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sraelis Quietly Snicker As US Soldiers Murder, Die for Sharon, Oil

by Gideon Samet Monday, Mar. 24, 2003 at 12:28 AM

Excerpt: "There's no mistaking the irony in the approach of many Israelis to this war. The whole sealed room business has a different look this time. Behind the panicky talk about plastic sheeting and masking tape one detects a hint of humor. This week, admitting to sealing a room was out. Making a joke about it was in."

Oh, what a lovely war!

By Gideon Samet

This war is not like any of the wars in our rich repertoire. This war is the way wars should be: A massive military force with tremendous superiority attacking an enemy of Israel and destroying it before our very eyes. In Iraq War I, they also told us not to interfere, but back then it almost ruined our health. Now, after our experience of 12 years ago, there's no chance of that. America will make mincemeat of Iraq without help and without any real threat of missiles lobbed our way. Oh, what a lovely war! "Good morning," said the education minister to parents and students in a radio broadcast yesterday. "Have a nice day in school, kids, and a nice day to all of you out there."

There's no mistaking the irony in the approach of many Israelis to this war. The whole sealed room business has a different look this time. Behind the panicky talk about plastic sheeting and masking tape one detects a hint of humor. This week, admitting to sealing a room was out. Making a joke about it was in. Even in formal interviews, there was no one who said "yes" to that eternal interviewer's question: "Have you prepared your sealed room?"

One reason, of course, is that unlike last time, the all-clear siren was sounded long before the first smart bomb was dropped. By now, we're old hands at this sort of thing, like veteran soldiers who no longer flinch at the sound of shooting. Helping us along the way were two intifadas. People who have learned to live with the certainty of buses and cafes being blown up by Palestinians don't get excited about an uncertain Iraqi missile attack.

Let's admit it: There is even a little dark thrill behind it all. Because Israel is up to its neck in troubles. Life is rotten for more Israelis today than we can remember since the great recession of the 1960s. War, even when the perils are not that great, will always repress and muffle ordinary concerns. As before, we will probably be hearing from psychiatrists that their patients are doing much better. The pressure in wartime affects us all pretty equally, and we have this voice - a kind of national shrink - who talks to us and calms us down and reminds us, by virtue of its existence, that we are all in the same boat. Not that General Amos Gilad is a particularly good therapist. Especially for those who go into an instant depression at the sound of army barrack lingo. "We are prepared for every scenario," the current Nachman Shai promised us yesterday.

The sense of relief also comes from Fading Unity Syndrome. This national disorder, accompanied by headaches, strikes Israelis every time their political togetherness grows shaky. And now, along comes war just as the national unity season has ended. There's no more wall-to-wall government to rely on. There's no more koochie-moochie Likud-Labor to mitigate the dismal reality of party squabbling and enmity. Not only that, but the tribal campfire around which the ultra-Orthodox sat with the secular, has gone out.

At times like these, when the stitches of phony unity have come loose, there's nothing like a just war against Amalek to knit us all together again. And those who are still dragging around a guilty conscience over fighting a bloody war of choice led by Ariel Sharon 20 years ago, have now been granted absolution for their sins by the commander-in-chief of a new war of choice. Not only the future, but even the past suddenly looks rosier.

That also explains why the radio is playing all these soothing Hebrew songs. Like the wave of nostalgia for sing-alongs which has done wonders for the ratings of certain TV programs, so the old bleating of army entertainment troupes and the folksongs of the Gevatron and Naomi Shemer provide a cozy buffer against the shrill cries of war.

"You, me and the next war, a war that comes as a blessing, a war that brings us proper rest. When we smile in a moment of love, the next war smiles with us." This is an excerpt from Hanoch Levin's play "You, Me and the Next War," written 34 years ago.

This is a war that unifies right and left. It has appeal for both sides. The right hopes - according to the left, at least - that under the auspices of this war, the army will be able to step up its pulverizing of the Palestinians in the territories, and that after the war, if it is successful, Bush will be more resistant to pressure to mediate a comprehensive settlement - just the kind of pressure that the left is rooting for.

What more can one expect from something that goes hand in hand with blood and tragedy? But this heavy baggage that comes with Saddam - Round II has a tinge of unhealthiness about it. It's the idea of being so used to war, and not only because it is forced on us. It's the sigh, midway between pain and pleasure, that bursts from the heart of Israelis as they seek the consummate cure for their distress. There's nothing like a war to supply the formula. And there's nothing like a war to bollix things up, and rather than solve our problems, produce an almost narcotic dependence.

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