Gideon Levy
Haaretz (Opinion)
October 6, 2011 - 12:00am

Here's a new law of nature: The further we get from the Yom Kippur War, the closer it gets to us. At the end of this week we will once again recall that war, the pages of the newspapers and the television programs will be full of stories of heroism - and the real lesson will once again be blurred beyond recognition, as always happens here.

Nothing will change. The emergency warehouses may be better equipped, intelligence is certainly more sophisticated, but the historical lesson, the most important conclusion of all, has never been learned here, not for a moment. Now as then, we can once again sing to ourselves with pleasure and certainty: "When we take a walk, we are three - you and me and the next war" (Hanoch Levin, 1968).

It's amazing to see how even that trauma, the mother of all traumas, failed to bring about any genuine strategic change. The generals and the pundits will promise that the Israel Defense Forces learned its lessons, but Israel didn't learn anything. It learned nothing and forgot nothing; it will never again be surprised that way - and it will once again be surprised, or at least pretend to be surprised.

Thirty-eight years have passed, and it's as though nothing happened: the same complacency, the same arrogance, the same unfounded self confidence, the same diplomatic inaction, the same missed opportunities, one after the other. The same crazy thinking that time is on Israel's side, that it cures every injury and obstacle, that there's no need to do anything, that things will work out by themselves, that we will always live by our swords, and they will live under our occupation - then and now.

Even if that's not what is said, Israel's conduct leaves no room for doubt: Nothing in its thinking has changed. In spite of the 2,300 casualties in that war and the terrible danger that hovered over Israel because of it. Nothing has changed in relation to the basic problems. We won't return the Golan Heights to its owner, because why should we? After all, the border has been quiet for 38 years. But that border won't be quiet for another 38 years; Syria will never give up its land - until we are surprised once again. After the next war over the Golan, the heights will be returned to their owner. That's how it was in 1973 with Egypt, that's how it will be with Syria.

Before 1973 it was possible (and necessary ) to reach an agreement with Egypt, Israel said no, 2,300 soldiers were killed, and then Israel said yes. Yes to returning the occupied Egyptian territories, which should have been returned before the war, not after it. Now as then, we're also gambling on the West Bank, a fateful gamble. We're settling, we're abusing, we're deepening the occupation, we're ignoring the advice of our last friends in the world. Only after the next bloodletting, which promises to be more terrible than any of its predecessors, will we come to our senses. Not before it, heaven forfend.

The handwriting on the wall is bitter and alarming, and we carry on as usual. No and no, shtick after shtick. Trick after trick, the main thing is to postpone and to refuse. There's terror - we don't leave; there's no terror - we don't move. Yasser Arafat is alive - we don't leave; Arafat is dead - we don't move. The Palestinians recognize the State of Israel - we don't leave; they don't recognize the "Jewish state" - we don't move. There's no "Arab Spring," there is an "Arab Spring" - we carry on as usual. Every good soldier to arms, every good excuse for refusal.

If Israel wanted to mark the anniversary of that war properly, if it had relevant history lessons, then it would stop waxing nostalgic over the stories of heroism and wallowing in the stories of bereavement, and instead would ask itself whether it really has done everything possible to ensure that the worst war in its history won't return. What has it done since then in order to be accepted in the region, what has it done in order to reduce the danger of the next war, and does it even have a chance of continuing to survive by depending only on arms, which are steadily becoming more sophisticated - not only the ones in its emergency warehouses but those of its neighbors as well.

But those questions aren't asked at all, not on the anniversary of 1973 and not on any other day of the year. That's why we should continue to sing to ourselves the song that was written before that war, as we so love to do: "When we sleep, we are three - you and me and the next war."


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