Whenever you write about the Israeli-Arab conflict you know you’re going to write some very depressing posts. But today is one of those days when you realize you’re writing one of the most depressing ones that could be written.
The Guardian published the text of David Grossman’s eulogy for his son, Uri, 21, who was among the last Israeli soldiers killed in the Lebanon war. If anything symbolizes the utter futility of both this war and Israel’s entire policy towards its neighbors based solely, as it is, on military force–it is this death. It sears the soul to read this.
You know that the world and Israel would’ve been far better off had Uri Grossman had a chance to leave army service and travel the world and explore the world of theater as he planned to do. He would undoubtedly have made some remarkable contribution to his country and to the arts as his father did before him. Now all that’s gone.
Of what possible use is the death of such a gifted child? There is but one silver lining. If his death can persuade a single person who was sitting on the fence that peaceful negotiations should trump war–then perhaps, just perhaps, there is some small shred of meaning we can glean from his death. Of course, I willingly deceive myself in this. Uri Grossman’s death is a vast waste of human potential. It is Israel’s tragedy writ small.
Here are David Grossman’s heartbreaking words. Read them and weep:
Uri, my love. All your short life, we have all learned from you, from the strength and determination to go your own way. To go your own way even if there is no way you could succeed. We followed with amazement your struggle to get into the tank commanders’ course. How you never compromised with your commanders, because you knew you would be a great commander. You were not satisfied to give less than you thought you could. And when you succeeded, I thought here’s a man who knows his own abilities in such a simple and wise way. Here’s a man who has no pretensions or arrogance, who isn’t influenced by what others say about him, whose source of strength is internal.
From childhood, you were like that. A child who live in harmony with himself and those around him. A child who knew his place, and knew that he was loved, who recognised his limitations and strengths. And truly, from the moment you forced the army to make you a commander, it was clear what kind of commander and person you were. We hear today from your comrades and your subordinates about the commander and friend. About the person who got up before everyone else in order to organise everything and who went to sleep only after everyone else had. And yesterday, at midnight, I looked at our house which was quite a mess after the visits of hundreds of people who came to console us and I said to myself: ‘Well, now we need Uri, to help us organise it again.’
You were the leftie of your battalion and you were respected for it, because you stood your ground, without giving up even one of your military assignments …
You were a son and a friend to me and to Mummy. Our soul is tied to yours. You felt good in yourself and you were a good person to live with…You told me so much, Uri, and I felt proud that I was your confidante.
I won’t say anything now about the war you were killed in. We, our family, have already lost in this war. The state of Israel will have its own reckoning …
Uri was such an Israeli child; even his name was very Israeli and Hebrew. He was the essence of Israeli-ness as I would want it to be. An Israeli-ness that has almost been forgotten, that is something of a curiosity. And he was a person so full of values. That word has been so eroded and has become ridiculed in recent years. In our crazy, cruel and cynical world, it’s not ‘cool’ to have values, or to be a humanist, or to be truly sensitive to the suffering of the other, even if that other is your enemy on the battlefield.
However, I learned from Uri that it is both possible and necessary to be all that. We have to guard ourselves, by defending ourselves both physically and morally. We have to guard ourselves from might and simplistic thinking, from the corruption that is in cynicism, from the pollution of the heart and the ill-treatment of humans, which are the biggest curse of those living in a disastrous region like ours. Uri simply had the courage to be himself, always and in all situations – to find his exact voice in every thing he said and did. That’s what guarded him from the pollution and corruption and the diminishing of the soul.
In closing, Grossman tells us how he received the news and how his daughter helped him realize that he, and his family, must go on. For there is living to be done by the survivors:
‘In the night between Saturday and Sunday, at 20 to three in the morning, our doorbell rang. The person said through the intercom that he was from the army, and I went down to open the door, and I thought to myself – that’s it, life’s over. But five hours later, when Michal and I went into Ruthie’s room to wake her and tell her the terrible news, Ruthie, after first crying, said: ‘But we will live, right? We will live and trek like before and I want to continue singing in a choir, and we will continue to laugh like always and I want to learn to play guitar.’ And we hugged her and told her that we will live.’
We will derive our strength from Uri; he had enough for many years to come. Vitality, warmth and love radiated from him strongly, and that will shine on us even if the star that made it has been extinguished. Our love, we had a great honour to live with you. Thank you for every moment that you were ours.
Father and Mother, Yonatan and Ruthie.
One may infer some of David Grossman’s deeper feelings about this abysmal war by reading what his other son said in his eulogy of his brother:
Grossman’s older brother Yonatan, who served in the same tank battalion as Uri, did not conceal his vehement opposition to the military operation in Lebanon.
“If they send you to die, even the best tank in the world will not help you,” Yonatan said in his eulogy.
“They sent them to die.” That’s about the bleakest and most telling characterization I’ve heard of the bankrupt policies of Ehud Olmert and Amir Peretz in this war.
The Guardian also published an excellent piece on David and Uri Grossman by Hillel Schenker.