Israeli author David Grossman was the keynote speaker at the April 17th 2018 joint Israeli-Palestinian memorial service sponsored by the Parents Circle-Families Forum and Combatants for Peace. Following is a translation of his speech:
Dear friends, good evening.
There has been a lot of noise and commotion surrounding our ceremony, but we do not forget that more than anything, this is a ceremony of memory and communing. The noise, even if it is present, is outside us now, because at the heart of this evening there is a profound quiet, the quiet of the void created by loss.
My family and I lost Uri in the war, a sweet, smart and funny young man. Even now, nearly twelve years later, it is difficult for me to speak about him publicly.
The death of a beloved person is also the death of an entire private, personal and unique culture, with a special language of its own and a secret of its own. It will no longer exist, nor will there be another one like it. It is indescribably painful to confront this absolute “no.” There are moments when it almost draws into it everything that exists and everything that is “yes.” It is difficult and exhausting to constantly fight against the gravitational pull of the loss. It is difficult to separate the memory from the pain. It is painful to remember; it is even more frightening to forget. And how easy it is, in this situation, to yield to the anger, the rage, the desire to exact revenge.
But I discovered that every time I am tempted by the rage and the hate, I immediately feel that I am losing the live contact with my son. Something there is blocked. And I have made my decision, I have made my choice. And I think that those who are here this evening—have also made the same choice. And I know that even within the pain there is breath, there is creativity and there is doing good. That the bereavement not only isolates but also connects and strengthens. Even long-time enemies—Israelis and Palestinians—can connect to each other from their bereavement, and because of it. In these years I have met more than a few bereaved families. I have told them, from my experience, that even when one is immersed in the pain it is worth remembering that each of the family members is entitled to mourn according to their wishes, and according to their character, and according to what their soul tells them.
No one can command another person how to mourn. This is true for a private family, and it is also true for the large “family of bereavement” in Israel. There is a strong sentiment that connects us, and a sense of shared fate, and a pain that only we know, for which there are almost no words outside, in the light. So if the term “family of bereavement” is genuine and sincere, please respect our path. It deserves respect. It is neither an easy path, nor obvious and it is not without internal contradictions. But it is our way of giving meaning to the death of our loved ones, and to our life after their death. And it is our way not only to mourn the loss together, but to contemplate the fact that we did not do enough to prevent it. And it is our way of doing and acting—not to despair and not to cease—so that one day, in the future, the war will fade away, and perhaps will stop completely, and we will start to live, to live a full life, and not just to survive from one war to the next, from one tragedy to the next.
We, Israelis and Palestinians who have lost in the wars between us those whom we held dear, perhaps more than our own lives—we are fated to touch reality through an open wound. Anyone who is wounded this way can no longer entertain illusions. Anyone who is wounded this way knows the extent to which life is made of a great concession, of endless compromise. I believe that bereavement makes us, those who came here this evening, more clear-sighted people. Clear-sighted, for example, with regard to the limits of force, with regard to the illusion that always accompanies the one who wields the force. And we are also more suspicious, more than we were before the tragedy, and we are filled with loathing every time we see a display of empty pride, or expressions of nationalist arrogance, or smug declarations by leaders. We are not just suspicious; we are virtually allergic.
Israel celebrates its 70th year this week. I hope that we can celebrate more and more years, and more and more generations of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who will live here, side by side with an independent Palestinian state, in security and peace and creativity, and mainly, in a peaceful everyday routine, of good and safe neighborly relations. That they will feel at home here.
What is home? Home is a place whose walls—whose borders—are clear and agreed-upon. Whose existence is stable and firm and relaxed. Whose tenants are familiar with its intimate codes. Whose relations with its neighbors have been regulated. A place that projects a sense of future. And we Israelis, even after 70 years—no matter how many honeyed patriotic words are spoken in the coming days—we are still not there. Still not at home. Israel was established so that the Jewish people, which almost never felt at home in the world, would finally have a home. And now, 70 years later, with amazing achievements in so many fields, strong Israel is perhaps a fortress, but still not a home. The road to resolving the immense complexity in the relations between Israel and the Palestinians can be summed up in one brief formula: If the Palestinians do not have a home, the Israelis will also not have a home. The opposite is also true: If Israel does not have a home—Palestine will also not be a home.
