Can Israel ever stop being a “fortress” and become a “home”?


In a public interview last April in Toronto, famed Israeli author David Grossman (r.) lamented to CBC’s Michael Enright: “Israel is a fortress, but not yet a home”. A Palestinian Canadian, whose parents were expelled from Mandate Palestine in 1948, suggests that Jews in Israel can only feel at “home” when Israel acknowledges the refugees’ tragedy it created in 1947/48 and accepts equality. Read more…

A CTIP guest column by Rami A.

Michael Enright, the host of CBC Radio One’s “The Sunday Edition”, had a public conversation in back in April with David Grossman, one of the most prominent Israeli writers. They talked about literature and politics.

Grossman told Enright he was concerned about Israel and its future. “Israel is a fortress”, he said, “but not yet a home”.

“Israel is a fortress, but not yet a home”

– David Grossman, leading Israeli novelist

As someone coming from a Palestinian refugee family, I was wondering what it would take, in Grossman’s view, for Israel to become a home? What is the path to transform this fortress?

A week after his conversation with Enright in Toronto, Grossman was back in Israel where he addressed bereaved Israelis and Palestinians at an event marking Israel’s “Memorial day”, normally aimed at remembering fallen soldiers. Among other things he said:

  •  “(..) when Israel occupies and oppresses another nation, for 51 years, and creates an apartheid reality in the occupied territories — it becomes a lot less of a home.”
  • “(..) And when it neglects and discriminates against 1.5 million Palestinian citizens of Israel; when it practically forfeits the great potential they have for a shared life here — it is less of a home — both for the minority and the majority.”
  • “(..) When Israeli snipers kill dozens of Palestinian protesters [in Gaza], most of them civilians — Israel is less of a home.”

I think that those are courageous things for an Israeli writer to say. At the same time, it is too bad that Grossman fails to recognize that the peaceful protesters in Gaza still have land and homes in what is called now Israel. They are part of the Palestinian refugees of 1947-48. They want their original land in which Grossman lives, to be their home too based on equality for all.

Important writers like Grossman can lead an honest discussion among Israelis about this issue, but Grossman appears to be reluctant to raise the subject. Israel will not become a real “home” and will remain a “fortress” until the Palestinian refugees, who were the real owners of much of the land, are acknowledged, and they tell their stories.

Lessons from Canada

I learned this from my experience as a new Canadian.

Canada is on the path to becoming a real home for all its residents, in the moral meaning, because aboriginal people are beginning to tell their stories now as part of the reconciliation process that is not complete yet. One hundred and fifty years after Canada’s birth, there are parts of Canada now recognized as “unceded land”. Many Canadians acknowledge that openly, and acknowledge that there is a lot of work to be done before aboriginal people can enjoy a relative justice, and we deserve a “home” status in Canada.

In his speech at the event mentioned earlier, Grossman said: “Home is a place whose walls — borders — are clear and accepted; whose existence is stable, solid, and relaxed; whose inhabitants know its intimate codes; whose relations with its neighbors have been settled.”

I agree but add: it cannot be built by force on someone’s else land and home. Israelis have a historic and moral obligation to recognize and deal with a tragedy they created before they can expect a “clear acceptance” from Palestinian refugees.

Grossman said that literature offers always a second chance to massage our stories and find in them a new meaning. I find this idea beautiful and gives a sense of hope.

What if people in Gaza are offering now a historic second chance for Israelis of conscience to find wisdom and courage in themselves and acknowledge what happened in 1947-48 in Palestine? What if they are offering a chance to transform the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians? Or even to transform Israel itself and liberate its soldiers from their tanks?

I find it tragic when a writer lives in a “tank” and hopes that his beautiful language is powerful enough to transform it into an intimate home while Palestinian women and men are being killed on the fence in Gaza by the Israeli snipers as they try to break their Israeli “prison” and return to their home. According to Israeli sociologist prof. Eva Illouz, Israelis need to deal with this state of denial before they will ever become comfortable.

Beautiful language is not enough to build a real home and have a peaceful life. We need political courage to change our attitude and do the right thing: acknowledge what happened in 1947- 48 in Palestine, and move on to a historic process of reconciliation.

Do Grossman and other liberal Zionists have the political will to open a new chapter in history and go to the fence in Gaza to stop the Israeli snipers from killing civilians, and become partners in building a real home for all?

