I have started to tranlsate David Grossman’s remarkable meditation (Hebrew original) on the state of the Israeli State which he delivered yesterday at the 11th annual commemoration of Yitzchak Rabin’s assassination. He delivered this profound address before 100,000 Isaelis gathered to mark Rabin’s untimely death. Here is the first part of the translation. Please excuse a few rough edges below. It’s been 23 years since I was a grad student in Hebrew literature. If I have the strength to continue, I’ll post the rest tomorrow:
The annual memorial for Yitzchak Rabin is the moment in which we stop a little, remembering Rabin the man, the leader. And we look at ourselves, at Israeli society, its leadership, at the nation’s spiritual condition, at the condition of the peace process, and at our place as individuals confronting the great national questions. It is not easy to look at ourselves this year. There was a war, Israel flexed a mighty military muscle, but hiding behind it were [Israel’s] shortcomings and vulnerability. It became clear to us that the military might at our command could not in the end guarantee by itself our existence. Essentially, we discovered that Israel is in a deeper crisis than we surmised than any point of its life.
I speak here tonight as one whose love for this land is a tough and complicated one. Despite this, it is single minded. And as one for whom the eternal covenant with the people of Israel turned, to its sorrow, into a blood covenant. I am an utterly secular person. Nevertheless, in my eyes, the creation and existence of the State of Israel are a sort of miracle that happened to us as a people–a political, national and personal miracle. I never forget this even for one moment. Even when many things in the reality of our lives rise against and depress me, even when the miracle is divided into little bits of routine and misery, of corruption and Zionism, even when the reality seems like a bad parody of this miracle, I remember always. And from the midst of those emotions I speak to you tonight.
“See oh earth that we were terrible sqaunderers” wrote the poet Shaul Tchernichovsky in Tel Aviv in 1938. He complained that in the lap of the earth in the land of Israel we hide away our young people at the height of their blooming. The death of young people is an awful waste which screams out. But no less awful is the sense that for lo these many years the State of Israel has been wasting, in a criminal manner, not only the lives of its children, but also the miracle that happened to it; the great and rare opportunity which history provided, the opportunity to create here a reformed, enlightened and democratic state, which would conduct itself according to Jewish and universal values; a state that would be an international home and a refuge. Not only a refuge, but a place which would give new meaning to Jewish existence; a state, which would be an important and intrinsic part of Jewish identity, deriving from its Jewish ethos would be a relationship of full equality and respect for the non-Jewish inhabitants.
“See what happened. See what happened to the young, daring land, full of the passion and soul that was once here. And how as in a process of rapid aging, Israel leapt from the stage of infancy, childhood and youth to a reality consisting of constant irritability, weakness and bitterness. How did this happen? When did we lose even the hope that at some point we would live different, better lives? More than that, how do we continue to stand by the side and look, as if hypnotized, at a terrible seizure, the coarseness, the violence and racism which came upon our home? I ask you: how could it be that a people possessing such creative, renewing and life-giving powers, such as our people, a people that knew to establish itself as if from ashes time after time, finds itself today, precisely when it possesses such great military power, impotent. It is a situation in which it is once again a sacrifice, but this time essentially a sacrifice of itself, its fears and its lack of vision.
One of the difficult things which the last war brought into sharper focus was the sense that in these days there is no king in Israel, that our leadership is hollow. Our military and political leadership is hollow. I’m not even speaking here of obvious screw-ups in military administration, of losing one’s head, nor about the large and small corruptions. I’m speaking about the people who lead Israel today who are not suited to bind Israelis to their identity. And certainly not to the healthy, revivifying and healing parts of this identity; to those parts of its identity, memory and purposeful values which will give us hope and strength, and would provide immunity against this withering of mutual recognition, of the disposition of the land, which would provide any meaning to the wearying, depressing struggle for existence.
Jeanne Capozzoli says
Thank you Richard for sharing these eloquent words from David Grossman. It is the David Grossmans of Israel and the Jewish Americans such as you, Richard, that keep me from giving up on Israel altogether. Since our celebration of the 1967 victory, I have become disillusioned and angry with the state of Israel. What keeps me sane is knowing that a very large percentage of Israelis are opposed to the settlements, occupation and the treatment of Palestinians. David Grossman gives me hope that the huge potential for Israel to be a light onto the world for all to admire and emulate is still burning in the hearts of Israelis. My faith in Israel to live up to their great Jewish heritage cannot be extinguished as long as voices in Israel continue to give voice to those ideals.
Hasan Bateson says
I sympathise with the plight of European Jewry that drove them to Palestine. I can understand how a brutalised people can behave brutally, without condoning it, and I see the parallels between the Jewish experience and its outcome, and the Palestinian experience and its outcome.
I feel for Mr. Grossman over the loss of his son, even as I abhor the circumstances under which it happened.
What I don’t understand is the surprise and disappointment that he and others feel over what Israel has become. What else could be expected, considering the circumstances of its origin? Can anyone really believe that creating a society by dispossessing and striving to racially cleanse its inhabitants will have a good result? Surely it’s clear that Israel has become as he described, as the logical consequence of the way it was begun.
There’s always hope to fix what’s broken, but never when the damage isn’t recognised and addressed. You may not like Hamas and what it represents, but how can you not acknowledge the legitimacy of its position, given what happened? If Israelis could accomplish that, then and only then, it seems to me, is there hope for the future of both peoples in that holy but damaged land. As long as there’s insistence on legitimising conquest, how can anyone imagine the conquered, the oppressed, being able to show mercy to the conqueror, the oppressor?
