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:
“The media is such a collaborator in the simplification of things,” [Grossman] says. Literature, by contrast, is “subversive of all contacts — with wife, children, parents, country, history, language. Nothing can be taken for granted.”
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:
For decades, the settlers have excelled at finding the weak points and illnesses within Israeli society and exploiting them to their own advantage. With a keen intuition, they operated in the gray areas of the Jewish-Israeli soul, in the places where fears, past nightmares, the urge for revenge and hopes for redemption are intertwined.
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:
But what proof has been obtained here? Proof that if you oppress a people for 35 years, and humiliate its leaders, and harass its population, and do not give them a glimmer of hope, the members of this people will try to assert themselves in any way possible? And would any of us behave differently from the Palestinians in such a situation? And did we behave any differently when for years we were under occupation and tyranny?
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:
These are disgusting days. Days of total befuddlement of the senses. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will wring every possible drop of propaganda out of this ship. The media, for the most part, will run panting after him. The Israeli street, too exhausted and apathetic to think, will adopt any definite conclusion that will solve for it the internal and moral contradiction in which it lives and reinforce its sense of righteousness, which has been undermined at its base.
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:
We should all take a deep breath right now and remind ourselves that, in the final analysis, the days to come are days of mourning for all Israelis. Mourning for the personal and ideological pain of the settlers whose dreams have been shattered; mourning for the fact that Israel was drawn into such a dangerous and unrealistic adventure like the creation of Gush Katif; mourning for the fact that the state brought itself to the place where it was forced to do such a violent, warlike and brutal thing to thousands of its citizens; mourning for the abyss that is being created inside our home, and for the disaster that could befall us very soon; mourning for the situation in which we are trapped, Jew against Jew with a foreign, naked hostility that stands in complete, existential contradiction to our own interests.