Human freedom is a continuous and indispensable theme in Judaism, but
that freedom can never countenance a "right" of national suicide.
Individually and collectively, there is always a firm Jewish obligation
to choose between "the blessing and the curse" - and always
an expectation to choose life. In the case of coming "disengagement,"
the Prime Minister's decision to surrender Jewish land to Israel's most
openly-genocidal enemies will inevitably distance the nation - perhaps
irretrievably - from survival. And if disengagement is permitted to happen,
Israel's consequent dismantling will be anything but tragic. Instead,
it will be the reductio ad absurdum of a government (more realistically,
of one unheroic Israeli government after another) that indefatigably poisons
itself. Israel, after Ariel Sharon's forcible deportation of Jews from
Gaza and parts of Samaria, awaits a tragic fate. Yet, the dramatic genre
portraying this unhappy and profane destiny is correctly described as
"pathos." Like the minimalist poetics of Samuel Beckett, the
entire play, however deeply meaningful, is also preposterous. While the
early Greeks certainly did not share the monotheistic Jewish understanding
of One God, the Greeks and the Jews did both subscribe to an idea that
all human beings and societies are obligated to ward off disaster as best
they can. "Free will." Saadia Gaon included freedom of will
among the central teachings of Judaism, and Maimonides affirmed that we
humans stand alone in the world, "...to know what is good and what
is evil, with none to prevent him from either doing good or evil."
Free will must always be oriented to life, to the blessing, never to the
curse. For Hellenes and Hebrews alike, the binding charge was to strive
in this mandated direction of self-preservation through intelligence and
through disciplined acts of will. In circumstances where such striving
was consciously rejected, the outcomes - no matter how catastrophic -
could never rise to the dignified level of tragedy. The ancient vision
of "High Tragedy," as it evolved from fifth century BCE Athens,
is always clear on one crucial point: The victim is one whom "the
gods kill for their sport, as wanton boys do flies." This wantonness,
this caprice, is what makes tragedy unendurable to human reason and sensibility.
With "disengagement" and the corollary release of still more
Arab terrorists, however, Israel's lamentations will be largely self-
inflicted. The drama, as it is now unfolding, is at best a disturbing
page from Beckett or Ionesco. There is no hint of a cathartic element
from Aeschylus, Sophocles or Euripides. At worst, Israel's tragic fate
is torn from the pages of irony and farce, a form of comedy that relies
principally on contrivances of plot and on inherently low levels of credibility.
In a farce, matters often end badly except for a last-minute rescue via
"deus ex machina." No such rescue awaits the continuously imperiled
State of Israel. Understood in Jewish terms, we should recall here the
words of Rabbi Yanai: "A man should never put himself in a place
of danger and say that a miracle will save him, lest there be no miracle...."
(Talmud: Sota 32a and Codes; Yoreh De'ah 116). Perhaps Israel's prime
minister does not expect a miracle, but then upon what manner of reasoning
does he now construct his suicidal policy of "Land For Nothing?"
In Judaism there can be no justification for deliberate self- endangerment,
and in classic Greek tragedy, there can be no deus ex machina. In tragedy,
the human spirit remains noble in the face of largely inescapable death,
but if there is anything remotely tragic in Israel's Oslo/"Road Map"/"disengagement"-descent,
it lies only in the original Greek meaning of the term - "goat song"
- from the dithyrambs sung by goatskin- clad worshippers of Dionysus.
In every other sense, Israel now exhibits behavior that desecrates its
sacred Jewish heritage and its manifestly obvious Jewish obligations.
Prime Minister Sharon proceeds with the expectation of a "Two State
Solution." Yet, his Palestinian "partners in peace" remain
openly dedicated only to a single, twenty-third Arab state. Israel does
not exist on the maps of Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah. As for the still unrevised
Fatah constitution, its plans for Israel are plainly Crimes Against Humanity
- this according to unassailable standards of authoritative international
law. Mahmoud Abbas' only solution for the Israel-Palestinian conflict
is a familiar "final" one. Abbas, of course, is identified in
Jerusalem and Washington as the "moderate" Palestinian voice.
