Home > Human Rights and Jewish Values > Yediot’s Eitan Haber fatalistically expresses anguish about the “Sparta” that Israel has become

Yediot’s Eitan Haber fatalistically expresses anguish about the “Sparta” that Israel has become

Eitan Haber

Eitan Haber, Rabin’s former press secretary and a veteran Yediot columnist is, about as centrist as you can find in the Israeli punditocracy. This morning (January 11 2010) he expresses anguish at how Israel has become “a new, modern Sparta, while we wanted so badly to be Athens.”

Haber’s commentary was sparked by Netanyahu’s decision to construct a fence along Israel’s last physically open border — with Egypt. Haber is just the latest exemplar of many of the old elite waking up to the reality of what the country they have spent their lives building and defending has become. Note, however, that Haber decries the symptom — the fence — and not the underlying reasons for its construction — in this case, the lack of a coherent immigration policy and the failure to negotiate an effective border regime with the Egyptians.

Like much of his generation, Haber cannot come to terms with his complicity in surrendering Israel to the leadership of those who believe that strategic policy decisions can be delayed forever and that, in the meantime, everything can be solved by force. Therefore, instead of offering an alternative, he resorts to fatalism: Our existence here is dependent on adopting the Spartan model, there is no other alternative.

We have already seen what kind of behavior this approach fueled in during the Gaza war. But the abandonment of any attempt to balance short-term security with any other values will lead Israel much further astray. To use Haber’s own analogy, remember what the Spartans did to their own sick and weak newborn infants.

New Sparta

Commentary, Eitan Haber, Yediot, January 11 2010

The first, instinctive, alarmed Israeli response to the prime minister’s statement that “the entire country has to be surrounded by a fence,” is “Oy vey, this is all we need.”

This is an understandable response.  Every Israeli child, even every Jewish child around the world, is born with images of fences.  These are the fences of the death camps in World War II.  The association that automatically accompanies these images consists of the looks behind the fences, the eyes of the people going to the gas chambers and crematoria.  Therefore, a proposal to surround the state by a fence is met in the first second by reluctance, fear, ghetto anxiety, thoughts of a garrison state.

But on second thought, almost every community that was established here during the time of the British Mandate surrounded itself, first and foremost, by a “tower and stockade.”  Even before they cast the first roof, there were already a fence and a watchtower, to take precautionary measures against Arab marauders.  So what is wrong with this?  After all, we adulated the tower and stockade.  We sang songs to them.  We put on plays.  The fence (stockade) and tower became one of the most prominent Israeli symbols in the history of the state-in-the-making.

On third thought, what is all this commotion about?  After all, nearly the entire country is already fenced off in any case, hidden behind electronic fences.  There is a fence in the Golan, opposite Syria; there is a fence on the Lebanese border; there is a fence in the Jordan Valley, opposite Jordan.  The Gaza Strip is sealed off by a fence.  There is also a fence (wall) along dozens of kilometers between the Judea and Samaria territories and the State of Israel.  So what is the big deal?  Now a fence hundreds of kilometers long will be built along the Israeli-Egyptian border, and that will be it — the entire land will be fenced off.

This may be the point: We hoped that at least one border would truly be a border of peace, a border without a fence, a kind of escape hatch for a state choking on fences.  But even this dream — this small, unrealistic dream — is now being taken from us.

And the last thought: This is what is so sad.  An entire state living behind fences, surrounded on all sides by an ocean of enemies.  The thought that this is our fate can drive a normal person mad.  And so the construction of a new, modern Sparta is completed, while we wanted so badly to be Athens.

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