The last time I tried to bring about peace was in March 1998. After that, I gave up. Even this last effort was not made in the framework of an intensive, committed and activist struggle for peace. Rather, it was like the spring rain (the malkosh, in Hebrew), which falls long after the rainy season has passed, or like a stray shot fired haphazardly when the battle is already over.
Nowadays I think it is obvious that someone who is in love with his addiction is not going to be cured. Jews and Muslims, or Israelis and Arabs, are addicted to the conflict between them like children with behavioral disturbances, enjoying the exaggerated and preferential treatment bestowed upon them and basking in the acute existential sense provided by their involvement in the conflict. They enjoy the contemporary status of righteous victim, which is inherent in their belief that theirs is a "no-way-out" situation.
The conflict, with its aroma of addiction to patriotism, also provides legitimization for cynicism and corruption, for exploitation and extortion, for ancient fears which serve to enslave rather than to liberate. The conflict also provides sweeping rationalization for every failure and every blunder, for a sense of distorted identity that flees from any genuine attempt to grapple with its traumatic past. To try and bring a bandage to someone who is hypnotized by his wound, and to do this by symbolic devices (which are meant to suddenly open the heart and melt it once and for all) - this is not the labor of logic. I'll come back to this point later.

Meeting Real Arabs

I met the first Arab in my life when I was 14 years old. I had seen Arabs before in TV films on Friday afternoons (for years Israel TV has screened these folkloristic and anachronistic films, mainly from Egypt, enjoyed rather disparagingly by many Israelis - Ed.). I saw Arabs sweeping the streets, laboring in construction, or working behind the grill in restaurants.
However, my meeting with real, live Arabs (that is, people with their own personalities, history, personal taste, dreams and suffering) took place when, as a pupil, I happened by mistake to see the storeroom where the school cleaning workers slept. It was behind the classroom where the girls studied home economics (while the boys, of course, learned carpentry). I saw mattresses on the floor, so crowded that one touched the other, a coat folded as a pillow, clothes hanging on a nail, and windows without any window panes at all. My adolescent understanding that Na'im and Khalil stay in the building after school hours, lie down on these mattresses after their work day, and go home only at weekends - made me do something about it. I took a step which looked like a victory for a dreamer like myself who read too much Dickens, who doesn't surrender to the "facts," to the "reality," to the "establishment": so I stole from the pantry a tin of biscuits (intended for a home economics class on "making cheesecake without baking"), hid it under my shirt and put it down secretly on one of the mattresses in the storeroom. I was undoubtedly a leftist.
Then Rabbi Kahane (a Jewish racist, born in the USA - Ed.) arrived. In Israeli cities, the doors of Arab workers' rooms, which had been locked at night by their Jewish employers, were torched. My friend, a soldier in a combat unit in Lebanon, came home once a month to argue with me about politics instead of broadening our "sexual experience"; checkpoints were set up at the entrance to our cities in order to control Arab workers who crossed the Green Line every morning searching for work; stories appeared on the inside pages of our newspapers about the brutality of the Border Police toward Palestinians; I sat for my matriculation (Bagrut) exam and got a mark of nine on Sören Kierkegaard, Agnon, Beckett, the Theatre of the Absurd, new Hebrew poetry and Crime and Punishment.


