Many people prowl round Mount Sinai. Their speech is blurred, either they are garrulous or they shout or they are taciturn. But none of them comes straight down a broad, newly made, smooth road that does its own part in making one’s strides long and swifter.
Franz Kafka, Mount Sinai
Gershom Scholem, a noted authority on the Kabbalah even before it was made fashionable by Madonna, associated Kafka with the “light of the canonical,” a rare quality of special texts that compels examination and reflection. Focusing this light in very brief parables – a genre in which he deployed image and motif with the strictest possible economy of language – Kafka forces the reader to unravel mystery in order to understand. A “heretical Kabbalist,” as Scholem once called him, Kafka essentially gives us a unique secular representation of the sacred world.
These encrypted messages can be decoded in various ways. Today, they can be productively deciphered from the critical standpoint of Israel’s stance before the twisted cartographies of Washington’s Road Map” now also known as President Barack Obama’s five-point Mitchell Plan.
We will consider Kafka’s Mount Sinai. Embedded in this exquisite parable are particular lessons and basic truths. But it is up to the individual reader, obstructed by very grave difficulty at every turn, to make the necessary effort. Moreover, this effort must be preceded by a meaningful theme, a lucid motif wherein a genuinely useful elucidation may be undertaken.
Let us now make this effort, together. Let us now also determine that our combined energies will be directed toward the “big question” of Israel’s physical survival, a question that I have taken up repeatedly in the pages of The Jewish Press. Such a no-nonsense question would have pleased Kafka himself. A keen student of Jewish texts who saw the destructions of the First and Second Temples as a cosmic catastrophe, Kafka, laboring painstakingly in Prague over his meticulously crafted prose, would have been eternally grateful for any opportunity to help preserve a now-reborn Jewish State.
The people, who “prowl round Mount Sinai,” the allegedly emancipated Children of Israel, are deeply afflicted by their wanderings. Although a “newly made, smooth road” might be followed to the top of the holy mountain, and hence to a much-higher level of emancipation, these people,all of these people, plainly avoid the direct road. Instead, they remain at the base of the mountain, at the periphery of solemnity, unclear; distressed; sometimes shrill, sometimes silent. These people, we should not be surprised to learn, will have very great difficulty in making survival choices.
So it is today, with the People of Israel, living in roughly the same bad neighborhood: (1) now with a reconstituted State to protect; (2) now with a new hostile Arab state called “Palestine” about to be torn crudely from its own still-living body; and (3) now with a surrounding Islamist world that voluptuously embraces a deeply theological anti-Semitism. Overwhelmed by wrong directions, some of it from Jerusalem (” we will accept a demilitarized Palestinian state,” says the prime minister), some of it from Washington (the Mitchell Plan codifies both old and new expectations of Jewish land for nothing), these battered citizens of a beleaguered State prowl this way and that, tentatively, always round the outer margins of both safety and suffering.
Often confusing rough roads for safe paths and for unsafe paths, they mumble, scream, shout and occasionally become mute. Daily, hourly, minute-by-minute, they search desperately for “clear instructions.” This time, however, redemptive instructions will not likely come from a burning bush.
Mount Sinai is not in Washington. Large portions of the Arab/Islamic world remain expressly committed to a new genocide for the Jews, at least to a Final Solution for the “Israel question.” Ironically, President Obama, in defiance of all binding obligations under authoritative international law, and of our own American political traditions, now implements new and improved ways of training and protecting the prospective genociders.
Proudly, United States military forces continue to train Fatah “security” personnel, in reality, the grotesque vanguard of future anti-American terrorism. The Road Map, thus drawn more outrageously from the theater of the absurd than from any comprehensible diplomacy, emerges as just the newest international mantra for Israel’s annihilation.
Kafka would have understood. He would not have approved, to be sure, but he would have understood. Sinai is still our sacred mountain.
How, precisely, shall Israelis now attempt a climb to its summit? “Show restraint, compromise,” say some of them, even after the latest bomb or rocket of screws, bolts, razor blades and rat poison explodes upon Jewish children. “Commit more fully to the Road Map,” say those prominent journalists who loathe history and who insistently revere the senseless. “Climb slowly,” and with “good will gestures,” say some of the taciturn academics, for they remain unshaken in their conviction that any real intelligence and courage must always be a personal liability.
Alarmingly, none of these roads is a smooth one and none is capable of making one’s strides “long and swifter.” Where, then, shall Israel find this road, the shorter and surer path to the top of the mountain? It exists, to a point, but it is far from the route favored by Washington and by the blurred, garrulous, shouting and taciturn people.
Constructed by those who still remember the true meanings of “civilization,” it is discoverable not by the Many (nothing important is ever discoverable by the Many), but only by the Few. Aware that smooth roads can be artfully rocky, and that seemingly smooth roads are often treacherous, this Few still hold the most hidden and therefore the most vital messages of Sinai.
Look beyond the crowd, beyond “experts,” beyond the politicians, beyond journalists, beyond geography, beyond maps. Look in secret places, look where no one else is looking, look even where looking is forbidden.
Look to some roads “newly made” and even to some roads not yet even imagined. Look not for ease or painlessness, but rather for destination and access. Look not to Washington, but to Sinai’s original voice.
Sinai’s summit, a convenient metaphor for Israel’s enduring survival, is accessible only to those who will heed this complex injunction. Detached from those persistent policies that are inherently rooted in error, alert climbers must now consider roadways that are harder to identify or that might even still need to be built. Although there are certainly no guarantees that freer minds will see clearly, it is certain that unfree minds will never bring us to the mountain’s summit.
Sinai’s summit is blocked by enemy armies and armaments, and by relentless enemy convictions that will never bow to reason or negotiation. To reach this blocked summit, those who prowl round the base of the mountain will inevitably have to contend, intermittently, with increasingly formidable obstructions, even preparing, if necessary, for protracted war and incessant terror. Because these enemy armies and armaments might ultimately reach a level that could forever prevent successful ascent upon the mountain, Israel will, from time to time, still have to use force purposefully.
Israel will sometimes have to strike enemy positions first. It might even have to respond to certain enemy first strikes with overwhelmingly destructive reprisals. Importantly, it will also have to let both state and non-state enemies know this defensive and retributive plan in advance. After all, the Lex Talionis, the law of exact retaliation, was born upon this very mountain.
Most perplexing of all, and most difficult to accept, will be a final awareness that Sinai’s summit can never be fully accessible, that all roads, even the best among them, will be temporary, and that the “smooth road,” while indispensable, will also remain, always, only partially navigable.
LOUIS RENÉ BERES, the author of many books on international relations and international law, was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971). His work on security matters is well-known to Israel’s political, military, academic and intelligence communities. Professor Beres was born in Zurich on August 31, 1945, the son of Austrian Jewish refugees in Switzerland. He is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.