Website of Rabbi Shai Gluskin
Haaretz Op-Ed Piece, Monday, April 11, 2002.
The turning point
By Meron Benvenisti
No one has ever been able to predict exactly when the opposition to war and bloodshed turns from treachery into a legitimate, indeed proper approach; when moral condemnation of acts of war becomes politically correct - and when a phrase like "a war for our homes" changes from being a battle cry into blathering nonsense. Nobody has predicted it in advance, but experience shows that the moment when the patriotism of the herd turns into critical skepticism does inevitably arrive, sooner or later - sometimes in weeks or months, or sometimes a generation or two later.
Past experience proves that international condemnations, exposure to the horror, demonstrations and political protests have a cumulative influence, but those are countered by feelings of tribal unity, moral superiority and self-righteousness. One would expect that the price of the bloodshed from the continuing violence would lead to a rational calculation of the value of human lives versus the goals for which they are killed. But communities that grow used to calculating their steps according to absolute values do not do so according to pragmatic assessments of cost and benefit. Even making the comparison between the cost in human lives and its purpose is problematic: The most costly price has already been paid in human lives and the need to justify it requires inflating the value of what they were paid for.
Leaders who inflict great sacrifices upon their people cannot let it be known to all and sundry that they were wrong, so they make the goals absolute: "A war for our homes" or "a war for our existence" - goals with infinite price tags. The issue of the relationship between the goal to its price is decried as irrelevant, and raising rational arguments is considered blasphemy, an attempt to quantify something that has no price.
Nonetheless, experience shows that manipulating values to justify the sacrifice of human lives can never ultimately succeed because the survival instinct is stronger than the manipulation. Eventually, the cynicism of inflated, counterfeit patriotism is revealed, as happened in Lebanon War.
Nobody can predict when the moment will come and all the experts and commentators will start competing over who was the first to expose the failure, the misguided strategy, the uselessness, the illusions, the political stupidity, the surrender to vengeance and the ruthlessness - the real price of the current operation. But the manipulators should not delude themselves: That moment will come. Will it arrive when the scenes of destruction in Jenin are finally revealed? Or when it becomes clear to everyone that the operation "to eliminate the terrorist infrastructure" only increased the terror? Or when it turns out that the reoccupation of the Palestinian territories and the buffer zones requires longer and longer reserve service? Or will the sobering up occur when Israel becomes a "rogue state" in the eyes of the entire world, or will it happen when the economic situation deteriorates into an even worse crisis?
And if anyone has doubts about the arrival of the morning after, they should take a look at the Jewish Agency's patriotic advertising campaign, which calls on people to "continue living the dream" - a pathetic attempt to postpone the awakening on the shards of the Zionist dream and to preach getting lost in dreams to escape reality.
When the time comes, and the curtain is pulled away from this phony patriotism, it will turn out that the fifth Israel-Palestine war (after the Arab Revolt, the 1948 war, the Lebanon war, and the first intifada) will truly have been another battle in the war of independence, but not Israel's, as Ariel Sharon claims, but that of the Palestinians. And nobody, neither side, will win that war, because in conflicts between communities there are no victors, only losers. All that will remain will be the horrific memories, the profound hatred, the calls for vengeance, and the bitter taste of missed opportunities, since it almost, almost could have been different.