After that, I joined the army. I had a very bad time there. I tried to commit suicide. I was released after being categorized alternatively as "unsuitable for military service" or "a raging pacifist." Arabs began to knife Israelis in the street. The Intifada began [1987]. Yitzhak Rabin gave orders to break their hands and legs. My friend Nahum was killed in a training accident in the army. Four of us - Adar, Orna,Yael and I - joined the Haleah Hakibbush (Down with the Occupation) movement, and it was this organization that changed my life, even though I saw myself at the age of twenty as one who is sick of organizations and as an uncompromising individualist.
During that period there were many protest organizations against the Lebanon war. The 21st Year (Academics Against the Occupation); Yesh Gvul (There Is a Limit - soldiers refusing to serve in Lebanon and in the occupied territories); Dai Lakibbush (Enough of the Occupation, a protest movement of Communist and leftist groups); Or Adom (Red Light - Palestinians who suffered at the hands of the police); two separate organizations of physicians and of rabbis for human rights; Hafarperet (Mole - a youth movement), etc. But the main thing for me was Derech Hanitzotz (Path of the Spark), and its unofficial faction, Haleah Hakibbush.
We knew nothing of Marxism, Trotskyism or Leninism. We had yet to learn of dialectical materialism or even of trade unionism. (After all, none of this had been included in our matriculation curriculum.) In this ephemeral and frighteningly serious organization, I understood for the first time the full significance of the number 48 [1948]. No longer was 67 [1967] the ultimate code with which to decipher all our social, economic, national, territorial and collective-emotional woes. The very establishment of the State of Israel, in essence an apartheid state, is the heart of the problem. Those who believe that a temporary error was made by beautiful people who had to cut down trees and couldn't help the splinters flying, miss the point. This isn't only a conflict over land and water, or over national pride or freedom of religion. It is the impossible mixture of everything together, merging uncompromising utopianism with outright commercial bargaining, both combined with territorial fears and religious incitement.
In the "Down with the Occupation" movement, we argued a lot, heard lectures on the People's Republic of China, Nicaragua and the USSR; prepared hundreds of protest placards, and tried to achieve cooperation with parallel Palestinian groups. I became an anti-Zionist, one of those who believe that injustice is inherent in the Zionist motivation as such, and it is not a question of some wild growth that we will soon get round to uprooting. The group's radical-revolutionary consciousness descended in my case upon spiritually hungry earth, on the beginnings of what had, up to now, been an amorphous sense of justice.
It took time for me to develop a longing for the absurd, for the ironical, for the double-entendre, for paradoxes lacking solution; and it took time for the semantic precision, which is the "red" substitute for a sense of humor and for sex, to tire me out. Until this weariness took over, I was the complete political activist. I traveled to the Erez checkpoint in the Gaza Strip, with offerings of rice and infants' milk powder for the Palestinians; I demonstrated opposite the offices of the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv against the demolition of Palestinian houses; I traveled to the Military Court in Lydda to see the proceedings of a military trial of Palestinians who had no citizenship; I shouted slogans outside "Prison No. 6" to encourage young Israelis from the "There Is a Limit" movement who were imprisoned there; I helped distribute study materials to Palestinian pupils whose schools had been closed down during the Intifada by the Israeli authorities; I went to Qalqiliya to protest against the closure that prevented Palestinians from working in Israel; I wrote articles against administrative detention (prison without trial) of Palestinians and lamenting the death of the child Hilmi Soussa; I edited a special paper on the massacre by the Israeli artillery of more than one hundred Lebanese civilians at Kufr Qana [April 1996]; I contributed, as an artist, to an exhibition on "Thirty years of occupation," and against the evacuation by the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality of Arabs from a Jaffa neighborhood; I prepared tens of posters; I sprayed slogans on walls; I made innumerable telephone calls; I got people to sign petitions and I contributed part of my salary to the cause; I protested against the appropriation of Arab lands in Galilee; I warned against the use of torture in Israeli prisons; I went to Hebron University on the anniversary of the death of Che Guevara; I took a course in Arabic in Gaza.

Righteous Anger

The fact that, for its part, the occupation showed no signs of ending caused me deep spiritual damage. Then came the Oslo agreement [1993] and it put an end to most of the protest movements. The placards held aloft were now lowered and the demonstrators went home, since from then on "everything would be ok." In reality, these agreements don't assure most of those rights for which the Palestinian freedom fighters and their Israeli supporters fought, but this did not give rise to a wave of protests. The agreements photographed well and it looked as if things were moving in the direction of historical compromise. I was paralyzed by my mighty disappointment with the Israeli left over its failure to concern itself with the question - how would Palestinian life look after the establishment of the Palestinian Authority?
Most of the above protest campaign, in which I played a minor role and which appeared to me to be so powerful and full of just and even righteous anger, was for the main part a matter of conscience-cleansing. From the moment that Yitzhak Rabin took over the business of salving their consciences, people gurgled with the utmost happiness and went back to business as usual. The disappointment over the left-wing party Meretz, which two months after joining Rabin's coalition government signed expulsion orders against Palestinians, was startling and incapacitating. The bodies called "left" in Israel are no less patriotic and security-oriented than those called "right." The differences only concern nuances over concepts regarding how best to achieve supreme security; how the country should preserve its strength; how to achieve "newspeak" and smooth over the language of apartheid more effectively and without disturbance. There is no essential difference between Begin and Rabin and Bibi and Barak, apart from the style of government and paranoid poetry as against short military barks.

Merely a Student with a Bleeding Heart

And I, in my total war for peace, was always playing the small parts. I couldn't represent the victims against a heartless judicial system, because I'm not a lawyer. I couldn't provide free medical treatment for needy children, because I'm not a doctor. I was neither an academic nor a rabbi, nor a man who gets induction papers from the army that he can burn in a public square in front of a TV camera. I was merely an art student with a bleeding heart and a clenched fist, so that my contribution to driving out the evil was focused on preparing artistic placards, phoning people about activities, and my own physical presence at demonstrations and protests. I believed that one person, then another and then another, proliferated into a popular revolt. Afterwards, as a journalist, too, my work on political subjects didn't amount to much, because I wrote in the cultural section about entertainment and provided information on innovations in the contemporary white, Western world. I was told tactfully that people were tired of the injustice of the occupation. Next...
Now came the understanding that in the Middle East there is not only a fundamental cleavage in interpreting the reality, but also completely different schedules (that is, entirely different histories) and a double conception of time and space as parallel lines. None of these can meet. The idea of protest strikes opposite the Defense Ministry appears pathetic in the era of the Internet. The former power of people massing in the city square had come to an end. The struggle for justice became a matter for a few appeals to the Supreme Court (for instance, against the torture and illegal imprisonment of Palestinians), and for a handful of newspaper editors (who continued to report on prison without trial, on closure, on the demolition of houses and deportation of Palestinians). Whether they succeed or fail, these are struggles from which the public is neutralized since, regardless of its attitude, the public becomes a mere passive client.
The question of justice has been put in the hands of Arafat and Barak, who are meant to engineer a sufferable way of life for all of us. Anyone who ever cared about the conflict, in all its variations and clashes, retreated in disgust. The spiral process of disenchantment is not only the result of social apathy. It is something principled, political, of people fed up with newspeak, with the policy of "separation" from the Palestinians; it is the accumulated disgust of people who saw, time and again, that they lack the strength to prevent the brutal destruction of human life; it is the helpless revulsion of people from their being defiled, from what the media feeds them, from the arrogant and self-righteous hunger for power, from the mixing together of moralization and violence in the form of sanctimoniousness which has spread far and wide in Israeli society.

