The falling tabernacle

Gideon Samet

Haaretz

Tishrei 16, 5765

The profound traditional wisdom of starting to build the sukkah right after the end of Yom Kippur clashed with stupidity last week. On that very day of fasting, the Israel Defense Forces demolished 10 houses in Khan Yunis in response to the killing of three Givati Brigade soldiers near Morag, and the firing of a mortar shell that killed Tiferet Tratner in Neveh Dekalim. This was one of those follies that are born of the coupling of vengeance and confusion.

Within distressing anxieties, Israel is very confused at the end of four years of intifada, with 1,071 Israelis dead, among them 703 civilians, 5,598 wounded, three times as many Palestinian dead and more than 20,000 Palestinians wounded. And the Qassams are continuing to fall on Sderot.

During this lost time, more than 3,500 Palestinian homes have been demolished and tens of thousands of housing units have been built in the Jewish settlements in the territories - the precise number is unknown - despite the freeze orders. Now the prime minister intends to evacuate the Jewish settlements in Gaza in order to build up what looks to him and to the Israeli majority as a chance to approach an agreement. This tragic conjunction of building and destruction, between the will to live and the fear of death, after 17 years of Palestinian revolt has become the national agenda.

In a parallel move, the thought of a comprehensive agreement has been plucked from the Israeli mind. Oslo has been reincarnated as Auschwitz. Camp David has become a malediction, and not only because of destructive Palestinian stubbornness. To a large extent this was the contribution of former prime minister Ehud Barak: He was there and he came back with the claim that there was no one with whom to talk.

Yonatan Bassy, a National Religious Party man of the good old sort who has been the object of threats to his life as head of the Disengagement Administration, courageously and accurately spoke this week of the "life in a state of psychological repression" among the Jewish settlers. But this process is happening not only among settlements in the territories that are slated for evacuation.

For many years now Israel has been sweeping under its rug the truth at the heart of the conflict. The continued building of the state will be possible only at the price of destroying the shaky scaffolding of Jewish settlement in the midst of an Arab population. This truth is sharp and painful. The more acute this desperate and useless battle between Israeli force and Palestinian despair becomes, the harder it becomes to digest.

But there are facts that speak for themselves and are no less painful. The Israel Defense Forces has failed in offering a solution to terror attacks. The army can point to prevention, to the thwarting of a larger number of murders. The Mossad - if it was indeed the Mossad - is capable of stretching a long arm to Damascus. In the long run, in vain.

It is not Israeli impotence that is allowing Qassams to fall on Sderot. It is not flabbiness and a lack of resourcefulness that are preventing the mythological amputation of the arm of terror. This is an old matter that goes far beyond the capability of any occupying nation - the United States in Iraq, mandatory Britain, France in Algeria, or if you want a non-colonialist example, the war in former Yugoslavia.

There is no answer to terror except an agreement, and in such cases the agreement is always complicated and takes a long time; its way is paved with disappointments and it demands severe concessions.

We dwell among our own people and we hear the increasingly preponderant voices warning of the danger to the Israeli enterprise. Not those of a fanatic right that is crying out against sinking because of abandoning of the values of the greater land of Israel. The existential fear of the future is today the domain of many Israelis. Their simple and non-ideological worry is for their children's fate.

There is the sukkah of peace and there is David's falling tabernacle. Between them, the Israeli reality is in the worst possible state: treading air. The disengagement will not remove the blindfold, and it will not cancel out the repression in full. If it is carried out, the withdrawal and the evacuation will be but a small part of what is waiting around the bend in the road. But with all its limitations, it serves up a lot more than the nothing at all of Israeli policy during the past decade. Supporting it is the order of the day at a time of great confusion.