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.
A Palestinian-Canadian whose parents became refugees in 1948
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