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A Chilling Heartlessness

As Israel’s Hamas Team Laughs

by GIDEON LEVY

The Hamas team had not laughed so much in a long time. The team, headed by the prime minister’s advisor Dov Weissglas and including the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, the director of the Shin Bet and senior generals and officials, convened for a discussion with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on ways to respond to the Hamas election victory. Everyone agreed on the need to impose an economic siege on the Palestinian Authority, and Weissglas, as usual, provided the punch line: "It’s like an appointment with a dietician. The Palestinians will get a lot thinner, but won’t die," the advisor joked, and the participants reportedly rolled with laughter. And, indeed, why not break into laughter and relax when hearing such a successful joke? If Weissglas tells the joke to his friend Condoleezza Rice, she would surely laugh too.

But Weissglas’ wisecrack was in particularly poor taste. Like the thunder of laughter it elicited, it again revealed the extent to which Israel’s intoxication with power drives it crazy and completely distorts its morality. With a single joke, the successful attorney and hedonist from Lilenblum Street, Tel Aviv demonstrated the chilling heartlessness that has spread throughout the top echelon of Israel’s society and politics. While masses of Palestinians are living in inhumane conditions, with horrifying levels of unemployment and poverty that are unknown in Israel, humiliated and incarcerated under our responsibility and culpability, the top military and political brass share a hearty laugh a moment before deciding to impose an economic siege that will be even more brutal than the one until now.

The proposal to put hungry people on a diet is accepted here without shock, without public criticism; even if only said in jest, it is incomparably worse than the Danish caricature. It reflects a widespread mood that will usher in cruel, practical measures. If until now one could argue that Israel primarily demonstrated insensitivity to the suffering of the other and closed its eyes (especially the stronger classes, busy with their lives of plenty) while a complete nation was groaning only a few kilometers away, now Israel is also making jokes at the expense of the other’s suffering.

This was not the first joke or contribution by Weissglas to the racist and lord-like public discourse vis-a-vis the Palestinians. His true face was already revealed about a year and a half ago in the famous interview with Ari Shavit in Haaretz, when he stated,"And we educated the world to understand that there is no one to talk to. And we received a no-one-to-talk-to certificate … The certificate will be revoked only when this-and-this happens – when Palestine becomes Finland." This was the peak of cynicism: The man who was involved up to his neck in the Annex Research affair – the shell company for channeling huge contributions to the prime minister – is conditioning negotiations with the Palestinians on transforming them into the country ranked as least corrupt in a survey in which Israel was ranked in the unenviable 26th place.

The recommendation for a "diet," along with the edicts Israel is poised to impose on the Palestinian people, should have aroused a hue and cry among Israeli society. Even if we put aside the awful political inanity of pushing Hamas into a corner instead of giving it a chance to change its ways, and even if we ignore the fact that Israel plans to confiscate tax revenues that do not belong to it, the policy of the Kadima government raises questions about its humanity. Where do we get the right to abuse an entire people this way? Is it only because of our great power and the fact that the U.S. allows us to run wild and do whatever we want?

We stopped talking about morality a long time ago – after all, we are not living in Finland. Still, it would be good to ask: What country would dare to exacerbate the living conditions (which are so miserable in any case) of the residents of a territory under its occupation? What was the sin of the 4,000 lucky people from Gaza whom Israel still allowed to work within its borders, and to whom it is now closing the gates? Did the decision-makers call to mind the sight of these downtrodden people, crowded and humiliated at the Erez crossing on their way home from an exhausting day of work? More than half of all Palestinians are already living in poverty according to the last United Nations report, published in December. Last year, 37 percent had difficulties obtaining food and 54 percent of the residents of the "liberated" Gaza Strip cut back the amount of food they consume. Child mortality rose by 15 percent and the average unemployment rate reached 28 percen! t. To travel in the West Bank, the Palestinians have to traverse no fewer than 397 checkpoints and, in addition to this, Israel now wants to wield an even heavier hand.

If there is still a staying obstacle, it is only the constraint of image: Israel fears the spread of hunger only because of the world’s reaction and not because of the bestiality it entails. Nonetheless, politicians here are competing with a range of extreme proposals, including cutting off electricity and water and abandoning millions of innocent residents. Is this also election spin? Is this what the Israeli voter wants?

What you see from there is truly not what you see from here: From the posh restaurants where Weissglas and his colleagues from the Hamas team dine, from the sophisticated road system on which they race along in their official vehicles, from the splendid concert halls and frequent trips abroad – you cannot see the suffering. From there, it is easy to impose more edicts with the flick of a tongue, without considering their frightful implications in the miserable alleyways of Jenin and ruined huts of Rafah. From there you can even joke about it.

GIDEON LEVY writes for Ha’aretz.