Short Memory and Mass Hysteria

The reaction of the Israeli media, the Israeli public and particularly the Israeli right, to the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit by the Hamas and to the continued firing of rockets from Gaza into Israeli territory, provides an interesting lesson in the collective psychology of our nation. Shimon Peres was practically ostracized for daring to draw the obvious conclusion from this behaviour: it is nothing short of mass hysteria. Over and again, Israelis prove that they have a very short memory.

Here are a couple of examples of the “truths” we are told these days:

Shalit’s kidnapping is proof the IDF should never have left Gaza. Kidnappings of Israeli soldiers (and civilians) have happened before, not only from territories we were in control of, but from within Israel itself! Nachshon Waksman was kidnapped in the West Bank when the IDF was in full control; Benny Avraham, Omar Souad and Adi Avitan were kidnapped from northern Israel and taken to Lebanon; and only last week, Eliyahu Asheri was kidnapped (and later murdered) from a bus-stop in Jerusalem.

The continued firing of Kassam rockets proves the IDF should never have left Gaza. Right, just as the shelling of northern Israel by Katyusah rockets for years while Israel occupied southern Lebanon is proof we should have never left Lebanon. Not to mention that Gush Katif settlements in Gaza were bombarded daily by rockets – thousands in a period of two years – while the IDF was in full occupation of Gaza.

Perhaps the most telling indication of this mass hysteria is the psak halacha (religious edict) issued by prominent rabbis, among them the Chief Rabbi of Israel, that forbids hitchhiking. It followed the kidnap and murder of Asheri last week. Written in the traditional flowery language of such edicts, the rabbis go to great lenghts to explain why the Torah forbids hitchhiking as part of the general rule of avoiding danger and taking care of oneself. One would think that after hundreds of Israelis were killed and thousands maimed for life in terrorist attacks against buses and shopping malls within Israel, the rabbis would have long ago used the same logic to forbid bus rides and shopping. But they didn’t. Rather, they rode the waves of mass hysteria and short memory to speak out now against hitchhiking.

To me, these are all signs of the general “tiredeness” that is permeating Israeli society. Most Israelis are fed up with the way Israeli governments have handled the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and with the “no light at the end of the tunnel” situation. This normal reaction of a healthy people, that wants to lead a normal life, is translated by eye-rolling politicians and rabbis as a sign of weakness. The mass hysteria over a few flying tubes of metal that caused no fatalities thus far (compared with the dozens of fatalities of Israeli soldiers yearly when the IDF was occupying Lebanon or Gaza!) is understandable; after all, terrorism is exactly about that: instilling terror. My criticism is not against the people of Sderot and Ashkelon. I would have reacted in the same manner, if not worse, were a rocket to land in my son’s school. My criticism is against vast majority of the political leaders and the mass media, who instead of putting matters into the right perspective, prefer to get carried away with populist scaremongering and visions of doom. Instead of leading they prefer to be led.

Yitzhak Rabin was right. He arrived at the conclusion that the sooner we strike an agreement with the Palestinians the better, even at the supposedly high “cost” of losing most of the lands occupied in 1967. He understood that Israeli society, like other societies in democratic countries, is no longer willing to put up with the unbearable costs associated with the occupation of territories where Jews are vastly outnumbered, and all in the name of nationalistic ideals that may be historically and morally correct, but defy basic reason given the possible realistic outcomes. He did not delude himself (like most of his left-wing supporters did) that the Palestinians love us; he understood the terms of the agreement need to ensure a state of non-belligerency and that it would take generations to reach a semblance of “peace”. Unfortunately, his so-called “followers” (Kadima and their likes) have yet to come to the same realization.

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