As I write, Israel is preparing for the Gilad Shalit bacchanalia. For the next 72 hours, perhaps more, the country will indulge in an elaborate orgy of media overkill, voyeurism and self-congratulation that has no equal in the modern world.
Last night, the Supreme Court rejected the petitions that had been lodged against the prisoner swap. That, too, was part of the ritual. The fact that Israel is releasing people accused of horrific crimes, and who clearly remain dedicated to their struggle, can’t be allowed to derail the ceremony. In fact, it’s the entire point. Without the release of hundreds of dangerous prisoners, the whole thing would lose its potency. It would be no more than a human interest story; big-time reality TV.
The prisoner swap is an essential national cleansing. It’s what enables us to continue occupying and brutalizing and killing for another few years. It is the only opportunity we have, once or twice every decade, to show ourselves and the world how humane we are and how righteous. How we are prepared to take the most enormous risks in order to reunite a mother with her son. It is a reaffirmation of our morality, of our essential humanity.
It is also part of our Jewishness, that which sets us apart from all the other nations. No other nation would behave as we are behaving, our politicians have declared pompously over the past few days. And they are right. The release of over one thousand prisoners for a single captive soldier makes absolutely no sense in terms of security, logic or even mathematics, which are the normal terms of reference. But Israel isn’t normal and few other countries have the same primitive need for purgation and absolution.
Without the prisoner swap, we’d just be the neighborhood bully; the thug who terrorizes those weaker than him. The low-life. With it, we are uplifted, purified; absolved of our sins. Yom Kippur no longer works for us; we need something a lot more dramatic. And there’s nothing more powerful than putting hundreds of murderers back on the streets so a desperate family can regain their son. It’s a national catharsis. And the nation, with the exception of the party-poopers who lost loved ones in terrorist attacks, participates ecstatically.
The prime minister will be there when Gilad returns, of course, in his capacity as lay high priest. He doesn’t attend the funerals of whose who die as a consequence of his policies, but no self-respecting Israeli politician would miss the opportunity to be center stage in the purification ceremony.
When it is all over, and Gilad is back with his family, Israel will be able to return to the routine of beating, torturing, humiliating and denying the Palestinians their basic human rights, with renewed vigor and a pure conscience. Shiites cut their bodies and beat themselves with whips until the blood flows; Catholic clergy deny themselves the pleasures of the flesh. Israel binges on releasing prisoners. It’s all part of obeying a higher calling.