I really hope so.

Rami A.
A Palestinian-Canadian whose parents became refugees in 1948


Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP) aims to promote a serious discussion in Canada about the complicated and emotional Israel/Palestine issue. We accept guest columnists from time and encourage brief comments (under 100 words) from serious readers. To learn more about what we do, contact us at



  1. Hopefully Pete, both Israeli Jews and Arab Palestinians can find a home in two sovereign equal states of Jewish Israel and Arab Palestine along the green line with land and population swaps with West and East Jerusalem as their respective capitals and with freedom of religion protected by a shared international regime for the old city’s holy sites of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Both Jewish Israel and Arab Palestine would ensure. equal rights for their non Jewish and non Arab Palestinian residents while retaining measures that are at the heart of their national religious and ethnic identities and migration policies respecting Jews and Arab Palestinians and their independent world roles. Maybe not a home with all the equal protection comforts of Canada, which nonetheless has special discrimuinatory measures to ensure harmony that may vioate the Charter,, but rather two homes for all the virtually equal number of Jews and Arab Palestinians living from the sea to the river. Only way for Israel to remain Jewish and demicratic and for Arab Palestine to emerge as a full democratic state.

    1. Hey George,
      Thanks for your thoughtful contribution. My own view, as you know, is that a 2 state deal cannot solve the major problems. It will leave too many issues unresolved, and will lead to further recrimination/violence. Peace can only come about (apart from the annihiliation of one side or the other) by a compromise, of course. But I think that the compromise cannot be a “territorial”one – it will have to be a “political” one in which the rights of all, including the minority are ensured, in a way similar to our (admittedly imperfect) approach in Canada.

  2. Canada is on the path of reconciliation with its aboriginals but barely. That hangup plus political funding from wealthy Zionists and free junkets to Israel for parliamentarians, it still has its foot in the US, Micronesia camp at the UN. Also it is a fact that Trudeau received a large and controversial boost from the late Barry Sherman. I have no information where he stood re: Netanyahu’s murderous kleptocracy, likely not critical at the least. Our parliament needs an ethics overhaul from political funding onward.


    On Wed, Jul 11, 2018 at 6:02 PM, Canada Talks Israel/Palestine wrote:

    > Peter Larson posted: ” In a public interview last April in Toronto, famed > Israeli author David Grossman (r.) lamented to CBC’s Michael Enright: > “Israel is a fortress, but not yet a home”. A Palestinian Canadian, whose > parents were expelled from Mandate Palestine in 1948, sugg” >

  4. I highly recommend listening to the Grossman interview, here is an excert from the interview that would help you understand why Israel would never open the borders to the decendents of the Nakba : “we look and see what Arabs are doing to Arabs in places like Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Yemen. One can just imagine what thay would have done to us had they have the power”

    1. Hey Ahik,
      I think your comments is very valid. I am sure Israelis have exactly that fear. And I think most Jews (and many other Canadians as well),share it. In order to get broader international support, the Palestinians will have to demonstrate convincingly that the post-Zionist social project they have in mind will ensure equality and protection for Jews.

      1. Peter, Israel was offered a very generous deal that would meet the “Israeli fear” and much more in 2002. The Peace Arab Initiative called for normalizing relations between ALL Arab countries and Israel, in exchange for a full withdrawal by Israel from the occupied territories (including East Jerusalem) and a “just settlement” of the Palestinian refugee problem based on UN Resolution 194.

        What was the Israeli response?

        We know it: more expansion and wars on Gaza and Lebanon. Now, we are very close from a point where Israel is going to annex major parts of the West Bank. Is this an “Israeli fear” that Palestinians need to solve?

        With the Israeli snipers killing so far more than 130 civilians, medical personnel and journalists in Gaza, add to it a brutal siege that created unlivable conditions, I believe it is fair to ask which fear is greater: Israeli or Palestinian?

        According to some reports, Israel owns more than 400 nuclear bombs. Is this an “Israeli fear” that Palestinian refugees in Gaza should solve before the Israeli siege is removed?

        The reality is Israelis are in a national state of denial according to Israeli sociologist prof. Eva Illouz. This is the core problem now.

