Saturday, August 6, 2011

David Grossman: Window to a New Future

With apologies to Dr. Hoffman, my high school Hebrew teacher, and to the rest of the Hebrew speaking world, including most sincerely, David Grossman, himself, below is my attempted translation of Grossman's article published Friday in Yediot Ahronot, which can be found here in its original Hebrew. For those of who don't know, Grossman is one of Israel's pre-eminent authors. And finally, I invite the Hebrew speakers out there to improve upon my best efforts.

Window to a New Future

Last Saturday evening, at the demonstration in Jerusalem, I looked around me and saw a human river flowing in the streets. Thousands of people were there whose voices haven’t been heard for years, who had lost hope for change, who had closeted their troubles and despair. It wasn’t with ease that they joined the roaring groups of young people with loudspeakers. Perhaps it was the embarrassment of someone who wasn’t accustomed to hear his own voice at this level and was afraid to shout, and more than this recoiled from shouting with the crowd. At these moments, I felt that we, the marchers, looking at ourselves with amazement and a little doubt, didn’t completely believe ourselves what was coming from inside us: whether we are really “the masses,” the angry masses, a wave of fists, like we see at similar demonstrations in Tunis, and in Egypt, in Syria and in Greece? Whether we want to be the masses like this? Whether we are seriously ready for what we are shouting for in rhythm here: “Rev-o-lu-tion!”And what will happen if we succeed “too much,” and this fragile state cracks. And what if the protests and the passion turn to anarchy?

But after a few steps, something happens, the blood moves. The rhythm, the momentum, the togetherness. Not a threatening faceless togetherness. But rather a togetherness that is not uniform, but mosaic, chaotic, familial with a strong sense of - here, we are doing the right thing, finally we are doing the right thing.

And then also rises the amazement- where were we until today? How did we allow this to happen? How have we put up with governments that we have chosen turning our health and our children’s education into luxuries? How did we not shout when the Treasury officials crushed the social workers, and before them - the disabled, the Holocaust survivors, the old, and the pensioners? How for years have we pushed the hungry and the poor into soup kitchens and charities and to lives of humiliation for generations. And how have we abandoned the foreign workers to the abuse of their persecutors and exploiters, to the slave trade and the trafficking of women. And how have we put up with the destructive instances of privatization, and among them the privatization of everything dear to us - solidarity, responsibility, mutual aid and the sense of belonging as a people?

To this indifference, there are known to be many reasons, but the deep rift around the question of the occupation has, in my eyes, impaired more than anything the warning and control systems of Israeli society. In this area, rose our bad side and the sickness of our society. And we - perhaps because the fear of standing with our eyes open across the full reality of our lives - have enthusiastically surrendered to dulling our senses to relieve the reality. Sometimes we look at ourselves: some of us loved very much what he saw, and some flinched, but those who flinched said, this is how it is, sighed and called it the “situation” as if it was our fate or a heavenly decree. Additionally, we allowed our commercial television channels to fill most of the space of our collective identity, to put ourselves in terms of fighting for survival and predation, and to pit us against each other, and to despise everyone who is weaker and different than us, and “not beautiful” and not clever and not rich. And already for many years we have stopped talking to each other, and certainly stopped listening, because how can you - in this environment of “grab as much as you can” - not disparage and rob each other. After all, they say and show us in every possible way - one man alone to his fate.

And as we exhaust ourselves with non-stop squabbling, we’ve become easier to rule and manipulate, stupid, victims of “divide and rule” invisible and efficient. Like this, from capital to riches, from capital to power, and to the newspaper, the business grew about the fatal questions that became “who loves the state and who hates it,” “who is loyal to her and who is a traitor,” “who is a good Jew and who forgot that he is a Jew;” and all the rational discussion was baptized with the paste of sentimental kitsch, kitsch patriotism and nationalism, kitsch righteousness and victimhood, and little by little sober criticism about what was happening here was blocked, and at the end of it, Israel finds herself acting and behaving - like thousands of her citizens - completely against the values and worldviews that were once the essence of her uniqueness.

But here it is, suddenly, against all expectations, something arose, and we, awakened people, will be opening something -  however, it is not completely clear, what, to where, and still there are no words to describe it exactly or to understand it fully, although it is clarified that by a reading of these passwords slogans that we are suddenly saved from the bark of the cliche and have become alive, “the people demand social justice”, “we want justice not charity” and other words likes these and calls from other periods, and at these moments there are hints in the air of possible recovery and repair and a return to us, this forgotten thing, our self respect, of a united and whole Israel.

There is enormous power, it’s also a bit deceptive and intoxicating, in this awakening. It is tempting to be carried away with euphoria - and the renewal of the young people - that the movement pours.

It’s easy to err in the illusion that here we go again destroying the old world to the core. But it’s not exactly this way. The old world also had great accomplishments, among them the realization of some of the aspirations of the protest movement and the freedom in which it is possible to express these aspirations. Therefore, this struggle needs to speak in a completely different language that than struggles that came before. Above all, it must be based on dialogue, that is inclusive and does not exclude; principled and not opportunistic and partisan and not “every man in his own tent.” This way the movement can keep much the public support it has won. Precisely because of the particular ambiguity of the protest movement, that allows each group to hold political opinions and different beliefs that oppose each other, in any event to recognize for the first time in decades, a common platform, civil and humanistic, and even to sense pride of membership in this community. Who in Israel is able to afford for himself to give up these scarce resources?

This protest movement and its aftershocks offer the possibility of dialogue between those who haven't spoken for decades. Between different and remote social strata.  Between religious and secular, between Arabs and Jews. In this process of identifying what’s in common and achievable, it’s possible to open between the right and the left a realistic and more empathetic dialogue - for example the left’s indifference toward the thousands that were displaced from Gush Katif, the open wound of the settlers - a dialogue that can perhaps save what can still be saved, a sense of mutual responsibility that our state in our situation may not give up on. In other words, if the spirit of the movement is true, in the lines of Amir Gilboa, “Suddenly, arises a man in the morning, and he feels he exists is a nation and starts to walk,” he needs to continue and to sing and "to everyone he meets on his way, to say ‘Shalom’.” 

It is easy to criticize the pace of the young movement and to question it. In general, it’s always easier to find reasons why not to do something resolute and courageous. But he who listens to the roar - the hearts of the demonstrators - not only on Rothschild Boulevard, also in south Tel-Aviv, in the neighborhoods of Jerusalem, in Ashdod, in Haifa, and Maalot-Tarshiha - will understand that perhaps a window is open to us for a different future. The time is due for this move, and surprisingly, it also finally has troops. Perhaps in this vein, a young woman approached me at the demonstration in Jerusalem and said: The leadership is still empty, but no longer are the people.


  1. Thanks Richard. We need your diligence to keep us informed. Why isn't this front page news..finally we are seeing activism...let's get behind it and support the movement for change.

  2. I think there is no bad time or timing. people will always find a reason why not now. The protest movement were energised because people were constantly telling them "this isnt the time"