"History is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind." ~ Edward Gibbon
The Return of the Dinosaurs
How did the dinosaurs die out? There are many theories about this. For example, that a meteor hit earth and the ensuing dust cloud obliterated the sun.
I have a theory of my own: The dinosaurs suffered from a lack of proportion between body and brain. The tyrannosaurus, for example, had monstrous physical dimensions but his brain was the size of a pea. Then our ancestors, the little mammals, arrived and displaced them everywhere.
Now we are witnessing the return of the dinosaurs. Human dinosaurs. People who control immense power structures and who have the brains of a bird.
Take the American tyrannosaurus. He has power that no empire in the history of the world could even have dreamed of. The US military machine can take over the whole world, wage war anywhere, destroy any country, eliminate any people. Over this immense body reigns the brain of George W. Bush, and around him a small group of people whose moral standard and intellectual capacity are like those of the caveman.
But why should we look down on others? After all, the Israeli tyrannosaurus is no different from his big brother. Compared to all his neighbors, he has immense military capacity, and over this huge power reigns the brain of a child.
This week the Chief of Staff of the Israeli army, General Moshe Ya'alon, gave an interview to Ha'aretz. Not two months have passed since he assumed office, but the country is full of his philosophical output. We have learned about his mental world, his intellectual capacity and his leadership pretensions. From these three viewpoints, his outpourings are rather frightening--especially since every word of them has been approved, at least post factum, by Ariel Sharon.
The mental world of Moshe Ya'alon is composed of a heap of hackneyed myths that are taught in Israeli elementary schools instead of history. He repeats them like a not-very-intellectual pupil. But his pretensions are those of a super-leader, who stands above the government, the Knesset and the people.
His predecessor, Shaul Mofaz, was a man of the extreme right. Yaalon goes further. He reminds one of the words of King Solomon's son, Rehoboam, who told his people: 'My father hath chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.'* (1 Kings 12, 11)
*The Hebrew word for 'whips' means also 'fools.'
These are the main teachings of Ya'alon:
- The Palestinian danger is a cancer.
- This is an existential threat.
- We are David, they are Goliath.
- They have the backing of a quarter of a billion Arabs.
- We have no intention of annihilating them, while they are not ready to recognize our right to exist here as a Jewish state.
- The State of Israel has put on the table (at Camp David) a proposal that would have solved the problem, but they rejected everything.
- It is not a question of occupation. The aim of the Palestinian people is to bring down the State of Israel.
- The Oslo agreement was a Trojan horse.
- The aim of Arafat is to eliminate the State of Israel by stages, using terror and demography.
We learn several things from these teachings. First: Ya'alon is quite devoid of any new, original or creative thought. Any schoolchild in Israel could say exactly the same things. Second: Speaking politely, the validity of each of these arguments, which seems to him self-evident, is doubtful. Speaking bluntly, they are a heap of rubbish.
- It is not the Palestinian danger that is a cancer, but the occupation that breeds terrorism.
- There is no existential danger.
- We are Goliath, very big, very well-armored, very unwise.
- Almost all of the quarter of a billion Arabs are ruled by regimes dependent on the USA, which don't give a damn for the Palestinians.
- A large groups of ministers in the Israeli government indeed aim to destroy the Palestinian national entity by driving the Palestinians out of their country ('transfer').
- At Oslo, the Palestinians recognized the existence of the State of Israel, and that is all that is demanded of them. The character of our state ('Jewish' or otherwise) is not their business.
- At Camp David, Ehud Barak put forward proposals that were very far from 'solving the problem.'
- If it were Arafat's aim to destroy Israel 'by stages,' he would have accepted Barak's proposals and moved to the next stage.
- If Rabin's successors--prime ministers and chiefs of staff--had not sabotaged the Oslo agreement, it would by now have brought peace and security.
- Demography is not within the purview of Ya'alon (three children) or Arafat (one daughter). Anyone worried by this aspect of the conflict should move out of the Palestinian territories at once.
There is a psychological condition called paranoia vera, whose victims take a fallacious assumption ('the earth is a cube') and build a whole logical structure on it. The more complete the structure, the more serious the condition.
Ya'alon builds his conclusions on his fallacious assumptions: The present war (the one he, accidentally, is commanding) is the most important in the annals of Israel since 1948. No withdrawal from any place is permissible, because it would encourage the Palestinians. Therefore, not even one single settlement can be dismantled, isolated as it may be. The building of the 'security fence' (between Israel proper and the occupied territories) is a mistake ('I would invest the money somewhere else'). Concessions under fire will cause an existential danger. This is an endless war. Generations will pass before certain elements in the region will resign themselves to the existence of Israel. (Ya'alon quotes a 1969 speech by Moshe Dayan, in which he prophesied a war of many generations.) There is no alternative.
But the most severe danger, according to Yaalon, is the internal one. Israeli peace lovers and human rights activists are undermining the existence of the state and the army and preventing victory. Victory means that 'the Palestinian side internalize very deeply that by terrorism and violence they will not vanquish us.' Therefore, absolutely no concession is allowed. The withdrawal from the south of Lebanon was a mistake, and so was the withdrawal from Josef's Tomb (an isolated site in the middle of Nablus).
This means there is no place for any offer of compromise and idea of a settlement. What is needed is a more and more repressive occupation. For example: Israel must decree that no one would be allowed to be a candidate in the Palestinian elections if he is 'touched by terrorism,' much as the American military government in occupied Germany did not allow ex-members of the Nazi Party to be candidates in German elections. Ergo: Only candidates appointed by Israel will be allowed to be elected and lead the Palestinian people. (Under such a rule, Ben-Gurion, Begin and Shamir would not have been elected in Israel.)
And who is the man who built this beautiful structure? Ya'alon modestly introduced himself: 'Personally, I see myself as a Jew, Israeli, humanist, liberal, democrat, peace and security lover.' No more, no less.
He forgot to add another attribute: brazenness. A phenomenal chutzpah is needed for a general on active duty to dismiss with contempt the decisions of the elected governments, past and present, from the Oslo agreement to the security fence. All this, of course, given as 'professional expertise.'
The question is, what, exactly, is Ya'alon's profession? Talleyrand said that 'War is much too serious a matter to be left to military men.' He knew what he was talking about, since his boss (Napoleon) was a professional soldier, who put his generals in charge of much of Europe.
A military officer has an important profession. He learns to move forces, use weapon systems, command troops, plan battles. But nothing--nothing at all!--in his professional career prepares him for analyzing intricate political moves, understanding international relations or delving into the depths of history. From these points of view, his 'professional expertise' is as valid as that of a plumber, an engineer or an ear, nose and throat specialist. It certainly is less than that of a historian, an Arabist or a professor of international relations.
Not to mention that it would be unthinkable for an American, British, French or German chief of staff to make a fraction of such a statement while still wearing a uniform. In Israel, in the 36th year of the occupation, it sounds quite natural.
The dinosaurs are back.