      2. Hey New Canadian, I agree that Israelis are in a state of denial about what happened. Recognizing historical truth will be a first step toward a process of reconciliation. My discussions with many Palestinians lead me to believe that if Israel would recognize and accept the injustice it inflicted on Palestinians in 1947/48, that would go a very long way to moving toward a reasonable solution. Unfortunately, there is little evidence they are willing to do so at the present time.

    2. Ahik, it is documented that you lied at least 2 times in the past on this blog (just review previous blog posts for record) and continue to change the subject to serve and justify the right-wing Israeli agenda and violence. The real question presented is:

      would liberal Zionists have the political will to go to the fence in Gaza to stop Israeli snipers from killing civilians, medical personnel and journalists?

      In addition, Israel has an ideological problem with Palestinians and their national identity and it is not just about refugees. There are many internally displaced Palestinians inside what is called now Israel, and the Israeli government does not allow them to return to their original villages that they lived in before 1948. Why? Because of a racist ideology and system of violent discrimination.

      1. New Canadian, I have a question for you.
        Were we wrong to reject the 2002 Saudi offer?
        We are heading fast towards complete normalization with the Arab world and we didn’t had to let in five million hostile Jordanians/Syrians/Lebanese of Palestinian decent, nor did we had to give up our sovereignty over Jerusalem

    3. Not only is “what Arabs are doing to Arabs” exaggerated because we do not see the peaceful Arabs in the news but it is not different in essence from what Europeans did to Europeans in the past.

      You name countries where there are wars. Syria’s war was encouraged by external parties and has become a proxy war. Iraq’s war was exacerbated by foreign actions. Sudan’s war is not Arabs against Arabs and it is the non-Arab side that is still fighting (each other). In Yemen, we again see foreign interference by non arabs (US and Iran). Regarding those wars as ‘Arabs against Arabs’ is simplistic.

      It is time to outgrow the racist assumption that some groups are more warlike than others. Canada is evidence that people of differing ethnicities can live together in peace. Some of the most peaceful Canadians I know happen to be Arabs.

    4. Ahik, it is true that Israel in a position now to steal more land and oppress Palestinians. It is sad that you see this as an accomplishment. Oppression and violence are destructive for both Palestinians and Israelis. You need to keep one thing on mind: Palestinians are present and will not go away. They are resisting using non violent strategy in Gaza and everywhere. Clearly, they will continue resistance until everyone is liberated: Palestinians (from Israeli oppression) and Israelis (from self-destruction and hatred that you clearly represent).

      I hope that Palestinians along with Israeli and international human rights activists will liberate you, Ahik, one day. There is a place for everyone under the sun.

  5. “” We tend to draw a distinction between walls that protect and walls that imprison, but that is only the same dark logic again, justifying itself, as always, in the name of security. Security is an invention of humanity’s jailers. Anywhere you look it is—and has always been—the hand of power drawing the boundaries, putting up separation barriers and propagandizing hatred and fear of the people on the other side. Security for some means imprisonment for all.””

    – Michael Chabon is the bestselling and Pulitzer Prize-winning author

    1. This Michael Chabon of yours wrote an alternative history novel called “the Yiddish Policemen’n Union”
      In this book, you guys won the 1948 war, and Jerusalem was adorned with many severed Jewish heads on poles.

      1. Hey Ahik, I have not read the book in question. But I do not doubt that many, if not most, Israeli Jews fear that Palestinians will want to wreak revenge on them if they ever get back in power. I think they fear that the Palestinians will do to them something like what they did to the Palestinians in 1947/48.

      2. Ahik, you always change the subject. This is a well known technique that supporters of Israel use. Unfortunately, you are so fanatic that you can not even reflect on universal human good idea such as the one Chabon is offering in the quote. Sad, but this is what extremist ideology does to people who adopt it like in your case.

      3. Hey New Canadian, I agree it is frustrating when people try to change the topic. But I encourage you to avoid ad hominem arguments. Thank you.

  6. Yes Arabs are not the only people’s to have fought one another and at other times uniited in great empires or more modern nation states. Throughout history Jews have fought among each other to the peril off their broader collective interests and united sufficiently to create Israel a few times. Unity is always important to success, but when unity breaks down peaceful divorce is always better than civil war.

