Corroborators of Despair

Without further ado, I bring to you a translation of David Grossman’s brave speech given at an anti-war rally held last night in Tel-Aviv:

We are many. Much more than what we thought. Much more than what we hoped for.

I stood here in this square two days ago. I stood with the residents of the South as they talked about their difficult life. There were many spokespersons and most of them said touching things. Basically, we were all saying the same thing: it can’t carry on like this.

I listened to them, I listened to those who said we should let the IDF win, and to those who said we should let the IDF “mow” Gaza down and topple Hamas once and for all. And I thought that these wise men already knew that these wishes of theirs would not come true, and everything that happened in this war supports this conclusion. Yet no one is showing them another way or a hope for a better future.  Thus, all that is left for them and us is to shout louder out of pain and frustration: let the IDF win.

There are no victory pictures in this war, for anyone. There are only images of destruction and death and unimaginable suffering. The only picture coming out of this terrible battlefield is one of deep loss for both peoples, people that after 100 years of conflict can only talk to each other through violence. Under these circumstances, under these restrictions – of power, morality, and international pressure – there is no military solution to the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

There is no military solution that will end the suffering of the residents of the South and the deep fear they live in, and there is no military solution to the inhuman suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza. Put simply, without solving the suffocation of Gaza, we ourselves will not be able to breath properly with our two lungs.

And so, when the negotiations in Cairo resume, and after Israel rightfully insists on the terms to ensure a safe and quiet life for the residents of Sderot and Nahal Oz, and after Israel insists Hamas commits to stopping all offensive actions now and in the future, Israel must present the Palestinians with a substantial offer with a sum that is greater than all its parts. Not a limited, partial, or local cease-fire agreement, but a real framework for changing the relations between the two sides – a large, far-reaching, generous plan that includes suggestions for improving the lives of the Palestinians in Gaza and that holds the hope for a better future and guarantees they feel self-respect and human dignity again.

Of course we can argue every small clause in the agreement, on ten less or more trucks to enter Gaza, on another kilometer or two of allowed fishing for the Gaza fishermen. But what must change now, after the war, is the spirit of things. And in my eyes, this is one of the main reasons we are all here tonight. To remind those negotiating in our name in Cairo that even if the Gazans are our enemy now, they will forever be our neighbors.  We will forever live side by side, and this is important since the downfall of my neighbor is not necessarily a victory for me, and the interest of my neighbor is ultimately mine as well.

But more than anything, we are here tonight to demand that the main clause in the agreement we are trying to bring about in Cairo says the following: immediately after the cease-fire stabilizes, Israel and the Palestinian Authority – as the representative of the Palestinian unity government – begin peace talks.

No buts, no hesitating, no maybes. A clear-cut declaration of intentions by both sides. Because if after this war , with its terrible cost and results, Israel does not initiate such a move, it means only one thing: that Israel prefers the certainty of recurring wars over the risk of making concessions for peace. And we’ll know that the person leading Israel is not prepared, or does not dare, to go down the road to peace because he fears to pay its price, specifically the price of pulling out of the West Bank and dismantling settlements.

Friends, this decisive moment might arrive tomorrow, in two days, or in a month, but we will then know for sure whether Israel is trying with all its might to strive for peace or if it is selecting to prepare for another war. We’ve heard so many of the eighty-two thousand reservists who participated in this war, some of whom may be here among us as civilians,  say again and again in front of the cameras and to the microphones: see you in the next round, in a year or two tops.

These words are heartbreaking. These young people know, with a terrible certainty, that sooner or later they will be thrust back into this hell. It’s awful to listen to these young men and women, with a lifetime still ahead of them, and who were brave enough to enter booby-trapped houses and tunnels of terror. To hear them accept the fact that their lives are on loan until the next due-date.

It is no less awful to see how Israelis accept the intentional and calculated passivity of a government which over the last few years has done almost nothing to really solve this conflict. How is it, tell me, that as the sons and citizens of a country which in every other field is daring, creative and bold, and in relation to an issue that is so crucial to our existence – we are collaborating with hopelessness and despair?

Dear friends, it’s time to wake up. This war has revealed the dangerous processes taking place in Israel because of the despair and the fear. It’s time to wake up and understand that things were happening while we slept. Nationalism, fanaticism and racism – all broke out at once, shamelessly surfacing and managing to quickly impose the rule of the dictatorship of fear.

Not one word of denouncement from the Prime Minister or any other senior minister in the government. It will be hard to keep these dark forces at bay. They are already here. I also suspect that some of these leaders felt a degree of satisfaction from the left taking a beating. They don’t understand that it will be very hard to control this wave when it sees them as too moderate and turns against them. Other factors strengthen these forces – widening social chasms, feelings of poverty-driven embitterment, and the corruption of the greedy people in power.

Friends, all these contribute to the feeling that the seams that should be holding together a healthy society are dissolving. These are the tunnels seeing to undermine the Israeli democracy. These are precisely the phenomenons that can in a short while, much shorter than we may imagine, turn Israel from a forward-looking advanced country into an extreme militant cult, xenophobic, closed off, and boycotted.

I’d like to say something to those who have been, for over a month and half now, praising our national resilience. National resilience, among other things, means understanding that our Arab citizens are in an insufferable position. They see their people killed and wounded by the thousands every day. Sometimes it is their families, and sometimes those firing at their families is the son of their manager, or the son of a co-worker. Anyone claiming that we Israelis, as Jews, are the most humane people in the world, sensitive to the suffering of all human beings where ever they may be, please explain to me why we insist on taking away from the Arab citizens of Israel – the doctors, nurses, social workers, car mechanics, students, cooks, artists and builders, those we live with and those we will live with – the basic right to cry out? Is our national resilience so weak and soft that it cannot even contain these human expressions of suffering and mourning?

Friends, to those of you who are here, and many more at home, from all segments of society, those of you whose lives are intertwined with the life of the State of Israel, those who see it as the only meaningful place to raise your children; those of you who do not belong to the ruling political majority but feel that an historic mistake is being made; those of you who see how with our own hands, our apathy, we are losing our home to hatred and zeal that are keeping us stuck in a paralyzing stalemate for the last fifty years, a stalemate that is preventing us to even save ourselves – to you all I speak now. The siren sounded in this war is telling us that it is time to create new game-changing partnerships that will rise above the narrow interests of each sector.

I believe, and with this I will end my words, that there exists a critical mass of people who belong to the center and broad stream in the Israeli society, people from the left and the right, religious and secular, Jews and Arabs, people from all the layers of society, that denounce violence and extremism. Wise people who are willing to compromise, from Tel-Aviv, Jerusalem, Ofra, Ashkelon, Sahknin, Be’er-Sheva, people who can still unite – with sobriety, with no illusions – over three or four points of agreement. For example, that Israel is the national home of the Jewish people, and that it is a democracy in which all its citizens are equal, and that it will make every effort to make peace with its neighbors. Three to four points that are the heart of the matter, a kind of test by which every citizen can define for himself where he stands, to which camp he belongs.

If such a call comes out tonight, and if it falls on receptive ears, and if it gains momentum and recruits people, then maybe the leaders will re-position themselves according to these lines. This is the option we have after the last war, this is the choice we have. This is our hope.



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