I have two granddaughters, aged six and three. For them, Israel is something that is self-evident. It is self-evident to them that we have a state, that there are roads and schools and hospitals and a computer in kindergarten, and a living and rich Hebrew language. I belong to a generation for which none of these was self-evident, and I am speaking from that place. From the fragile place that remembers full well the existential fear, and also the strong hope that now, truly, we have finally come home.
But when Israel occupies and oppresses another people for 51 years, and creates a reality of apartheid in the occupied territories—it becomes much less of a home.
And when Defense Minister Lieberman tries to prevent peace-seeking Palestinians from attending a gathering such as ours, Israel is less of a home.
And when the Israeli government tries to cobble together questionable deals in Uganda and Rwanda, and is willing to endanger the lives of asylum seekers and to deport them to the unknown, perhaps to their death—it is much less of a home in my eyes.
And when the prime minister defames and incites against human rights organizations, and when he searches for ways to enact laws that bypass the High Court of Justice, and where there is a constant challenge to democracy and the court—Israel becomes slightly less of a home. For everyone.
When Israel neglects and discriminates against the residents of the periphery. When it abandons and weakens more and more the residents of southern Tel Aviv.
When it hardens its heart to the hardships of the weak and voiceless—Holocaust survivors, the needy, single-parent families, the elderly, boarding schools for children who were removed from their homes and hospitals that are collapsing—it is less of a home. It is a dysfunctional home.
And when it deprives and discriminates against a million and a half Palestinian citizens of Israel; when it passes on the huge potential that they have for shared life here—it is less of a home, both for the minority and for the majority. And when Israel rejects the Jewishness of millions of Reform and Conservative Jews—it once again becomes less of a home.
And every time artists are required to prove in their art loyalty and obedience, not only to the state but to the ruling party—Israel is less of a home.
Israel pains us. For it is the home that we want it to be. For we acknowledge the great and wonderful thing that has happened to us in having a state, and we are proud of its achievements in so many fields, in industry and agriculture, in culture and art, in high-tech and medicine and economics. And we are also pained by the way it has become distorted. The people and the organizations here today, headed by the Parents Circle-Families Forum and Combatants for Peace, and many others like them, may be the ones who contribute the most to making Israel a home in the fullest sense of the word.
I would like to say that I intend to donate half the Israel Prize money that I will receive on Thursday between the Parents Circle-Families Forum and Elifelet, an organization that cares for children of asylum seekers, the ones whose preschools are called “children’s warehouses.” In my view, these organizations do sacred work—or actually, they do the simple and human things that the government should be doing itself.
A home. That we can live a peaceful and safe life in. A clear life. A life that is not subjugated—by fanatics of all kinds—to the goals of some total, messianic and nationalist vision. A home, whose tenants do not serve as kindling for a principle that is greater than them, and supposedly loftier than them. A home in which life will be measured in human standards. Where suddenly a people can rise up in the morning and feel that they are a person. And that this person can feel that he lives in a place that is not corrupt, a substantive, truly equal place, one that is not belligerent and not covetous. A country that is run simply out of concern for the people who live in it, for all people who live in it, with compassion and tolerance for the many dialects of “being Israeli.” For “both these and those are the words of the living Israel” [alluding to the Talmudic saying, “these and those are the words of the living God”]. A country that will not act on momentary impulses. Not in endless contortions of tricks and winks and manipulations. And police investigations and flip-flops. In general—I hope that our government will be less cunning and more wise. It is permissible to dream. It is also permissible to admire the achievements. Israel is worth fighting for.
And I wish these things to our Palestinian friends as well: A life of independence, freedom and peace, and building a new and properly-run nation. I hope that in seventy years, our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will stand here, Israelis and Palestinians, and each of them 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 perhaps then, in the days to come, this wish will finally be a reality of life for both peoples.