- The Washington Times - Monday, August 4, 2003

DEATH AS A WAY OF LIFE: ISRAEL TEN YEARS AFTER OSLO

BY DAVID GROSSMAN

Farrar Straus & Giroux, $22, 192 pages

David Grossman is a successful and highly regarded Israeli novelist, who is also a thoughtful, if vacillating commentator, on the endlessly tragic events in the Middle East. The “Oslo” in “Death as a Way of Life: Israel Ten Years After Oslo” is a reference to the ill-fated document, known as the Oslo Accords, signed on Sept. 13, 1993. As President Bill Clinton, the host, looked on Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin shook hands, symbolizing the peace that was not to be.

After the ceremony, Mr. Arafat sent a letter to Mr. Rabin recognizing Israel’s right to exist, renouncing terrorism and pledging to remove clauses in the Palestine National Charter calling for the destruction of Israel. To this day, none of the three conditions have been met.

In the book, Mr. Grossman reprints essays about the Middle East, which he has written over the past decade. It is graced by an introduction in which he puts forward in despairing, even moving prose, the following theses:

1. Every person, Israeli or Palestinian, knows that “his life is being dissipated, squandered in a pointless struggle … that should have been resolved long ago.”

2. “Few of us, Israeli or Palestinian, can be proud of what we have done during these past years.”

3. “I often feel suffocated, claustrophobic caught between the deceptive, deceitful words that all interested parties — the government, the army, the media — are constantly trying to impose on us, their subjects, who must live in this disaster area.”

This “a plague on both your houses” approach, written at a time when a new intifada was in its second year, belongs under the heading of what we call moral equivalence. This approach ignores the fact that the Palestinian constitution legitimizes the terrorist war against Israel which will only end when the “Zionist entity,” as Israel’s enemies call it, is driven into the sea. Would Mr. Grossman,born in 1954, have applied such a moral equivalence approach, say, in the early years of World War II, when little was as yet known about the Holocaust?

Arthur Koestler said about World War II that it was a war against a total lie in the name of a half truth. In Mr. Grossman’s case, I think it would be fair to say that his unending search for purity of cause leads to but one conclusion: profound regret that Israel was ever created.

In 1988, Mr. Grossman published “The Yellow Wind” in which he first pronounced a plague on both your houses. “Death as a Way of Life” is the second book Mr. Grossman has written with a similar theme, but even more accusatory against sinful Israel. Today, he blames the 2-year-old intifada on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. His entry into the Temple Mount Sept. 28, 2000, he charges, set off “a conflagration in the occupied territories,” as if Hamas or Hezbollah and the other terrorist bands needed a casus belli to justify suicide bombing. Writes Mr. Grossman:

“This is Sharon’s expertise. Force, more force and only force. The result is that anytime some small flicker of a chance appears, every time there is a decline in violence, Sharon rushes in to carry out another ‘targeted liquidation’ of one or another Palestinian commander, and the fire flares again. Anytime Palestinian representatives declare their willingness to renew negotiations and halt violence and suicide attacks, the response from Sharon’s office is dismissal and derision.”

In light of what is happening today over President George Bush’s road map formula, Mr. Grossman might want to reconsider his vituperative judgment. The new PLO prime minister’s influence over his terrorist allies seems minimal and it becomes clearer each day that his so-called new policies are no different from those of his master, Yasser Arafat. I doubt, however, from reading Mr. Grossman’s bitter attacks against the Israeli government and the Israeli populace which supports Mr. Sharon that he would amend his “a plague on both your houses” response. Mr. Grossman might consider these words of another Israeli novelist, Amos Oz:

“He who fails to distinguish between levels of evil becomes a servant of evil.”

Arnold Beichman, a Hoover Institution research fellow, is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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