Gideon Levy


Under the volcano

(10 June 2001)


HA’ARETZ (English Edition), Sunday, June 10, 2001
Ha’aretz English website (

There has never been such unity here. Listen to the Israeli public discourse and you hear only one voice. From one terrorist attack to the next, the nails are being driven into the coffin of the concept of pluralism in Israel; the attack at the Dolphinarium in Tel Aviv was the last nail. The horror of the event sent everyone into a state of paralysis: children and parents, right and left – everyone agrees with everyone else. Fear became the teacher and brought about a consensus that would shame no totalitarian regime. One nation, one stand. Its basic elements: there is no one to talk to, Arafat is not a partner, we have to do “something”, to deliver a final crushing blow once and for all. We offered them everything and they chose war, there will not be peace in this generation, we will live by the sword for all time.

And overlaying it all, an appalling wave of hatred for Arabs has seized everyone. Who doesn’t hate Arabs a little these days? Who still believes them? Who thinks it’s possible to make peace with them?

Where are the days when it used to be said that for every two Israelis there were three opinions? Now, every three Israelis have barely one opinion. From being an ultra-involved nation, where every social gathering and every taxi trip was always accompanied by lively political arguments, the nation in recent months has become a choir that sings one song, in one voice. Beyond the monotony, and the danger such a development poses for democracy, it holds out a more immediate risk. The fact that no one is asking tough questions, that no one is proposing bold alternatives and that the public agenda is becoming so uniform, wholly aimed at the next war, should be cause for great concern. Like a village living below a volcano and waiting complacently for the next eruption, Israel is watching events unfold as though watching a natural disaster over which no one has any control, and muttering its well-worn slogans. So we’re headed for another terrible eruption of bloodletting, that’s how it goes.

Above all we are witnessing the evaporation of the left; but there is hardly anything left of the center, either. “We are all settlers,” say people who not long ago styled themselves leftists and centrists; it is not only writers’ widows, such as Edna Shabtai, who are turning right. The thin shell of the peace camp broke apart in an instant, after its enlightened members found out that the Palestinians were not managing their affairs exactly according to the model the peaceniks had created for them. The Palestinians resorted to violence and dared to demand the right of return. The conclusion: the left was wrong. The result: an almost wholesale drift to the right. The media, the leaders of the peace camp, together with Labor, the Likud and Rehavam Ze’evi – all are declaiming almost the same message. Can anyone seriously point today to substantial differences not only between Ariel Sharon and Shimon Peres, but even between Yossi Sarid and Limor Livnat? The right says, honestly, that it aspires to fighting a war, while the left says that war is inevitable because of Arafat. That is a very minor difference – too minor.

The lip service the left is paying in the form of calls for a freeze on construction in the settlements or for the establishment of a Palestinian state, is pathetic: too little and too late.

It didn’t have to be this way. The voice that has been muted is now more essential than ever. Israel needs another voice now, not just that of the brave but minuscule Gush Shalom (the Peace Bloc). Where are the intellectuals and the statesmen to assert that the Palestinians could never have accepted what Ehud Barak offered, that the way it was offered outraged them even more? Who will declare that a just solution to the conflict must include not only a fair territorial solution but also a just solution for the refugees, including recognition of their right of return?

Who will speak out in a loud voice to offer a truth different to the one now sweeping the country from end to end? Who will state that the occupation is an act of violence, the most terrible of all, that terrorism is not only suicide bombers but also firing missiles at inhabited homes? Who will assert the truth: That there are too few differences between a person who blows himself up outside a discotheque and kills 20 boys and girls, and a person who frivolously fires shells at a house in which an infant girl has just finished drinking milk from her mother’s breast? That depriving a whole nation of freedom of movement and placing that nation in a prison is an act of violence more cruel than any in the past, and stirs a people to fight using whatever means it has? That the incitement in the Palestinian media is not that much worse than the incitement on Israeli radio and television? That the present war is first and foremost a war over Netzarim and Yitzhar, and that if they or all the settlements did not exist our situation would be immeasurably better? That the roots of Palestinian terrorism have to be sought in the Israeli occupation and not in the Palestinians’ genes?

Almost no one is asking these questions. A whole nation is now huddled around one tribal bonfire to lament its bitter fate, mourn its dead and ignore the dead of the other side. As usual, it views itself as the victim, turns the enemy into Satan and waits, inactive and bravely unthinking, for the calamity that is about to befall it and for which it is in no small measure to blame.


Last updated on 4.8.2001