NEW YORK (May. 26)
Informed that three members of the Jewish terrorist underground had just received reduced prison sentences, on the eve of Shavuot, by Israeli President Chaim Herzog, David Grossman smiled sourly.
“It is so good that we have so many holidays,” said the Israeli writer. “What about Mother’s Day?”
It is a rare joke for Grossman, a novelist who has written with deadly seriousness about the many kinds of extremism found in the West Bank.
“The Yellow Wind,” his nonfiction account of three months of frank conversations with the Arabs and Jews who live there, was a publishing sensation in Israel.
It sold 25,000 copies when printed in the magazine Koteret Rashit and another 50,000 when published in book form in 1987. Two “underground” translations of the book have appeared in Arabic, and a third, official Arabic translation is being readied.
In the United States, an English translation has been published by Farrar Straus Giroux to glowing reviews.
On a recent visit to New York, Grossman, 34, discussed both the impact of the book and his own hopes for a resolution to what he unflinchingly calls “the occupation.”
The official Israeli attitude toward the Jewish underground, said Grossman, reaffirms what he learned while researching “The Yellow Wind.”
There exists, he said, a “subconscious and now conscious thought that there are two systems of justice and morality. ‘The Jewish terrorists are not really murderers because they only killed Arabs.’ This is the message if they can be granted such amnesties so easily.”
In his book, Grossman said he doubts Israel’s ability to “live as a conqueror without making its own life wretched,” and offers scenes of ambiguously administered justice as proof.
He argues for negotiations with the Palestinians — even the Palestine Liberation Organization — to establish an independent Palestinian state.
WEB OF WORDS, HALLUCINATIONS
“I’m not here to justify the Palestinians,” said Grossman, admitting that he neither trusts the Arabs nor their “goodwill.”
“In a way they are living in this web of words and hallucinations, in a non-time bubble. They are standing outside history. They have nothing, not even hope.
“But once Israel gives them something real — a demilitarized state with security guarantees for Israel — once brought back into history, they will be forced to act according to different roles.”
Grossman said the effect of an Israeli offer to negotiate will either be a response by Yasir Arafat — obliging the PLO chairman to recognize Israel and denounce portions of the PLO charter calling for its destruction — or the emergence of a separate, moderate Palestinian leadership.
But are there Palestinian moderates? “We must give it a try. I know they exist, because I have met them,” he said, mentioning by example Raj’a Shehade, a lawyer and writer he interviewed for the book.
“These are people moved by the same things that move me and you. They have passed this era of hallucinations and dreams.”
‘AT LEAST WE TRIED’
If no Palestinian leadership comes forward, he said, Israel will be able to say, ” ‘At least we tried it this way. If we have no partners for peace, if we have to fight, okay. At least we will be united again.’ And the whole world will know that Israel will want peace.”
Grossman is under no illusions that Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir will soon make such an offer.
“Nobody promises us that it’s not going to last another 10 or 20 years,” he said, when asked if he saw the present situation changing.
But the success of his book, said Grossman, indicates that it is imperative that changes be made.
“Five years ago, I would have been looked upon as a nothing. But reality changes so quickly. We can’t wait for somebody to rescue us.”
Five years from now, he said, “we will be negotiating with people like the Shiites, the Hezbollah, the Iranians, the fundamentalists. And they are not for compromise.”
American Jews who agree with him, said Grossman, must speak out on the situation in the territories. “If silent, they support a very certain point of view in the Israeli government.”
‘LOOK INTO EACH OTHER’S EYES’
Grossman believes American lawmakers would be more willing to make Israel and the Palestinians “sit together and look into each other’s eyes” if American Jews were willing to take a stand.
“Silence is not indifference. If silent, you finance the megalomaniacal dreams of some of us.”
Despite the success of “The Yellow Wind” and his commentary for Israel Radio, Grossman said he will continue to concentrate on his fiction. His novel, “The Smile of the Lamb,” was the first Hebrew-language book set in the West Bank.
He has written non-political works too, he said, including “Rikky’s Kindergarten,” a play, and ” See under: Love,” a novel about Israeli reactions to the Holocaust. Both will be published in English translations early next year.
Grossman lives with his wife and two young sons in Jerusalem, and after touring the United States and Europe on behalf of the current book, he will return to his writing there.
Grossman said it is difficult to say what effect his book has had on politicians, but among the general public he sees it opening “canals and tunnels of thought that were closed because of rejection, despair, rigidity, complacency.”
Writing, he said, “is a protest against our nature that protects us against sympathizing too much with each other.
“Even from a military point of view, hate leads you nowhere,” he continued. If you understand an enemy, you can reduce his extremism, even manipulate him, in order to achieve your goals.”