A RAY OF HOPE?….This is becoming a very big deal. A couple of weeks ago Israel’s army chief of staff condemned Ariel Sharon’s hawkish security policies, and today four former Shin Bet chiefs joined in the criticism using surprisingly harsh language:

“We must once and for all admit that there is another side, that it has feelings and that it is suffering, and that we are behaving disgracefully,” said Avraham Shalom, who headed the security service from 1980 until 1986. “Yes, there is no other word for it: disgracefully….We have turned into a people of petty fighters using the wrong tools.”

….”Why is it that everyone — [Shin Bet] directors, chief of staff, former security personnel — after a long service in security organizations become the advocates of reconciliation with the Palestinians? Because they were there.” said Yaakov Perry, whose term as security chief between 1988 and 1995 covered the first Palestinian uprising, or intifada. “We know the material, the people in the field, and surprisingly, both sides.”

The security chiefs denounced virtually every major military and political tactic of the Sharon administration, adding their voices to the dissent in Israel against the prime minister’s handling of a conflict that has claimed the lives of more than 2,500 Palestinians and nearly 900 Israelis and foreigners.

….[Ami] Ayalon, who is chairman of an irrigation systems company, said he considered much of Israeli policy in the Palestinian territories “immoral, some of it patently immoral.”

“Terror is not thwarted with bombs or helicopters,” said Shalom, who asked rhetorically: “Why does this increase terror? Because it is overt, because it carries an element of vindictiveness.”

“The problem, as of today, is that the political agenda has become solely a security agenda,” said [Carmi] Gillon, who has also served as an ambassador. “It only deals with the question of how to prevent the next terror attack, not the question of how it is at all possible to pull ourselves out of the mess that we are in today.”

This is serious criticism from serious people, and the unanimity of opinion means that it can’t be dismissed as simply coming from a single person who’s turned either soft or bitter.

A simple policy of massive retaliation against terrorism is ? for a while ? emotionally satisfying, but in the end it doesn’t work and it doesn’t make anyone safer. These Shin Bet chiefs understand this, and the fact that they’re speaking out is the first hopeful sign in the Israeli-Palestinian war that I’ve heard in years. Dissent during wartime can sometimes be the highest form of patriotism, and it’s possible ? barely possible ? that this might be the start of a turnaround that leads, slowly and not without pain, to peace.

Like I said, this is a very big deal.

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