Sunday, August 13, 2006

War Hits Home for Israeli Novelist David Grossman

Uri Grossman
Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit

The New York Times reports that Uri Grossman - "the son of Israeli novelist and peace activist David Grossman has been killed in southern Lebanon ... just days after the author urged the government to end the war with Hezbollah guerrillas."

David Grossman
Photo: Shai Rosenzweig

Uri Grossman's family released a statement:

"Uri Grossman was born on August 27, 1985. He was supposed to celebrate his 21st birthday in two weeks. Uri studied at the experimental school in Jerusalem. He reached the armored corps and fulfilled his aspiration to be a tank commander. He was about to be released (from the army) in November, travel the world, and then study theater. Friday evening he spoke, from Lebanon, with his parents and sister. He was glad that a decision on a ceasefire was taken. Uri promised that he will be eating the next Shabbat dinner at home. Uri, son to David and Michal and brother to Yonatan and Ruthie, had a fabulous sense of humor and a big soul filled with life and emotion."

The Jerusalem Post's account:

"On Sunday, the war brought disaster home to Grossman when his son Uri, a 20-year-old staff-sergeant, was killed by an anti-tank missile that hit his tank. The younger Grossman was taking part in a major military offensive in the southern Lebanon village of Hirbat Kasif, aimed at sweeping the area clear of Hizbullah fighters ahead of Monday's expected cease-fire. Two other soldiers and an officer were killed in the same incident."

David Grossman, the author of such internationally recognized novels as "Someone to Run With", "The Yellow Wind" and "The Zig-Zag Kid", has long been an outspoken left-wing activist. In his 2003 book "Death as a Way of Life", Grossman presented a sobered but still resiliently liberal view of the Arab-Israeli conflict. In early 2005, he said at a literary fair: "Everyone knows that the conflict will end. The writing has been on the wall for a number of years. This is our chance to write history, and not be victims of it."

Of Israel's struggle to live in peace, he said, "We hope to become a story like any other story. But for God's sake, not a larger-than-life story, just a story of life."

The New York Times continues, David Grossman, whose novels and political essays have been translated into 20 languages, is an outspoken advocate of conciliation with the Arabs and of ending Israel's occupation of the West Bank.

But, like most Israelis, David Grossman supported Israel's retaliation when Hezbollah fighters attacked an army patrol inside Israel on July 12 and unleashed a barrage of rockets on civilians in the north.

By Thursday, David Grossman, said the war had gone on long enough.

The turning point came the previous day when the government approved a plan to launch an 11th-hour campaign to inflict a devastating blow to the guerrillas.

In a joint news conference with fellow novelists Amos Oz and A.B. Yehoshua, Grossman denounced the plan as dangerous and counterproductive.

''Out of concern for the future of Israel and our place here, the fighting should be stopped now, to give a chance to negotiations,''
David Grossman said.

Grossman, an Israeli-born son of a refugee from Nazi Europe, urged Israel to accept a proposal by Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora -- which later formed the core of the U.N. resolution for ending the conflict -- calling for the deployment of Lebanese troops in southern Lebanon with the help of an international force that would end Hezbollah's virtual control over the area.

''This solution is the victory that Israel wanted,'' Grossman said. He warned that stepping up the offensive could trigger the collapse of Saniora's government and the strengthening of Hezbollah -- the very force Israel set out to destroy.

''It's still possible to prevent it,'' Grossman said. ''This is the last moment.''

David Grossman from his 2003 collection of essays, "Death as a Way of Life", on the ten years since the Oslo Accords:

"But who can hope for love between nations? Who really loves anyone in this world? (Of course, I'm referring not to people but to nations.) Do the English love the French? Do the Germans love the Russians? Perhaps we should even ask: Do the West Germans and East Germans love each other?

"Interests" is the key word, and it is the guarantee that the agreement will work. The two peoples have signed on to the agreement because they understand that they have no other choice. After decades of mutual bloodletting, they have come to terms with the idea that if they do not live side by side they will perish together, in a maelstrom that will engulf the entire region. It is existential interest that pushed these two reluctant peoples into each other's arms. The United States and Japan, and the Europeans led by Germany, now have to turn peace into a practical and enticing option for both sides. A flourishing economy, new jobs, a sense of freedom, reinforcement of everything in life that was damaged or paralyzed during the years of occupation and Intifada-all these can significantly strengthen those Palestinians who want peace. Similarly, the right-wing extremists in Israel will have difficulty arguing with a concrete improvement in the economy, in the quality of life, in the sense of security. The fundamentalists of Hamas will fight a war of despair and no quarter. They will try to create a nightmare atmosphere. Only a robust creative reality, full of life and hope, will succeed in withstanding them. We need to begin creating that reality now, immediately.

Neither romantic love, then, nor a high wall. I dream of two countries separated by a distinct border. A border that will make clear to each state the space in which it exists as a political entity, as a national identity. If there's a border, there is an identity. There is a new living reality in which this identity can bleed out the poison of illusions and begin to heal.

One more important thing: This is a condition in which-years from now-the two sides will be able to give themselves a new kind of definition-not one contrasted with an enemy, but one that turns inward. One dependent not on the fear that they might be destroyed but instead on the natural development of a nation, on its system of values and the various facets of its character. This is a decisive change. For years, both sides have suspended the internal dialogue that each must have. The state of continual conflict was a reason and an excuse for not addressing their fundamental, authentic problems, a reason for just trying to survive one more violent conflagration. I can definitely see that such a new process of defining ourselves, the Israelis, will bring about tremors and changes. It will require a painful assessment of our definition of ourselves today in relation to our Jewish heritage. It will force us to confront our complicated history anew, and to consider the possibility of choosing a new way of relating to the world outside us.

If peace is established between us and all the Arab countries, we will also be able, finally, to internalize the fact that we are part of the Middle East. We will comprehend that our presence here is not the result of some bureaucratic-geographical error, but rather that this is the place in which our lives will henceforth be conducted, and it would be well for us to open ourselves to the world and to the culture of our neighbors. Clearly, such a step can be taken only if we have partners, if the Arab countries no longer view Israel as "a cancerous growth of imperialism" (as Israel has been termed on many an occasion in the Arab press) but rather as an integral, stimulating, and vital part of the Middle East.

If we can reach and live with this vision of the end of days, we Israelis may well permit ourselves-after years of instinctive self-denial-to believe that we have a future. That we may dare to believe that we will finally have continuity and prospects. That death will not cast its shadow on everything in our lives. Perhaps we will be able to free ourselves from that sense of doom that lies deep down in our collective consciousnesses-that, for us, life is only latent death.

This is the true meaning of self-determination. I have always believed that when Israel agrees to grant this right to the Palestinians, it will also win it for itself. Now the moment has come for the Israelis, for the Palestinians, and for the other sane nations in the region. Here it is now: the Future."

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