    Today there is severe debate inside Israel over the Jewish state bill which will nonetheless pass with a changed reference to Judaizing Arab areas from a de jure reference to the establishment and maintenance of separate communities which is done de facto today along with the 50 or so laws already on the books that discriminate in favour of Jews and against Arab Palestinians and other minorities. Earlier the “Israel for all its citizens'” constitutional bill, modelled in part on Canada and other equal protection democracies, wasn’t even considered in the Knesset.and summarily dismissed. The Jewish state always was and will be discriminatory.

    IF you consider the Arab Palestinians in the occupied territories (Gaza, West Bank and East Jerusalem), there are approximatey 6-7 million Jews and Arab Palestinians from the sea to the river with the Arab population set to grow beyond the Jewish population. by increasing margins. There are roughly equivalent diasporae of 7 million Jews and Arab Palestinians living outside Israel and Palestine who might choose to go to their national states. Room for return is limited given the low rates of alia from Jewish diaspora and only Palestinian Arabs living in surroundinuclear refugee camps likely to return to a sovereign Palestine.

    Given Israel’s military superiority the only threat rot Israel’s Jewish existence is a demographic one where Palestinian Arabs increasingly outnumber Jews. Since the one state equal protection is a non starter for the Jewish state, the two state solution with guanteed human and civil rights is the only one that can really solve the problem in both Israel and Palestine. It is only the hubris fear and sheer rightwing dominant Jewish nationalism claiming everything from the river oto the sea and blindly oblivious of Palestinian rights that prevents Israel from moving forward. Both Obama and Kerry were clear about Israeli responsibility and lack of leadership when the last two state effort broke down in 2014. Only a more rational and open Israeli leadership can take the challenge of keeping israrl a Jewish and democratic by acceding to the emergence of a sovereign democratic Palestine.

    1. George, I appreciate your rational approach. After Israel passed the so-called nation-state law it is clear that the two-state solution is over from Israeli perspective:

      Just look at this map:

      According to the story, even “Obama was surprised to see how “systematic” the Israelis had been at cutting them off from one another.”

  7. Yes, New Canadian, I appreciate fully what you say about the difficulty if not impossibility of a 2 state solution, especially after the Jewish state law.

    This new law confirms de jure what was always the case: Israel in its essence was always and will be a state where Jews have superior rights over minority citizen Palestinians. This level of discrimination should be rightly condemned as anti democratic and anti equal protection but is not unheard of in the world and not specifically banned in international law, albeit much criticized in a human rights context. But other elements in the new law that make United Jerusalem Israel’s capital, promote and validate exclusively Jewish settlements in the whole area and de facto continue the occupation and blockade of all Palestinians without relief are most definitely violations of international law and should be condemned as such..

    The challenge now more than ever is to create an Arab State of Palestine sovereign and equal to the Jewish state of Israel along the green line with West and East Jerusalem as their capitals. The particularly Canadian angle would be to take up the legacy of Amb Michael Bell and internationalize the old city’s holy sites of Judaism, Christianity and Islam thereby getting around the problem that these areas are occupied but not viable to be in Palestine, while retaining some of the original plan of internationalizing the whole area of Jerusalem. The sticky problem of minority rights for Palestinians in Jewish Israel and Jews in Arab Palestine would have to be negotiated and determined by the minimal amount of discrimination to maintain the Jewish and Palestinian nature of the respective states where there could be free circulation between the two. Each would have sovereignty for its immigration policies – aliaya for Israel and right to return for Palestine – and implementation could be based on symbolic return and compensation helped by outside donors. Of course there is nothing to stop Jordan and Egypt to add physical resources and land to the Arab State of Palestine while inflows of people and finance continue to the new now confirmed more than ever in law Jewish state of Israel

    All of this 2 state plus internationalization of holy places plan would be consistent with international law and UN resolutions and the broad international consensus supporting a 2 state solution. Of course am very aware that current govt of Israel rejects this plan as well and will use every trick from war conflict and existential threats to downright refusal to avoid this. This became apparent at the end of the Obama Kerry initiative by Israel’s refusal to make any political, territorial security or sovereignty concessions to the current unacceptable status quo to advance such an agreement. Obama and Kerry were very clear that Israel was responsible for this breakdown, with a grave risk to itself as a democratic and Jewish state, and even Trump has posed the question to Netanyahu about Israel’s commitment to a fair peace, without reportedly getting a response, on the eve of his own proposal.