Aristotle understood, in his POETICS, that a tragedy must elicit pity
and fear, but certainly not pathos, a kind of suffering less heroic than
what is to be expected of a genuinely tragic figure. Aristotle identified
the tragic with "good" characters who suffer, in part, because
they commit some error (hamartia) unknowingly. Prime Minister Sharon,
on the other hand, has continued his country's march to disaster not because
of any such error, or even because of wantonness or caprice, but (in the
most charitable explanation) because his territorial nationalism has become
detached from Judaism. Israel is currently in a tragic dilemma, a situation
initially created by Rabin/Peres, sustained by Netanyahu, heightened by
Barak, and soon to be "finalized" by Sharon. Now, each Israeli
surrender and humiliation leads the country closer to an unbearable conclusion.
Now, Israel is in the condition of Orestes. Commanded by the god Apollo,
in THE LIBATION BEARERS of Aeschylus (458 BCE) to avenge his father's
death by murdering Clytemnestra, the slayer who is Orestes' mother, Orestes
knows that - whatever he decides - will make him guilty of grave offense.
Unlike Orestes and in violation of Jewish precept, the leader of Israel
has placed his people directly in the path of misfortune - in a "place
of danger." It is not divine whim that has brought Israel to its
present existential vulnerabilities; it is the continuous, stubborn and
inexcusable self- delusion of Israeli and Jewish leaderships. Today a
Prime Minister of Israel still codifies Hamas/PLO/PA/Fatah's jihad-centered
rule over essential and expanding sectors of the Jewish State. Yet, Holocaust
denier Mahmoud Abbas was mentored by Yassir Arafat, and Arafat, in the
words of Gustav Hendrikssen, professor emeritus of Bible Studies at Sweden's
Uppsala University, "is the heir of Hitler and the Palestinian Covenant
is a more disgusting document than the Nuremberg laws." When this
self-described "aged and bitter Gentile" recalled his reactions
to awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to "one of the most despicable
figures in our century," he saw in that event the drama not of tragedy,
but of pathetic farce: "When I saw the Prime Minister of Israel and
its Foreign Minister standing next to this murderous clown," says
Prof. Hendrikssen, speaking of Rabin and Peres, "I had to think again
about the meaning of the term `friend of Israel.'" A Christian for
whom Israel had always been a "divine message," Hendrikssen
confirms our understanding that Israel's current "disengagement"
and other incremental surrenders lack even the stuff of tragedy. If, after
all, "...the Jewish people digs its grave with its own hand,"
it is a coming death without dignity. "Even the devil that dances
on its grave is of its own making." Soon, if "disengagement"
is allowed to go forward, each and every soldier of Israel will be asked
to fight battles that are already lost. Fawning upon their own doom, Israel's
leaders will still refuse to recognize that the spheres of reason in this
world are terribly limited, or that George W. Bush and the American Jewish
Establishment will not save them. For the latter, which takes out newspaper
ads supporting "disengagement," Israel will remain a quaint
and ego-satisfying diversion, a good place to visit with the children
from time to time and a convenient pretext for lavish banquets in New
York. For the former, the drama of Israel's redemption is just another
traveling roadshow, here today, gone tomorrow. Israel is now entering
the final phase of an unwitting self-parody. Fortunately the last act
has not yet been played. Israel can still put an end to the demeaning
farce, but only if its people and government can finally understand why
they have been ingathered in the first place.
LOUIS RENE BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is the author of many books
and articles dealing with Israeli security issues and international law.
(c) 30 May 2005
Louis Rene Beres Professor of International Law Department of Political
Science Purdue University West Lafayette IN 47907 USA
TEL 765 494-4189 FAX 765 494-0833 E MAIL BERES@POLSCI.PURDUE.EDU