Richard Silverstein says
Hasan: Thanks for yr comment & for yr willingness to understand Grossman’s pt of view though you may ultimately part ways w. his embrace of Zionism.
I don’t think I or Grossman would deny any of the “charges” you level against Israel or the way it was created. But the diff. bet. you & I is that I hold out a firm belief that those actions were not ‘Zionism,’ but a distortion of the guiding moral & political principles of Zionism.
Just as an example, I firmly reject George Bush and the last six yrs of his leadership & that of the Republican party. But does that mean that I fundamentally reject the notion of America? Because a group of individuals has perverted the values underpinning this dream of a country do I judge the entire American enterprise a fraud? No.
In the same way, I can be profoundly critical of Israel while still holding out hope & a belief that it will some day come to its senses & make the compromises needed for peace. That is the entire premise & mission of this blog.
It all depends what “position” you’re talking about. I have no problem with Hamas running in an election, winning that election, & attempting to run their nation. I have no problem with resistance to the Occupation.
But I have a very serious, insurmountable problem with violence (on both sides), but especially violence against civilians, & even more especially violence within the Green Line. It seems to me that Hamas’ forms of resistance even today can be as brutal & unprincipled as Israeli oppression. The only diff. is that Hamas does not (yet) have the weaponry to inflict mass death while Israel does.
But they do. There is mercy on both sides shown to the other side. It happens almost every day. I admit those mercies are small gestures often not seen or heard through the mass media which only looks for the big, splashy, boom-boom story (that’s why wars & terror attacks are big magnets). The key is to expand those moments of mercy. If we can eventually convince politicians to embrace the concept of mercy as Begin & Sadat did in 1979, then maybe an Israeli prime minister would really try to do a “Sadat” on the Palestinians as Grossman brilliantly suggests in his speech.
Can human beings transcend their suffering (whether they be oppressor or oppressed) & have the bigness of heart to make peace? To quote Molly Bloom: “Yes, I said yes, I will yes.”
Hasan Bateson says
Richard: I’m grateful for your response. In this era of the victory of partisanship over principle, the benefit of thoughtful dialogue isn’t often enjoyed.
I appreciate several of your comments which have illustrated errors in mine.
I’m not so sure that I’m anti-Zionist, as I’m not really sure what Zionism means. If it means dispossessing the Palestinians and legitimises that, then I am against it. I’m not by any means in principle against Jews living in Palestine-Israel, and I know that there are many Israeli and other Jews who are far from sharing the racist views of the Libermans and Netanyahus.
I think I understand the motivation behind the establishment of Israel, and I can even understand, though not condone, the method by which it was done. I can also understand, though not condone, the desperation of some of the Palestinians that leads them to the excesses they commit. I agree totally with your position on violence against civilians. My use of the word ‘legitimate’ with respect to Hamas was inappropriate, at least too all-encompassing. I too take exception to their endorsement of attacks on civilians.
What I have a hard time getting my head around is the association of the concept of ‘right’ with the creation of a nation by conquest. It’s for that reason that I personally prefer a one to a two state solution, though ultimately it’s not for the likes of me to decide.
What I fear is that if that approach isn’t taken, and the struggle begun for the two peoples to live *together* in peace, that the exclusivsts on both sides will continue to pursue the objective of other-annihilation.
You’re right to point out the undeniable acts of generosity and kindness on both sides, that stand starkly juxtaposed to the brutality, again of both. Even so I’d suggest that the oppressor always bears the greater moral responsibility.
Interesting by the way that you mention America. The similarities are there aren’t they, in the treatment of the indigenous peoples in the course of establishing the nation, compromising whatever ideals were also present. No ideal excuses genocide or ethnic cleansing.
Richard Silverstein says
Thanks once again for yr thoughtful response. Wouldn’t it be great if you & I could negotiate on behalf of Israel & Palestine? We could have this conflict resolved right quick.
I couldn’t agree more. Israel does bear more moral responsibility because of its greater power, its Occupation, & because its own national history should’ve made it sensitive to the moral depravity of precisely the policies it pursues. Though (& I know you’re not arguing against this pt.) the Palestinians bear some measure of responsibility as well.
Again, agreed. It never ceases to amaze me how the uber-Israel supporters argue that any act of violence against Palestinians no matter how bestial can be justified because the Palestinians want to exterminate Israel.
First, of course I’d dispute that false notion of Palestinian goals; but 2nd, even if it were true–do we lose our minds morally in order to maintain our physical survival? To take it to its ultimate extreme: if Israel’s survival required killing half of the Palestinian population (as happened to the Jews in the Holocaust) would this be justified morally? Again, I firmly believe that Israel is not under imminent threat to its national survival. But at what price survival?
I personally believe there are things more important than survival. Of course, life is precious and there are very few things that would justify either taking one or giving up one’s own life. But there are a few and this is a fact that no ultra pro-Israel supporter would acknowledge. There are principles worth defending with one’s life. Protecting a loved one may in some rare instances be worth giving up one’s own.
I of course am not arguing that Israel should give up its “life.” Rather, I am arguing for a reconsideration of the “survival at all costs” mentality. It is “survival at all costs” that causes Israelis to refuse to give up a single hectare of conquered Palestinian land. Survival at all costs persuades Israelis that God commanded them to retain the land and kill any Palestinian who stands in the way. In fact, survival at all costs is a death wish rather than a life-affirming principle.