Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Wistful Wishful Thinking

The entire top page of Haaretz this morning is dedicated to David Grossman's plea for the road not taken. He's a magnificent wordsmith, and the Hebrew original is wrenching; the English isn't bad, either. He's an intelligent, sensitive and thinking man, and whether one agrees with him or not, he must not merely be disregarded. Grossman isn't Gideon Levy, he's a valuable part of the Israeli discussion.
As satisfied as Israelis are that the technical weaknesses of the Second Lebanon War were corrected, we should be paying heed to another voice - the one that says the Israel Defense Forces' successes in the confrontation with Hamas do not prove that it was right to embark on such a massive campaign, and are certainly no justification for Israel's mode of operation in the course of the fighting. These military successes merely confirm that Israel is stronger than Hamas, and that under certain conditions it can be tough and cruel in its own way.
Obviously, the Palestinians cannot be let off the hook for their crimes and mistakes. That would be tantamount to belittling and condescending to them, as if they were not mature adults with minds of their own, responsible for their own decisions and failures. The inhabitants of the Gaza Strip may have been "strangulated" in many ways by Israel, but even they have other options for protesting and drawing attention to their misery than the launching of thousands of rockets against innocent citizens in Israel.

We must not forget that. We cannot pardon the Palestinians or treat them forgivingly, as if it were obvious that whenever they feel put upon, violence will always be their sole response, the one they embrace almost automatically.
We must speak to the Palestinians: That is the most important conclusion from the most recent round of bloodshed. We must speak also to those who do not recognize our right to exist here. Instead of ignoring Hamas at this time, we would do better to take advantage of the new reality that has been created by beginning a dialogue with them immediately, one that would allow us to reach an accord with the whole of the Palestinian people. We must speak to them and begin to acknowledge that reality is not one hermetic story that we, and the Palestinians, too, have been telling ourselves for generations. Reality is not just the story we are locked into, a story made up, in no small measure, of fantasies, wishful thinking and nightmares.
If only he were right.

Alas, he isn't. First, because Israel does talk to Hamas, and it's silly to claim otherwise. We talk to them about Gilad Shalit, we talk to them about Hudnas and ceasefires, we talk to them about opening and closing border crossings. True, both sides pretend this isn't so and always use intermediaries, but that's window dresssing. It's not reality.

Grossman's deeper mistake, however, is in his refusal to learn from life, strange as it may sound.

He first broke onto our political scene in 1986 or 1987, with his important book The Yellow Wind. Previously he'd been a rising young author; now he came and told us how he'd spent months roaming the occupied territories talking to Palestinians, and alongside much hatred, he'd also found much to be hopeful about. The book immediately became an influential best seller; people like myself, desperate to believe him, used it as a rallying call.

Eventually, it turned out, he was wrong. I vividly remember one scene in which his Palestinian interlocutors assured him that if Israel would allow them their own state, of course they'd not need an army, because "if not to use against you, what do we need an army for, and if there's peace, you won't be an enemy" (My paraphrasing from memory).

Yeah, well. Grossman, by the way, never admitted his mistake. Not remotely.

Talking is a fine idea. I'm always in favor. I'm in favor of talking to Hamas, openly, right now, a position which puts me on the far left of our current political spectrum, just like I thought our ban on talking to the PLO in the 1980s was silly, and that also put me far left of center. I don't fear talking to anyone. Even though I know it won't make any difference, because in order for the talking to go somewhere, there must be something to talk about, and a common language to do it in. Talking to Hamas won't lead to peace, because Hamas can't make peace with us and still be Hamas. Not because of anything we've done these past few years or even decades. Hamas can't make peace with us beacause we've shattered the way the world is supposed to be in their minds: The Muslims control the Daar el-Islam, and the Jews are Dhimmis in it. Jews don't control Muslim territories, and Jews don't rule over Muslims. It never was so, and it will never be so.

Oops. Looks like I'm far to the political Right, huh?

The inability to find anything to talk about, is of course common. I've got a label on this blog called "Rational Discourse?". Click on it and you'll find all sorts of tidbits I've marked where the cognitive chasm between myself and educated democratic westerners is so great there's nothing to talk about. If not them, how will we get anywhere by talking to Hamas?

Finally, a counter-story about talking.

Gitta Sereny, in her magnificent Into that Darkness, tells how she spent weeks talking to Franz Stangl, commander of Treblinka and Sobibor, in his German prison cell in the 1960s. At one point he described watching a trainload of Jews being herded to their deaths in the gas chambers, and Sereny asked if there might have been anything they could have said to him, that would have influenced him to save them. He couldn't comprehend the question - even though Nazi Germany was already more than two decades in the past, and he had been sentenced for his part in its crimes. He couldn't figure out what her question was about, though they were both speaking German, quite courteously.


Anonymous said...

OK, you're right; though this time around, I really did get impatient with Grossman.

Anonymous said...

I liked the other part, where DG holds the Palestinians accountable for their decisions - something that rarely appears in European discurs.

I wrote a similar statement back in 2006, in a rather ironic reader's letter.
Sorry, it's in German.

Es liegt ein anti-arabischer Rassismus darin, die arabischen Voelker und ihre Politiker grundsaetzlich wegen Unzurechnungsfaehigkeit aus ihrer Verantwortung zu entlassen.

Wenn die HizbAllah unter Duldung der libanesischen Regierung das hochgeruestete Nachbar-land Israel angreift = nicht schuldig wegen Unzurechnungsfaehigkeit.

Wenn die HizbAllah ihre Raketenwerfer in dichtbesiedelten Wohngebieten aufstellt = nicht schuldig wegen Unzurechnungsfaehigkeit.

Wenn die Palaestinenser ihre Kinder mit Sprengstoffguerteln um den Leib in den Tod schicken = nicht schuldig wegen Unzurechnungsfaehigkeit.

Wenn die korrupte PLO die palaestinensischen Autonomiegebiete jahrelang skrupellos auspluendert = nicht schuldig wegen Unzurechnungsfaehigkeit.

Wenn nach der Raeumung besetzter Gebiete durch Israel die Araber nicht etwa die Chance zum Aufbau einer menschenwuerdigen Infrastruktur nutzen, sondern ihre materiellen Ressourcen dem beschleunigten Ausbau von Raketenstellungen widmen = nicht schuldig wegen Un-zurechnungsfaehigkeit.

Wenn in Gaza rivalisierende politische Banden Chaos und Anarchie verbreiten = nicht schuldig wegen Unzurechnungsfaehigkeit.

Wenn arabische Despoten in ihren Laendern Zehntausende Menschen einsperren und umbringen = nicht schuldig wegen Unzurechnungsfaehigkeit.

Wenn libanesische Falangisten im Fluechtlingslager Sabra und Shatila palaestinensische Zivilisten massakrieren = nicht schuldig wegen Unzurechnungsfaehigkeit.

Wenn arabische Demonstranten europaeische Botschaften in Brand setzen = nicht schuldig wegen Unzurechnungsfaehigkeit.

Wenn in arabischen Schulbuechern die Vernichtung Israels als groesste Tugend und der Maertyrertod als hoechste Ehre gepriesen werden = nicht schuldig wegen Unzurechnungsfaehigkeit.

Die Liste liesse sich beliebig fortsetzen. Wann endlich gesteht man auch den Arabern zu, rational zu denken und zu handeln? Wann werden sie fuer ihre Zukunft selbst verantwortlich sein?