough. Now I realize that all I had to do was redefine what counts as "adequate protection" and I could have at least felt safer. Some politicians are already living in a state of denial. The Jerusalem Post on December 21 exposed the existence of a videotape showing Egyptian border policemen apparently helping a group of Hamas terrorists cross into Gaza through a hole they had cut in the fence. Defense officials sent the tape to Washington but it never made it to Congress. Top Israeli political and diplomatic figures were, reportedly, too concerned that it might upset the delicate relations with Egypt at a sensitive point. Admittedly, not pushing the point with the US administration avoided a showdown with the Egyptians - whom, apart from anything else, we probably need to help broker Schalit's release in return for however many terrorists whose records and hands have been scrubbed clean. But it didn't do anything to stop the arms smuggling. It just redefined what was more important. Unfortunately, I have no solution for instantly bringing home Schalit or any of the other MIAs. It sometimes feels like the authorities believe if you ignore the matter long enough - like the 25 years the families of the three Sultan Yakoub MIAs have been waiting - the "problem" will just disappear. Nor do I have a way of forgetting the victims of terror and war. The blood that splattered the terrorists' hands is the same as runs in the veins of every other Israeli I know. I guess a state of denial, by definition, is short-lived. Now if I could just change that definition...