David Grossman

Israel is a Fortress, but Not Yet a Home (2018)


What is a home? 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. It projects a sense of the future. And we Israelis, even after 70 years — no matter how many words dripping with patriotic honey will be uttered in the coming days — we are not yet there.


We are not yet home. Israel was established so that the Jewish people, who have nearly never felt at-home-in-the-world, would finally have a home. And now, 70 years later, strong Israel may be a fortress, but it is not yet a home. The solution to the great complexity of Israeli-Palestinian relations can be summed up in one short formula: if the Palestinians don’t have a home, the Israelis won’t have a home either. The opposite is also true: if Israel will not be a home, then neither will Palestine. I have two granddaughters, they are 6 and 3 years old. To them, Israel is self-evident. It is obvious to them that we have a state, that there are roads and schools and hospitals and a computer at kindergarten, and a living, rich Hebrew language. I belong to a generation where none of these things are taken for granted, and that is the place from which I speak to you. From the fragile place that vividly remembers the existential fear, as well as the strong hope that now, finally, we have come home. But 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 Minister of Defense Lieberman decides to prevent peace-loving Palestinians from attending a gathering like ours, Israel is less of a home. When Israeli snipers kill dozens of Palestinian protesters, most of them civilians — Israel is less of a home. And when the Israeli government attempts to improvise questionable deals with Uganda and Rwanda, and is willing to endanger the lives of thousands of asylum seekers and expel them to the unknown — to me, it is less of a home. And when the prime minister defames and incites against human rights organizations, and when he is looking for ways to enact laws that bypass the High Court of Justice, and when democracy and the courts are constantly challenged, Israel becomes even a little less of a home —for everyone. When Israel neglects and discriminates against residents on the fringes of society; when it abandons and continuously weakens the residents of southern Tel Aviv; when it hardens its heart to the plight of the weak and voiceless — Holocaust survivors, the needy, single-parent families, the elderly, boarding houses for children removed from their homes, and crumbling hospitals — it is less of a home. It is a dysfunctional 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.


And when Israel strips away the Jewishness of millions of Reform and Conservative Jews — again it becomes less of a home. And every time artists and creators have to prove — in their creations — loyalty and obedience, not only to the state but to the ruling party — Israel is less of a home. Israel is painful for us. Because it is not the home we want it to be. We acknowledge the great and wonderful thing that happened to us, by having a state, and we are proud of its accomplishments in many areas, in industry and agriculture, in culture and art, in I.T. and medicine and economics. But we also feel the pain of its distortion. One can dream. One can also admire achievements. Israel is worth fighting for.


I also wish these things for our Palestinian friends: a life of independence, freedom and peace, and building a new, reformed nation. And I wish that in 70 years’ time our grandchildren and great-grandchildren, both Palestinian and Israeli, will stand here and each will sing their version of their national anthem. But there is one line that they will be able to sing together, in Hebrew and Arabic: “To be a free nation in our land," and then maybe, at last, it will be a realistic and accurate description, for both nations.


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