Left-wing politics from the US to Nepal, via Zimbabwe, South America and Palestine.

Monday, September 11, 2006

An Allegory of Fascism

Another wonderful article from my new favorite Israeli.

The Arad Cult [1]
By Benny Tziper
Hebrew original here

If the saying that memory is the intelligence of fools is true, then the nation of Israel is the fool of the nations. It is a nation that has turned the memory of past painful events into an addiction, or even a religion. To understand a few of the mysteries of this religion it was necessary to follow the preparations Channel 10 (and the rest of TV) took us through for weeks on end, ahead of the broadcast of the Lebanese film 'The Kidnapped', whose peak was supposed to be a hidden video segment, in which the captured navigator Ron Arad is seen answering his interrogators' questions a generation ago.

Parts of this movie about Arad were shown over and over on Israeli TV over the past few weeks, at first without sound. Speculation began: maybe it's a photo montage, but then they calmed us down - it really is Ron Arad. And then it was revealed that the existence of this film was known to the Israeli director Naphtali Glicksburg for months. How does a citizen director know what the state doesn't? Within is revealed one of the symptoms of the Arad cult, our continuing disappointment in the great father, the state, that was supposed to be all-powerful and yet here its failures lie exposed for all to see.

On Tuesday the preparations peaked when the Channel 10 news program, who bought the exclusive rights to the Israeli premiere of the film, was all but entirely dedicated to a promo of the film, followed by segments from it that were broadcast, so it was said, at the same time as its Lebanese premiere.

It should be emphasized that this whole hoopla that ended (that is, only started) with the broadcast of the first part of the film on Tuesday, was itself only the pre-broadcast of the 'real' part, that was slated to be broadcast on Wednesday and included the full segment in which Ron Arad appears answering his interrogators' questions. And only as a side remark it should be said, that the segment in which Arad appears is not the central point of the Lebanese film, that deals with the policy of kidnappings in general, both by Israel and by Hizbollah, in which both sides appear (to our shame) as violent mafia gangs terrifying the city. Perhaps the only positive thing that came from all this is that the Israeli public got to see how the other side views it. This view is not flattering, since as far as their dirty techniques go, there is little difference to be had between Israel and Hizbollah.

Now, let's try to look for a moment at the 'bring the boys back home' obsession that has been plaguing us for a generation, from the point of view of an external observer who is not emotionally involved in the various kidnapping sagas. When I heard Ron Arad answering the interrogator's questions in the long-awaited movie and giving his name and his parents' names, and when I saw his bearded and aged face (in sharp contrast to pre-kidnapping pictures of him, in which he is holding his daughter and is the embodiment of the typical tsabar [2]), I wanted to call Oz Almog, who has written sociological studies on the image of the tsabar. I wanted to ask him if I was correct in feeling that the image of Ron Arad so obsesses the public because it represents perfectly the story of the collapsed myth of the tsabar, from a handsome and fresh-faced hero, he has become a victim with a clear Jewish countenance, and from a person full of life he has become a ghost. Yes, we saw in the film a person who perhaps does not exist, who perhaps embodies in an allegorical manner that Israeli feeling of non-existence and the emptiness of our being, entirely the fruit of the disappointment in the state, that has not succeeded to bring him home.

From this I argue that it's not really Ron Arad we want - in our infinite curiosity as to his fate - but that it is our worship of the image of an undead that the Lebanese film segment fulfills completely. An undead that is an allegory and an icon of the most common Israeli despair. Beneath him in the Pantheon of despair-gods are the three kidnapped in 2000, who are definitely not among the living and whose bodies have been returned, but in the public consciousness they are etched as having never died. That is, as ghosts, also embodying this common Israeli sense of despair. And below them, the newly captured, to whose capture the outbreak of the recent Lebanese war can be attributed.

The Israeli despair religion has, as expected, its priests. One of them is Hayim Avraham - the father of the soldier Benny Avraham - who was a guest in the Channel 10 studio on Tuesday, watching the Hizbollah movie of his son's kidnapping with his two patrol jeep mates six years ago.

The impression the father left is that he has no doubt that Hizbollah's movie displays the complete truth. The state of Israel, bv contrast, has not stopped lying to its citizens and has not stopped failing and covering-up failures and everything in the country is terrible. And who is he to say this? The answer is not that he is just one more father whose son died, for there are many of those, but that he is the father of a ghost. That is, a father of one of the gods in the Pantheon of this new Israeli religion, whose ideal is despair of the state. Its central commandment is to start each morning by expressing surprise at how that state is not all-powerful, as is expected of it to be.

I therefore conclude that we are dealing here with a subconscious fascism. The despair in the state that did not stand up to one's expectations of it seems too near to the theological despair in a god who stayed silent or who stood by and watched, or despair in parents who disappointed. And a state is neither a god nor mother and father, except in the fascist lexicon.

Let us summarize and say that in the eyes of an external observer, who sees an entire nation sit and watch a magical television seance in which a ghost is brought back from the dead, and that doesn't care at all that its enemies, who produced this seance, are watching and laughing at it - in the eyes of such an external observer, the nation of Israel seems to have a screw loose. Or worse: it seems to be a desperate fascist.

Notes:
[1] Ron Arab was an Israeli Air Force pilot captured by the Lebanese militia Amal in 1986. He was later transferred to the custody of either Hizbollah or Iran. While most sources believe Arad to be dead, there is a significant campaign in Israel to 'remember Arad'. Many campaigners believe Arad is still alive. There is some similarity to the US POW/MIA campaign, though the Arad campaign is far more widespread.

[2] A tsabar is an Israeli-born Jew.

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