If Ariel Sharon succeeds in murdering Yasser Arafat, as he wants to, the Palestinian leader will remain in the collective memory of his people, and the whole Arab world, like Moses in Jewish memory.
Moses rebelled against Egyptian oppression, led his people forth from "the house of bondage", led them for 40 years in the desert, made a new people out of them and brought them to the threshold of the Promised Land. He did not enter the land itself - God only showed it to him from afar. That will be told about Arafat, too, if he becomes a martyr now.
Moses is, of course, a mythological figure. No serious scholar in the world believed that the exodus from Egypt really happened. Experts explain that it could not have taken place at all. But that is not really important: the mythological Moses shaped the consciousness of the Jewish people more than any flesh-and-blood leader of a nomad tribe in the desert could have done.
The Haggada, the book read on Passover's eve by almost every Jewish family throughout the world, commands us to feel as if we ourselves had set forth from Egypt. The basic Jewish ethos is built on this premise. The text of Ten Commandments in Deuteronomium 5 explains why on the holy Sabbath the servants and slaves must be allowed to rest, too: "Remember that thou wast a slave in the land of Egypt."
In the new myth that is being born before our eyes, Sharon is the Pharaoh and we are the ancient Egyptians. In the story about the Exodus, the Bible lets God say: "I have hardened (Pharaoh's) heart and the heart of his servants." After every calamity that befell him, Pharaoh broke his promise to free the Israelites. Why? What was God's purpose? He wanted the Israelites to become hardened by the hardship, before they started on their long march. This is what is happening to the Palestinians now.
So what will happen if an Israeli bullet kills Arafat now? After Moses, no second Moses appeared, but Jehosuah, the merciless warrior who committed genocide. (This, by the way, is also a myth. All serious scholars believe that this holy genocide never actually happened.) After Arafat, the heir will not be Abu-this or Abu-that. It will be Brother Kalachnikoff - like the song we used to sing in our youth, during the fight against the British occupation: "Give the floor to Comrade Parabellum, Give the floor to Comrade Tommy-gun." Parabellum was a pistol, tommy-gun a sub-machine-gun.
There will be no Palestinian Quisling - and if a candidate would be found, he would be killed the next day, like Sharon's Lebanese Quisling, Bashir Jumail. Dozens of local guerilla leaders will take over, and they will start a campaign of revenge that may go on for many years, not only in the country, but throughout the world. The life of every Israeli will become hell, all the world will become a Jerusalem-style Ben-Yehuda street. No Israeli embassy, no airplane, no tourist will be safe.
The dead Arafat will be by far more dangerous than the living Aarafat. The living Arafat is able and willing to make peace. The dead Arafat can not. He will eternalize the conflict.
In our days, historians wonder what folly took possession of the Jewish people 1930 years ago, causing them to start a hopeless rebellion against the Roman empire and bringing utter destruction upon the Jewish commonwealth in Palestine. A hundred years from now, historians will ask themselves what folly took possession of this people, causing it to elect Sharon, a bloody person who has not done anything in life apart from shedding blood and set up settlements. What folly took possession of this people, causing it to prefer settlements and some territories to peace and conciliation? And how does this people remain indifferent, when the whole Arab world offers it - perhaps for the last time! - real peace and normal relations, and the public is listening to the silly ranting of politicians and commentators, who ridicule the offer and cheer Sharon on, at the start of a bloody campaign worse than any one before?
History remembers the few, who warned the people of the disaster that is bound to follow if they listen to the Zealots. History will remember us, the few who are warning the people now of the disaster that will befall all of us, if we follow Sharon and his gang. Let's hope that our voices will be heard in time, so that we can start on a new road.
If Arafat will be murdered, it will be the moment of no return.
Uri Avnery is a peace-activist, journalist, and a former member of the Knesset.