Haaretz Thursday, April 08, 2010

By Gideon Levy, Haaretz Correspondent  

So where did you spend Passover? Tens of thousands of Israelis were in Sinai. They ignored the Counter-Terrorism Bureau’s warning, yet returned home safe and sound. Other Israelis – wait until you hear this – visited Cairo. I repeat: Cairo! They too returned tired but happy. They too did not heed the warnings.

Haaretz’s foreign news editor, for example, went to Egypt with his wife and four small children for the holiday. He identified himself as an Israeli everywhere he went, and believe it or not, was made to feel welcome.

Other Israelis traveled to other forbidden places all over the globe, including Turkey, and not a hair on their heads was harmed. They’d all had enough of the frightening campaigns.

Unintentionally, this world travel has become a kind of civil protest, a quiet uprising against the terror campaigns, a sort of rebellion that should be encouraged. In a brainwashed, blind, automatically obedient society, even this is something. It’s not merely the Israelis’ leisure culture, but the essence of their being.

We are all surrounded by a phalanx of fear agents and dread brokers, suspicion marketers and anxiety propagandists. An army of generals and analysts, politicians and security specialists, all mobilized for one purpose – to infuse our life with terror.

It’s time to free ourselves of their yoke. It’s not that there aren’t any dangers, or that we don’t need warning or security apparatuses, but they must not be the only influences. The voice of thunder from Jerusalem, willfully blown up and exaggerated, is the only voice we hear, without a trace of an alternative – a voice of normality, sanity, optimism and hope. This applies as much to our next vacation as it does to Israel’s next step in the peace process.

Spreading horror is a widespread, familiar practice in regimes that Israel does not want to resemble. Fear is the resort of the despot, a way to create false unity and prevent daring moves. Fear also feeds xenophobia, putting domestic problems out of people’s minds whether the foe is real or imagined. From Hamas’ armament to the tunnels to accusations that foreign workers and refugees spread crime and disease, from the Iranian nuclear threat to swine flu – all are tried-and-true methods of intimidation by exaggeration.

If we leave the Golan, missiles will land on Rosh Pina; if we withdraw from Yitzhar, Katyusha rockets will fall on our heads in the Dan region. Unless we bombard Iran, we’ll be blown up ourselves; if we lift the blockade on Gaza, Ashkelon will be destroyed. There may be a grain of truth in all these threats and predictions, but when a no less threatening scenario is provided, it is easy to wonder why exactly we need all this.

For a long time we haven’t had a statesman in these parts who has spread hope. Benjamin Netanyahu is the latest candidate for that position, but he’s not the only one who has instead become an agent of fear; that is the job of almost anyone who has access to the public at large. Auschwitz is on the doorstep all the time, and everything is terribly dangerous.

We must get an Iron Dome and gas masks, immigration police and vaccinations for everyone, whether necessary or not. We must not travel, must not speak Hebrew, certainly must not withdraw from anywhere. Countless apparatuses specializing in spreading fear are at work, without a single agent of normality to balance them.

There is nobody in Israel to tell us what will happen if we stop fighting with the rest of the world. Everyone is analyzing only the dangers and risks. You’ll never hear anyone analyzing the chances and opportunities. Nobody is talking about a possible utopia – of being integrated into the space around us and being accepted by the world, of traveling by car to Europe, of enjoying the prosperity and security that ending the occupation would bring. The voices we hear tell us none of that. It might infuse people with hope, and that is dangerous.

Now the first crack has opened in the intimidation wall – a 36 percent increase in the number of travelers to Sinai. It seems like a small matter, but perhaps it will lead to opening additional daring cracks. If we didn’t heed the scaremongers, if we went to Sinai and it was great, maybe we should try a few more things.

Perhaps we could live with an Iranian nuclear bomb, without initiating an attack. Perhaps withdrawing from the Golan isn’t as dangerous as they tell us. Perhaps lifting the Gaza blockade will be good for Israel, and recognizing Hamas will be a blessing.

And above all, heaven help us, maybe peace is a good thing, something that consists of more than just the existential dangers about which we’re constantly being warned.

 So we ignored the warnings and went to Sinai? Let’s ignore some other imaginary fears too. 

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