Editor’s Notes: Senseless death, absent comedy

By David Horovitz June 24, 2005

Aren’t there enough people out there trying to kill and maim us already without our own impatience, and arrogance, and absurd delusions of immortality piling on fresh corpses?

Life is not cheap. Life is a priceless privilege, divinely granted.

Many of us, in this wildly opinionated nation, devote untold hours of thought and argument to strategies for defending that privilege – against gunmen and bombers and their diplomatic advocates and apologists. So heated has this argument become again in recent months that this summer’s disengagement brings with it a nightmare prospect of Jew-vs-Jew bloodshed in a struggle centered, in such a bitterly ironic way, on how best to preserve Jewish life.

Yet how many of us have invested more than the tiniest proportion of such passion, energy and time in polishing strategies for our own, and our fellow Israelis’, survival on that other devastating battlefield, our roads?

The terrible drama of Tuesday’s Revadim truck-train crash – a 123-kph collision that left seven people dead and more than 200 injured – ensured splash headlines for one day and follow-up stories for a few more on the progress of the police investigation and the condition of the injured.

But those new fatalities constitute mere bloody drips in the vast ocean of our annual catalogue of relentless road carnage, another seven to pile into the morgue along with the rest of the year’s virtually guaranteed 500 or so fellow victims.

Anybody naive enough, unfamiliar enough with the national mind-set, to suppose that the grisly pictures from the crime scene would prompt a remaking of habits, or even a short-term pause for thought, need only hear the experience of a senior police commander on Wednesday. Stationing himself at another notorious, barrier-deficient railway crossing point, he found himself pulling over no fewer than 11 drivers who – less than 24 hours after the Revadim collision, remember – blithely ran the crossing’s red light and diced with death to speed across the tracks.

How many of you reading this are model drivers? How many of you have never received a ticket for speeding?

OK, then, how many of you have never exceeded the speed limit, even if you did get away with it? Or driven dangerously close to the car in front? Or cut precipitously between lanes? Or zipped across that light just as it turned from amber to red? Or overtaken when that bend should really have required more caution and patience? Or let your backseat passengers travel without seat belts?

Not so many innocents now – myself most certainly excluded.

These cars we drive are machines that kill, that end lives in an instant and doom others to decades of paralysis and handicap.

Aren’t there enough people out there trying to kill and maim us already without our own impatience, and arrogance, and absurd delusions of immortality piling on fresh corpses?

A little slower. Please.

***

IN THE course of this conflict we’ve had the suicide bomber’s belt secreted under the prone form of a sick child in a Palestinian ambulance, intercepted at a West Bank roadblock. We’ve had the Palestinian woman claiming to have a metal plate in her leg in order to avoid the metal detectors and, trading on the humanity of Israeli border guards, managing to detonate a device that killed four security officers at the Erez crossing point.

After incidents such as these it was actually hard to conceive of how terrorist dispatchers might find more callous avenues to exploit in their incessant viciousness. And then came Sunday’s mercifully thwarted bid by Wafa Samir Ibrahim Bas to make her way back to the very Israeli hospital where she had previously been tenderly treated for wounds sustained when gas canisters blew up in her home – in order to repay their medical ethic with bloody mayhem and to murder her own doctors and nurses.

I was told more than two weeks ago by a very highly placed figure in the Israeli defense establishment about ‘hard’ intelligence warnings of plans to infiltrate one or more suicide bombers into Israel via Erez. There was a strong argument for closing down the border crossing, I was informed, at least temporarily. But this was being resisted because of a reluctance to deny thousands of Palestinian laborers the opportunity to cross into Israel for sorely needed work.

I don’t know if Bas, exploiting documents giving her entry to Israel for further hospital treatment, was the bomber the intelligence sources had warned was en route. I do know that Israel is routinely savaged by international human rights groups for the stringent regime it maintains at this and other crossing points, and that it would have been castigated had it closed down Erez on what would doubtless have been derided as spurious security grounds.

***

FROM HER vantage point at what is arguably the most beautiful spot in Jerusalem, the Cinematheque’s Lia van Leer is preparing for her 22nd annual Jerusalem International Film Festival.

She’s buoyed by her year-old membership in the European Film Academy – ‘I figured that if Dana International could sing in the Eurovision Song Contest, then we could be part of Europe too’ – and buoyed more by the surging popularity of her oasis institution.

It now boasts 8,000 members, many of them youngsters whose parents buy them membership, she says, because they’d rather the offspring were watching movies at 2 a.m. on a weekend morning than doing anything else that might tempt them at that hour. It runs packed courses for school groups in the mornings, programs for grown-ups in the afternoons, and all manner of screenings in the evenings, including successions of festivals showcasing films made everywhere from Australia to Korea to the UK.

Rather less uplifting, she says, is the content of the short films submitted each year by nascent film-makers from elementary schools nationwide for inclusion in the festival – ‘all so terribly sad,’ she says mournfully, ‘tales of alienation and unhappiness.’

The malaise is affecting grown-up cinema, too, she acknowledges, harking nostalgically back to what she is coming to regard as a bygone era ‘when waves of laughter rippled through the cinemas.’ Glumly redirecting a stray lock of silver hair, she wonders rhetorically, ‘Where have all the comedies gone?’

Her own festival’s opening movie this year, though a guaranteed biggie, is no barrel of laughs, either – Steven Spielberg’s remake of War of the Worlds. Diplomatically, she says she doesn’t know if the director will be coming for the July 7 screening, but seems to hold out little hope.

Shame. She recalls that one previous glittering festival visitor, Anthony (The English Patient) Minghella, was so taken with Israel last year that he went back to the UK to open a Jewish film festival there with the declaration ‘I’m a Zionist.’ And then, van Leer adds with relish, he went on to London’s (ultra-liberal-artsie) National Film Theater, where he was greeted accusingly with jeers of ‘You’re a f***ing Zionist!’

That zest for comedy was evident again, she also recalls – who could forget? – in the stellar appearance of irrepressible Italian director-clown Roberto (Life is Beautiful) Benigni at the 1998 festival.

‘Benigni was out there on the grass [in the Sultan's Pool] with then-mayor Olmert,’ she remembers, ‘and he declared loudly: ‘Majorâ’ – he always called him major – ‘Major, I love Jerusalem!’ That got lots of applause.

”Major, I would like to come to Jerusalem and work for you!’ More applause.

‘Then he paused. And then: ‘Come to think of it, I will be the major, and you can work for me!’ Ecstatic applause.’

Come on, Mr. Spielberg, don’t you want to try and top that?

Copyright © The Jerusalem Post