    It is interesting that the most vociferous criticism of this Jewish state law has come from international Jewish peace groups working for a democratic Jewish state in which they could feel comfortable. The unqualified and uncritical pro Israel Jewish lobby (CiJA and Bnai Brith in Canada) have remained quite quiet and have been put into a very embarassing if not impossible situation in now presenting Israel as a Jewish and democratic HR respecting state. Most governments including Canada have been mum or quiescent not wanting to condemn the Jewish state law outright and conscious of their own failings in democracy and equal protection. Apparently only the European Union is taking any kind of stand at all that this is a serious slap in the face of democracy human rights. It will be crucial to see what will be the eventual international reaction from nation states and the pro Israel lobby.

    One thing seems certain however: that ironically and in a contrarian manner, the current situation is an opportune time for the world to move decisively forward on a two state solution that protects democracy and equal rights in both Jewish Israel and Arab Palestine. Canada could be taking the lead, but does it have a vision?

    (Peter, this could also be posted as a comment on your most recent post on the Jewish state law to start the discussion on that thread.)

    1. Hey George, thanks for your contribution.
      I fail to see how a 2 state solution would in any way alter the second class status of the Palestinian citizens of Israel as now enshrined in the new legislation. In fact, I fear that a 2SS would INCREASE the already great pressures inside Israel to expel the Palestinian citizens of Israel (as non Jews) completing the ethnic cleansing of ’48 Palestsine.

  8. Peter, it is what economists call a “second best solution.” Maybe political scientists and lawyers have another term for it. Who said that “perfection is the enemy of the good.” I think it was a US Supreme Court justice having to balance the scales.

    No an Arab state of Palestine would not end the second hand citizenship of Arab Palestinians, but it could put limits on the level of discrimination permitted to maintain the viable and legal national identities of a Jewish Israel and Arab Palestine within an internationally accepted and UNSC approved context.

    In the case of forced expulsions of Israeli Arab Palestinians, talked about openly in Israel, the Arab state of Palestine would give them a place to go other than Jordan to which the extreme Jewish Israel nationalists want to send all the 7 million Palestinians living from the sea to the river: this in order to fulfill the biblical claim to all the land of Israel without the mass genocide permitted and validated by religion in biblical times. The Jewish state law supports this same claim by saying only Jews have national rights of self determination and validating legally the current segregated Jewish settlements without any consideration for Pal rights

    In any case, still think it is better to have something positive and viable and internationally acceptable to propose which in this case would ensure the Jewish state of Israel, by creating the Arab state of Palestine. Extremist Israeli Jewish nationalists like a recent Bnai Brith guest Gerald Steinberg of NGO Watch) have no answer to this kind of peace solution other than accusing all peace supporters from Carter to Obama of being anti Semites and wanting to destroy the Jews while reserving their greatest insults for Jewish peaceniks: kappos self hating Jews etc to Amb Michael whom he accused in a personal exchange of being a fool for his project of internationalization of the old city holy sites of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. (I could only retort that at least zmMichael went to his grave supporting a just whereas he would go to his grave spouting propaganda against peace.)

    With the Jewish state law now on the books, do not think that other solutions (one democratic equal non religious secular state present themselves with as much hope for international support as this 2 state one, but have no illusions that it will take the full force of the UNSC and international politics and law to accomplish.

    1. George,

      There is no reason why Palestinians who are not Jewish should have to accept something that you call “second best” – something that I would rank at about fourth best (worse than the present situation). Now, Palestinians who were living in Palestine, and their descendants, have a widely recognized right of return. To get the so-alled “two state solution” they would be forced to give that up. The “state” that Israel would agree too would not have the rights and powers that we normally attribute to something called a “state”; it would not have control of its borders and would be isolated from the rest of the world by a hostile power. Further, there would be no real peace because there would be people on both sides of the lines who believe that they have the right to live on the other side. They would not accept such a solution even if their leaders did; they would keep on fighting.

      The only solution to this horrible situation is to insist on a just peace, one that gives equal rights to all. Those who are now supporting Israel, those who are allowing it to continue with its unjust policies, have to withdraw that support and place pressure on Israel until it realizes that it needs a state that is safe for Jews (as all states should be) but not biased towards them or against others.

Comments are closed.