To return to the new Peace Now website click here.

Fear of Awakening by David Grossman

November 12, 2010
Originally published in Yedioth Ahronoth 

It is interesting that no one noticed that the word "boycott" does not appear anywhere in the petition regarding the Ariel cultural center, which has been signed so far by 51 actors and directors and other artists.  A boycott is a severe and extreme weapon, which evokes harsh echoes in the Jewish collective memory.  I consider this petition a call for abstention: Abstention from any act that obscures the fact that Ariel was established on occupied territory, and that its very existence creates a reality that is liable to bring disaster upon the State of Israel.

Even if the settlers blow their trumpets and declare the eternal status of Ariel day and night, they will not be able to hide their problematic situation, in moral and practical terms, or the danger to Israel engendered by the huge and rash political gamble underlying the idea of the settlements.  Since writing The Yellow Wind, I have wondered at the capacity for denial that enables the settlers to uphold the deep contradictions of their situation: Most of them are undoubtedly sober and realistic people, and the reasons for their residence in the occupied territories are not always ideological.  Therefore, it is so fascinating to see the psychological mechanism that enables them to maintain a life that appears normal, civilian and even wholly "bourgeois," in the heart of an occupied, hostile area filled with violence, among about two million people like themselves, who live under conditions of oppression and humiliation--to a large degree due to the very existence of the settlements--while most of the world objects to their path and their actions.

In general, it seems that as the idea of the settlements becomes increasingly groundless and dangerous, its supporters are almost fated to reinforce it more and more, and charge it even more strongly with the meaning of a sacred mission.  Sometimes I wonder whether this effort to reinforce the settlement idea also stems from a certain fright, which has touched them in spite of everything--because they actually are realistic and sober people, and decent in all other realms of their lives--fright caused by the untenable and suicidal reality that they are imposing upon their land and themselves by their actions.

For if the settlers completely deny this untenable nature, and the repercussions of the apartheid reality they have created, then they have truly lost touch with reality, in the simplest and most literal fashion.  It is almost amusing to see how they, who are caught up in their dream, call those who oppose them "delusional" and "moonstruck."  One can understand their fear of awakening: When a mirror is placed before them that reflects in a simple and clear manner the absurdity and rashness of the historic process that they initiated and led, they are unable to bear it, and go into a frenzy of rage.  The petition is such a mirror.

As for myself, I do not "boycott" the residents of Ariel, or any of the settlers.  I am interested in dialogue with them, and over the years I have indeed participated in many meetings intended for this purpose.  Most of these were fascinating and enriching, and in the end--regrettably--futile.  They were able to assuage suspicions and hostility, create affection and appreciation and break down mutual stereotypical perceptions, but none of the participants budged from their positions, and in the end, even after four decades of dialogue, the occupation has continued, deepened and branched out, and today there are many Israelis--including two generations that were already born into this reality--who view Ariel and all of the occupied territories as a legitimate and self-evident part of the State of Israel, and do not understand at all what the commotion is about.

It is this illusion, this lie that has been repeated so many times that it starts to appear as truth, that our petition comes to undermine and shake up.  There is a group of people here, myself included, to whom Israel is as precious as their heart and soul.  We are not willing to remain silent when we see Israel being hijacked into realms of delusion and fascism, and we are willing to pay a price for our position, though it was clear to us from the outset how unpopular it was.  We neither demonize the settlers nor idealize the Palestinians, and we know full well the dangers and the threats that Israel faces.  It is precisely because of all these things that it is difficult for us to grasp how the idea of the settlements can advance Israel toward the future it deserves.  It is precisely for this reason that we are raising an outcry.

I will be glad to conduct my dialogue with the settlers from Ariel here, in Israel, at home.  The thought of holding, for example, a "literary evening" in the heart of the occupation, when people so nearby live in perpetual humiliation, denied freedom and basic human rights, seems outrageous and repugnant to me.  I know full well that there are arguments and reasons, some quite weighty, against publishing such a petition, but sometimes I suspect that some of these reasons are no more than excuses to refrain from an act that bears a heavy personal price.  And perhaps because of this endless deliberation, which is very careful to avoid a painful choice between the reasons in favor and against, the moderate majority in Israel has enabled such an extreme situation to take root.  Again and again I heard this week people who identify with the content of the petition, but think that it was a "tactical error" to publish it.  This too is a problem: Peace lovers, who are so afraid of being suspected of "disloyalty," are increasingly engaged in tactics, while the right wing and the settlers employ a strategy.

Very few people responded substantively to the simple and concrete things that appeared in the petition.  The majority reacted with great shock, but not to the petition itself, rather--so it would appear--to the anxiety that it elicited in them and the demands that it makes upon them.  In order to truly contend with the content of the petition, it is necessary to first shake off the wave of nationalist kitsch that is now sweeping over the country, and driving it towards an ill and dangerous place.  In the end, if we soberly examine the incredible tangle that the settlements have brought upon Israel and the evil that the "settlement enterprise" is yet to bring upon us, perhaps more and more Israelis will dare to stand up and reclaim their right, which was once taken for granted, to live their lives in a possible and realistic Israel.

But for this to happen, as the signatories of the petition sought to point out, action has to be taken.  A line must be drawn and it must be colored green.