A meditation on Sharon’s piece initiative
While you’re inundated by images of the “disengagement” of Jews from Gaza — a pullout ordered by the guy who put them there in the first place — there’s no better time than now to listen to Israeli novelist and journalist David Grossman (left). He says things about the Israeli-Palestinian death dance that many people don’t want to hear.
Grossman’s first love is the serious, and acclaimed, literature he produces. As a Guardian (U.K.) profile of him in 2003 put it:
But Grossman’s journalism can’t be taken for granted. His essay “Something to Mourn,” in yesterday’s Haaretz, typically cuts to the heart of matters.
And I mean the heart, because Grossman often writes about how the act of occupying foreign territory, in addition to obviously damaging those whose land is occupied, corrupts and coarsens the colonizers’ spirit, soul, and entire society as well. Our enslavement of Africans and long, long war against the indigenous peoples on this continent didn’t do American colonists any favors either, and the scar tissue remains on this America’s pysche. You can tell by how our political leadership, with its conquerer’s mentality, has treated the “other” among us.
Anyway, back to Israel. Here’s how Grossman starts his August 15 essay:
They succumbed to the temptation — usually suppressed — of being drunk with power after thousands of years as a humiliated people. They indulged the human desire to bend rational considerations and the demands of reality to the unyielding concepts of messianic religious faith.
Above all, they shined at exploiting the deep wound of the Jewish experience — that of the sacrificial victim — and convinced many into believing that sacrifice itself justified any action or injustice.
Yes, to Grossman and many other Israelis, the whole “settler” enterprise has been a catastrophe. His open empathy with Palestinians has of course brought condemnation from right-wing Jews and their supporters.
The current crisis brings to mind Grossman’s January 2002 essay after Israel’s government proudly announced that it had seized a Palestinian arms ship. In the government and media, he wrote at the time, there was “an unconcealed note of joy” that at long last “final proof” has been found of the “Palestinians’ criminal, terrible intentions.” And then he noted:
Avshalom Feinberg and Yosef Lishansky set out for Cairo to bring money from there to the Nili underground so that the Jewish community in Palestine could assert itself against the Turks. The fighters of the Haganah, the Lehi and the Etzel underground movements collected and hid as many weapons as they could, and their splendid sliks (arms caches) are to this day a symbol of the fight for survival and the longing for liberty, as were the daring weapons acquisition missions during the British Mandate (which were defined by the British as acts of terror).
When “we” did these things, they were not terrorist in nature. They were legitimate actions of a people fighting for its life and liberty. When the Palestinians do them, they become “proof” of everything we have been so keen to prove for years now.
Indeed, in the late 1940s, many American Jews helped smuggle arms to Jewish terrorists in Palestine. Both smugglers and terrorists were considered heroes by many. (See “Pipeline to Palestine,” my 1997 long profile, in the Denver paper Westword, of one such smuggler.)
As I’ve said before, terror is a weapon, a tactic. There are other tactics that are less bloody in the short run but could prove more dangerous to more people — like the current Israeli government maneuver to tie up Jerusalem and the West Bank while the world’s eyes are on Gaza. Observers warn that Jerusalem is a powder keg.
For now, though, Ariel Sharon will reap good publicity for supposedly taking a step toward peace. He’s not. He’s just bustin’ a move in the death dance. What Grossman said back in 2002, regarding the Palestinian arms ship, is still true now:
Who has the strength these days to remember the beginning, the root of the matter, the circumstances, the fact that what we have here is occupation and oppression, reaction and counter-reaction, a vicious circle and a bloody circle, two peoples that are becoming corrupt, violent and crazy with despair, a death trap in which we are suffocating more with every passing day?
Three years later, the atmosphere is more suffocating. But because Grossman typically expresses more compassion than passion, his August 15 essay doesn’t castigate the settlers. Instead, he advocates grief as an alternative to the anger. He focuses on the fact that this phase of the madness is openly and publicly pitting Jew vs. Jew, with soldiers mixed in the mess: