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The nation marches on its hopes


“Every soldier,” as Napoleon said,” carries a general’s baton in his rucksack.” However, if you put weaponry into the hands of a fool, he is liable to think that the weaponry solves every problem he encounters.


Salman Masalha ||
The nation marches on its hopes

How do generals come into the world? They make wars, lots and lots of wars. Indeed, without constant engagement in destruction and killing, officers and soldiers will not be awarded medals for bravery and generals will not appear on the stage of history. To paraphrase a well–known dictum: Tell me how many generals you have and I will tell you who you are and what world you are living in.



The state of Israel is very well endowed with generals, be they on active duty or retired. In Israel, as distinct from the Arab world around it, a coup isn’t necessary for taking over the government. This is because the generals here are borne aloft into power on the wings of democratic elections, without any need to send troops into action. Nor do the retired generals here ever rest for a moment. Their strength is still in their loins. Therefore, they are sent to take over the top positions and control the nerve centers of the economy and the society. They go forth to pull the strings and accumulate capital in order to make their way into the highest levels of government.



“Every soldier,” as Napoleon said,” carries a general’s baton in his rucksack.” However, if you put weaponry into the hands of a fool, he is liable to think that the weaponry solves every problem he encounters. He is liable to think that what is not achieved be force will be achieved by more force. The many insignia on generals’ epaulets become brain silencers for all who wear them. The higher the rank the more the wearer’s sensitivity dulls, in direct proportion to the shrinkage of his intellect.



However, something remarkable happens. The moment the highest-ranking officers put aside their uniforms, common sense reappears and starts sprouting through their thickened skulls; see “The Gatekeepers.” It takes generals nearly three decades to peel the layers of sealants from their heads, to change their ways and to replace the operating system that dictated to them to march with their cannon fodder into battle. This is what happened to the Six Day War chief of staff, Yitzhak Rabin, who had a belated epiphany in Oslo after the campaign of breaking arms and legs in the first intifada.

This is also what happened to the “King of Israel,” the late Arik Sharon. It took decades for him to begin to see from here what couldn’t be seen from there. It took many decades and a lot of blood for him to slough off his military uniform skin, to look the reality straight in the eye and to arrive at the realization that the occupation cannot continue.

I learned in the 1970s on my own flesh the fact that Israel is a state of thick-skinned generals. Back then I tried, with rather a lot of impertinence, to persuade “the King of Israel” of the existence of the Palestinian people. General Sharon was a guest of the Hebrew University and declared to the huge audience that there is no Palestinian people. When the students were given the opportunity to react, I stood up in the packed auditorium, and with the cockiness of a young student I flung at the general: “I am the Palestinian people, I who stand before you. Now please prove to the audience now that I don’t exist.”

As thick-skinned generals will, he evaded the confrontation and did not reply. However, the reply of the Jewish–democratic state came that very night, when “our boys” knocked on my door with an order signed by a judge, as befits a law-abiding country. “The Palestinian people” spent that night under interrogation at the Russian Compound police headquarters in Jerusalem.

Had “the King of Israel” paid attention to what I was saying in those years, a lot of innocent blood – both Israel’s and Ishmael’s – would have been spared. It took decades of beating his head against the wall for common sense to push its way through the obliviousness.

It isn’t just the army that marches on its stomach – so does a nation, any nation. This is because hope is the safety net for human beings. 

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Published: Opinions-Haaretz, February 5, 2014




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