Seeking Alternatives

There is a whole generation of young Israelis, with an ability for principled political thinking, which rebelled against the dictates of the social agenda, that one must take an interest in Israel's realpolitik. They rejected this option of participation in the discussion proposed to them as a result of their understanding of what it is: it is a discussion which does not succeed in extricating itself from militarism, reciprocal racism and destruction. Accordingly, they are pushed into growing engagement in their private, rather than their public, life. They find alternative public activity, be it discussions on the Internet or participating in trance parties. These enable an alternative human comradeship, non-violence, accepting everyone without discrimination, and the ability to communicate with others directly and immediately.
Or they leave the State of Israel in the hope that it will be less bad in a new country, or that what is bad there won't destroy them. They reject the fact that the comradeship, communication and acceptance are superficial and quite unable to stand the test of a dynamic and diversified reality. The critics of their position claim that they are escapists, living in an illusory balloon, and that they fail to confront moral dilemmas. This is, of course, true. However, contemporary Israeli society doesn't offer them any other relevant option. In the last resort, the "escapism" is likely to emerge as the beginning of an anti-war society, even if the reasons are that war is irrelevant (and not unjust).
In other words, let us assume that this is a segment of the population which is yuppie, nouveau riche, egocentric, blatantly capitalistic, for whom national conflicts merely disturb their life routine - and not an ideological population, fighting for freedom and believing in human rights. Nevertheless, as a group, it is preferable to self-righteous people who open fire and weep at the same time (a phrase used by some Israeli circles to criticize self-styled peaceniks in the army - Ed.), preferable to ideologues who send other people to battle, and preferable to those who believe in Fascism-on-the-way-to-democracy. At any rate, the "escapists" harm nobody. Their principled refusal to accept the ruling super-Zionist national agenda automatically makes them into non-activists, according to prevalent concepts. The advantage to be found in these dissident laggards is that they necessarily present the current discussion in terms of different, new and pertinent criteria. There is no longer only one option for Israel's existence, namely taking up a position on a particular side of the existing barricades. The barricade is no longer taken for granted. Consciously or not, with their very rejection of the abnormality of our society, they strengthen the longing for a normal civil society.

Pessimist, Ineffective, Bored

I am one of them - helpless and bored with chewing the cud in endless discussions on long-exhausted subjects. I don't believe that most of those involved sincerely want to reach understanding and solutions which, if adequate security arrangements are assured, will enable many people to live in dignity. The immoral strength given to the Jews in Israel to rule over the lives of Arabs (Muslims and Christians) in Israel is such that I do not believe that the rulers will agree to give it up. The power to rule, to humiliate, to determine the other's fate, to search, to open, to close, to change, to move, to prevent others from moving, to neglect, to imprison, to free, to imprison again, to destroy, to starve, to censor, to investigate, to accuse and so on - this is an addictive power. It is impossible to cure addicts when they themselves don't want to be cured. And there is certainly no point in replacing them with other addicts of force.
The State of Israel is a nuclear power, sells arms and trains armies, an apartheid state presenting itself as a victim fearing for its very existence. It is so threatened by youths with stones that it establishes an additional and degenerate judicial system, parallel to the civil system, so as to put these youths into prison. The State of Israel is a colonialist state, going to war to win a few more meters, which it takes away from the owners of olive groves and pastures. At the same time, it claims to be ready to retreat from the territories it conquered only if exaggerated security arrangements are assured.
The State of Israel arrests people at airports and in newspaper offices, bans information which doesn't correspond with its own viewpoint as master, but presents itself both as peace-loving and as the only democracy in the Middle East. I know that this is the state where I live. I see this. I see the Palestinian Authority too. I am pessimistic. I am ineffective and bored and I think these feelings aren't only my personal problem or that of similar people of my generation. On the contrary, what we have here is a vital and principled political problem of disintegration.
In March 1998, I went to Gaza for an Arabic course at the Ibrahim Language School. I don't have a talent for languages and the only sentence which remains in my memory is the first one I learned: Ana sakna fi funduq Omar al-Mukhtar (I am staying at the Omar al-Mukhtar Hotel). This is what we were to say if we got lost. <