Israel Report

March 2002         

Naming the War

by Ari Shavit - March 15, 2002
A name is needed. This war needs a name. If you don't give your war a name you can't fight it. If you don't give your war a name you can't win it. You will lose. And in losing, die. One possibility is the Al-Aqsa Intifada. But that is the Palestinian name, not the Israeli one. And for a long time now the point hasn't been Al-Aqsa. Not only Al-Aqsa. Nor is there an intifada here. There are no mass demonstrations, no popular uprising, no stone throwing. So those who say intifada are lying. Merely laundering words.

Another possibility is the End of the Occupation War. The Palestinians' war to end the occupation. But this war broke out immediately after the Palestinians were offered the end of the occupation. By exchanging Ehud Barak for Ariel Sharon, this war itself actually perpetuated the occupation. And in large part, this war is being waged outside the areas of the occupation. It makes no distinction between Israelis of occupation and Israelis of outside the occupation. So anyone who speaks about the End of the Occupation War is lying. Merely laundering words.

Perhaps the Peace for the Settlements War. The war of Ariel Sharon to perpetuate the settlements. But this war broke out immediately after Israel agreed to dismantle about a hundred settlements. The war broke out immediately after the Palestinians ostensibly agreed to accept the existence of the remaining settlements. And in none of their ideological platforms do the Palestinians posit the settlements as a sufficient condition for ending this war and establishing peace. In none of their war cries do the Palestinians posit the goal of dismantling the settlements as a final goal. So anyone who says that this war is the Peace for the Settlements War is lying. Merely laundering words.

So as I lean on the stone fence across the way, as I watch the highly skilled teams wash the blood off the road, it comes to me that maybe the right name for this war is an awkward, old name: the War of the Life of the Jews. Or a slightly more updated version: The War of the Jews' Last Chance. After all, the inhuman human being who was sent here by a national liberation movement that is not a national liberation movement did not want to kill the people sitting at the bar in Moment in order to avenge the humiliation of the checkpoints. That Palestinian Goldstein who was sent here by this Palestinian Duce in order to plunge bolts and nails into the girls of Moment didn't do it in order to win himself freedom. He did it in an ecstasy of religious hatred the likes of which exists nowhere on earth. He did it in a convulsion of a cult of land and a cult of blood and a cult of death. He did it in an attack of fascist zealotry that does not know the value of the individual. And he did it not to affirm them but to deny us. Not to liberate them but to annul us. To chase us out of here.

The window-shattered prow of Moment glows with a kind of strangely pleasant light. As though the cafe were a boat that has already been hit by a torpedo and all its sailors killed--but has not yet sunk. And as I wander by these windows and look at the half-empty beer bottles and the uneaten bowls of pasta and the red Cinzano that survived, it comes to me that it is really very simple: After all the complexity, what it boils down to is: They want to take our lives. Religious nationalist fanatics want to take our lives. And in their messianic fervor, they are sending us a very clear message with their bombs: We cannot bear you. We cannot bear your freedom, we cannot bear your sovereignty, we cannot bear your way of life. We cannot bear your girls. We cannot bear your children, we cannot bear your infants. We cannot bear your happiness. We cannot bear your happy occasions. We cannot bear your laughter. We cannot bear the blood that flows in your veins, the very beating of your heart.

The explosive device had something of the effect of a small neutron bomb. It hardly touched property, only killed people. The chairs are overturned and the glass is shattered, but the counter is almost unharmed. Above the espresso machine are piles of small Segafredo cups. Rows and rows of whiskey, arak, liqueur. The two rings of Carlsberg and Tuborg glow in the distance above the two beer taps. Only the entrance area is blackened. There are only a few bloodstains on the window bars. And in the northeast corner a wall perforated by nails. Bolts and nails.

A name is needed. A name is needed urgently. Because this killing is not taking place out of the blue. This killing is taking place the way it is and on the scale that it is because in the past few months the laundering of words has accorded it legitimization. This killing is taking place the way it is and on the scale that it is because in the past few months Israeli politics has infused it with motivation. This killing is taking place because in the past few months we have behaved wantonly. We have blurred lines. So we need a name in order to draw new lines. Lines here and now. So that it will be possible to understand what we are fighting for. What we are being killed for. Killed on the counter of the bar. Killed in the midst of lovemaking. In the midst of life.

At four in the morning a family arrives. The father, wearing a knitted kippa, is composed. The mother's eyes are large and frightened. They have come to look for items of clothing. Maybe they will be able to find some items of clothing here. Because at Shaare Zedek Medical Center they said no and at Hadassah Hospital in Ein Karem they said no, and at Abu Kabir, the forensic institute, they found nothing. She only started working here today. Today of all days she started work here. They have been wandering around all night, not knowing what to do. Not knowing who to turn to. Maybe some items of clothing remained by the bar. Some signs of identity.

Only one name comes to me: the War of Sovereignty. Maybe the War of Israeli Sovereignty. Maybe the War of Jewish Sovereignty. Because this is the goal of the war: not to bring about the collapse of the occupation but to bring about the collapse of Jewish sovereignty. To deny the Jews the right to be sovereign in any part of the Land of Israel. And this is also both the strategy and the tactic of this war: by means of killing in cafes and killing in restaurants and killing in malls and pizzerias and in night clubs, to show the Jews that they are no longer safe any place in Israel. By generating fear and sowing separation, it wants to isolate the Jews in separate political and geographic cantons that are alienated from one another and turn away from one another and devote all their efforts to mutual gratuitous hatred.

By means of murder and massacre, this war is trying to force the Jews out of every public place and deny them any feeling of public order, to insulate them in terrified, helpless individual life. In order to disrupt completely all the workings of their common life. In order to void of content their political independence. And in order to demonstrate to them, by means of bombs, that they are no longer sovereign. That the Jews are not sovereign anywhere in this country.

I won't sleep tonight. It's better not to sleep. As long as the eyes are open, the eyes don't remember. As long as the eyes are open, they don't reconstruct what happened. They don't have to watch the horror movie that Moment projects incessantly on the screen of one's consciousness. But down below on Gaza Street and on Radak and on Ben Maimon it is very dark. In the center of town, too, the night cafes are closed. Here and there a police van speeds by. Here and there one sees a policeman with an assault rifle. And there is the wailing of the muezzin on the Temple Mount. Apocalyptic Bratslav Hasidim congregate.

Maybe it's not too late after all. Maybe it is still in our hands. Now, with the sirens chasing one another, with all the lights flashing, with the writing shouting from every wall. And 350 who are silent. Eleven hundred Palestinians and 350 Jews who are forever silent.

One thing is clear: if we do not get up now, we will never get up. If we allow ourselves to go on wallowing in this helplessness and this factionalism and this self-hatred, we will never get on our feet again. And if we do not make it clear to ourselves immediately that this war is the War of Israeli Sovereignty, that sovereignty will fall apart. If we do not demand right now that this war be followed by peace--the peace, too, will fall apart. And if we go on laundering words and if we do not draw lines immediately and if we do not define the fundamentals, the little order that still remains will also fall apart. The little remaining quiet will disappear. Because the Bratslavers are already congregating in the corner; the muezzin is calling from the Temple Mount.

©2002 - Ha'aretz


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