Friday, January 06, 2006

Seen it all before...

Ariel Sharon is a living behemoth here in Israel. Hate him or love him, he is the embodiment of the two primary governing institutions here in Israel - the army and the legislature. Discerning which priority comes first to Mr Sharon seems a subjective question, it doesn't help that everyone in this country has served in the military. If you ask a Palestinian, he is a war criminal, and many young Israelis will tell you the same. He has many names and metaphysical references associated to his likeness; the bulldozer is to many young Israelis the only man capable of ensuring security. Israelis young and old are caught in between two very different security prerogatives. On the one hand they must reconcile their intimate experience of terrorist attacks, and still plead the case of restraint. There is certainly a profound, deeply religious understanding that due to the power dynamic, they must act benevolently. And on the other, there is an identity associated with being victimized that instinctively tells every bone in the body to lash back and be righteously furious, and smite your enemy for his transgressions because you can. This too, has biblical reference.

As the Prime Minister lies in a coma besieged by the frailty of his ancient body, at least for the moment, it seems as though the endless questioning of his leadership has taken a break. Almost everyone I have spoken to, whether they like him or not, the first thing they express is concern for the man's health, and that they wish him a speedy recovery. To an observer it appears visceral. It is fraternal compassion, kin of Israel. Sharon, in his moment of weakness has descended from the pedestal of government and has become nothing more than a man in need. This is a concept that to many Israelis is familiar. No matter where an attack transpires in Israel, it is close to home. Israel is a tiny nation, and everything is close. Ariel Sharon has been stripped of his status as international ideologue, he is just a local politician now. And as such he represents a small community. Just as Israelis know his successor will be another son of Israel bound by the same constraints and circumstances as he.

It is precisely this familiarity though, that incubates a political spectrum highly varied in its extremes. The American political field is so vast, we come to know our candidates through the filter of Republican or Democrat. Our parties are so entrenched and so uncontested, the majority of us have learned to vote based on party lines rather than candidates. Presidential elections are not a battle fought to win over the support of the nation, rather it is a competition to sway that middle ten percent of America which doesn't always vote along party lines. There has perhaps never been a system at such a pivotal moment, that has ever look quite so opposite.

Ariel Sharon just founded a new party before bowing out. What will come of this party is largely unforeseen, but the crown is certainly passing. By virtue of the fact that Kadima grew out of Likud, the remaining Likud party has had to resort to new leadership (albeit former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu), and Labour a new man in Amir Peretz. All of a sudden we are dealing with what is effectively three new parties. Many Israelis remain cautiously optimistic, while at the same time petrified of the prospect of their opposition seizing power. Granted, political uncertainty is a way of life in Israel, but never has this seemed more true. However, by the same token, to a people who are so used to sudden, drastic and irrevocable change, there is a sense of fluency. No matter how foreign, Israelis have seen it all before.

This country constantly walks a thin line between existence and obliteration, or at least in the minds of those who live here, there is a balance that hangs precariously. They believe in the nation, which is not to say that they support the aggressive real politik reality of the Israeli military, but there is this sense that the people are good. For a people whose future seems so undetermined, whose mere existence is so routinely questioned, it is truly remarkable, the resolve of the people is steadfast.


Anonymous Milwaukee said...

Looks like will finally get it straight. I have been entering my earlier blogs in the wrong place, the sign of the envelope but Lucy just corrected me. Your blog is the highlight of my day. I can't tell you how proud I am of you. Your observations are on the level of professional reporting, interesting, insightful, and well written. I think you have the makings of a book when you get home. Earlier comments were to the effect that I hope you continue individualizing your reports and avoid seeing some generic Israeli, although I suppose that is easy to do. You are extraordinarily fortunate to be in Israel at this historic moment. And you are making the most of it. Keep up the good work.

10:02 PM  
Anonymous lu said...

Wow!! Israel is in the fore front of my mind now because of the awareness you deliver everyday through your blog. I am trying to imagine these people, the Israeli and the Palestinian, shaped by the struggle for their nations existence. A couple of years ago it was Yasser Arafat, now it is Sharon. I am sure that for both sides, the people are ambivalent about their leader and see them both as belligerent war mongers...and yet, the populace have allowed these men to lead them into this endless struggle of an "eye for an eye" (biblical reference). I often wonder what it would have been like if another type of leader had emerged who had been resolute about managing difference through peaceful discourse. Of course, leaders are, to a large degree, a reflection of the popular social development.
I shed big tears, not for the loss of Sharon, but for the loss of hope that comes with this kind of turbulence...then again, it could be a great and positive turning point...we can't tell the future, can we?

10:24 PM  

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