Like most popular Israeli authors, Etgar Keret leans left. There are lots of reasons for this, which include the fact that the literary establishment here doesn’t exactly welcome writers that don’t fit politically. But in any event, I find him entertaining.
His memoir “The Seven Good Years” (שבע השנים הטובות) which I was reading yesterday is not an especially political book, but one passage was revealing. In it, Keret tells about a discussion he had with his wife, Shira Geffen, about whether their then 3-year old son, Lev, should serve in the army when he grows up. Keret is speaking:
“Listen to yourself.” I said. “You’re talking as if serving in the army is an extreme sport. But what can we do? We live in a part of the world where our lives depend on it. So what you’re actually saying is that you’d rather have other people’s children go into the army and sacrifice their lives while Lev enjoys his life here without taking any risks or shouldering the obligations the situation calls for.”
“No,” my wife responded. “I’m saying that we could have reached a peaceful solution a long time ago, and we still can. And that our leaders allow themselves not to do that because they know that most people are like you: they won’t hesitate to put their children’s lives into the government’s irresponsible hands.”
The chapter concludes with Keret and his wife agreeing to disagree, while they will both spend the next 15 years working for “family and regional peace.” That certainly isn’t how such a discussion would end in my house, assuming that my wife would be silly enough to offer this argument (believe me, she wouldn’t).
My guess is that Keret agrees with the position he allows his wife to articulate, but that isn’t important. What is important is that the second paragraph presents an argument that is taken seriously by the Left, and even considered a legitimate response to the first paragraph.
Shira’s statement contains a fundamental mistake: the belief, part of what Dr. Kenneth Levin calls the “Oslo Syndrome,” that it is in our power to change reality enough to cause the Palestinians to make peace.” A corollary, which she also enunciates, is that if we haven’t succeeded, we (our leaders) just haven’t tried hard enough. We haven’t been creative enough or we haven’t had the “courage” to make the concessions that – if we only would take the risk – would bring peace.
This is an arrogant position, and one that denies agency to the Palestinians. Some things aren’t only up to us. Today’s State of Israel has a great deal of power, but it does not have the power to change what is in the hearts of the Palestinians: a combination of false narratives, religious principles, shame, anger, envy and hatred.
We can (and have, and will) defeat them in military confrontations, but we will not – especially not by demonstrating weakness – get them to want to live in peace alongside a Jewish state. There is no popular Palestinian leader who would agree, no significant segment of the population that would accept one that did, no way to guarantee an agreement reached with any Palestinian regime, and no way to change the geography of the region to make a pre-1967-sized Israel defensible.
But why do so many insist on this? Levin explains Mrs. Keret’s delusion as a psychological mechanism to compensate for the feeling of powerlessness that Israelis experience as a result of decades of living under physical and psychological siege. Can it really be true that this must go on forever, where parents plan for their children’s army service fifteen years in advance? Isn’t it less frustrating to think that we haven’t pushed the government hard enough to end the occupation? To think that there is something more we can do?
Paradoxically, our own mechanisms play against Palestinian culture in the worst possible way. When we make concessions to them, or even when elements of our society demand that the government make concessions, the Palestinians understand that they are winning, and increase the pressure.
Keret is popular in Europe, which isn’t surprising from a political point of view. The European-supported Left in Israel works to encourage Israelis to feel guilty toward Palestinians, and to make Palestinians more angry at the Jews who – they are constantly told – have stolen their birthright. I think the Europeans know they are making the conflict worse; I don’t know about the Israelis.
The Western, even Christian, impulse to solve the problem by making ourselves better – more conciliatory, more humane, more embracing or even loving of our enemies – is exactly the opposite of the strategy that we should take. The best way to reduce the intensity of the conflict would be to teach the Palestinians that it is not possible to get rid of us, to force us to withdraw piecemeal from the land of Israel by making our lives here unpleasant. Will they then consider coexistence an option?
That is up to them.