Dialogue with Hamas is only path to peace, urges novelist

Israeli writer who lost son in Lebanon accuses his countrymen of 'cruelty'
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The Independent Online

David Grossman, the renowned Israeli novelist, issued a pained rebuke to his countrymen over the Gaza invasion yesterday and called for the immediate opening of talks with the militant Hamas movement.

Embarking on what he conceded would be a daunting dialogue with Hamas, which refuses Israel's right to exist, "will contribute more to our security than a hundred planes dropping bombs on a city and its inhabitants", the dovish author wrote in a front-page article in the daily Haaretz.

Grossman accused Israelis of using "sophisticated defence mechanisms and self-righteousness" to avoid recognising the scope of the killing and destruction the army has wrought on Gaza. When this subsides, perhaps Israelis will realise there is "something deep and basic in our behaviour in the region, for time immemorial, that is mistaken, immoral and unwise and that time and again fans the flames that are consuming us", he wrote.

The writer has for many years been a voice of a humanistic Zionism that is often on the defensive in a militarised society. Yesterday was not the first time he has emerged as a statesman of the Israeli left. He lost his son Uri, 20, a tank commander, in fighting viewed by some as unnecessary at the close of Israel's last war, with Hizbollah in 2006, a conflict that had striking parallels to the most recent one: overwhelming use of Israeli force that took a heavy toll on civilians and enemy rocket fire that in the minds of most Israelis justified such retaliation.

Two months after the 2006 war, Grossman accused the country's leadership under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of being "hollow". A year later, he refused to shake Mr Olmert's hand as he received a prestigious writers' award. Palestinian civilian deaths and suffering received little coverage in the Israeli media, with news focusing on incoming rockets and many reports being aired of wounded soldiers anxious to rejoin their units in Gaza. At the height of the fighting, eight Israeli human rights organisations wrote a letter to Israeli newspapers and broadcast outlets complaining that space was not being given to items or opinions that did not support the army and government.

In an article on 30 December, three days after the war was launched, Grossman called for a unilateral ceasefire and warned against harm to the Palestinian civilian population Yesterday, he said the Palestinians could not be exempted of responsibility for Hamas's "crimes" of firing rockets and launching suicide attacks. But he stressed that Israel's leaders were oblivious to their own role in stoking violence with overwhelming military force.

The war has been depicted by Israeli politicians and military leaders as a correction of the 2006 conflict. This time, the army and home front worked well and Israel won, says the official version. Defence Minister Ehud Barak, in a self-congratulatory victory speech, said that bravery by the home front during the war had "restored the beautiful land of Israel of yore".

Grossman painted a very different picture. "Alongside the satisfaction over correcting the failures of the second Lebanon war, it is desirable to listen to a voice which says that the gains of the Israel Defence Forces are not decisive proof that Israel was right in launching such an operation of vast scale and certainly do not justify the way Israel behaved during its course. The gains only confirm that Israel is simply stronger than Hamas and in some situations she can be adamant and very cruel, in her way."

David Grossman: 'Mistaken, immoral, unwise'

"When the guns becomecompletely silent, and the full scope of the killing and destruction becomes known, to the point where even the most self-righteous and sophisticated of the Israeli psyche's defence mechanisms are overcome, perhaps then some kind of lesson will imprint itself on our brain. Perhaps then we will finally understand how deeply and fundamentally wrong our actions in this region have been from time immemorial, how misguided, unethical, unwise and above all, responsible, time after time, for fanning the flames that consume us.

Obviously, the Palestinians cannot be let off the hook for their crimes and mistakes... Yet even when the Palestinians act with indiscriminate violence, when they use suicide bombings and Qassam rocket fire, Israel is stronger than them, and it can have a tremendous impact on the level of violence in the conflict as a whole, and hence on calming it down and even bringing it to an end.

The current confrontation has not shown that anyone in the Israeli leadership really grasps the critical significance of this aspect of the conflict in any fully conscious or responsible way. One day, after all, we will seek to heal the wounds we inflict today. How will that day ever come if we do not understand that our military might cannot be the primary instrument for carving out a path for ourselves in this region?

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 recognise 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, even if dialogue seems hopeless from the start. In the long run, this stubbornness will contribute much more to our security than hundreds of planes dropping bombs on a city and its inhabitants."