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'Living with political depression in Tel Aviv is harder than dying in Gaza' [satire]

The images pouring in from Gaza obscure the true victims of the conflict: Israel’s liberal opposition. Celebrated fictional author Amos Yehoshua-Shavit explains why war was necessary and how bad it makes him feel.

By Adam Shatz

Dove of Peace, Don Sutherland, Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

In a recent essay in the New York Review of Books, Jonathan Freedland argued that liberal Zionists “are better placed than most to move Zionist, including Israeli, opinion.” In a follow up blog post published just after the latest Gaza war broke out, Freedland added that as hopes for a two-state settlement recede, these liberal Zionists “will have to decide which of their political identities matters more, whether they are first a liberal or first a Zionist.”

Eager to find out how liberal Zionists in Israel were wrestling with this question, I turned to Amos Yehoshua-Shavit, one of Israel’s best-known writers. Yehoshua-Shavit is the author of several award-winning books, including the novel In Search of Lost Space, which won the Israel Prize for literature, and a memoir, Partition and Its Discontents: A Liberal Israeli’s Journey, praised by Leon Wieseltier as “a modern-day Kaddish”; he is also a frequent contributor to the New Republic and the New York Times op-ed page. A veteran of three wars, Yehoshua-Shavit is a leader of Peace Now, and the chairman of Israelis for Darfur. Raised on a kibbutz, he divides his time between Tel Aviv and Berlin, where his son, a former fighter pilot, runs a software company. I spoke to him at his large and airy Tel Aviv flat, elegantly appointed with modernist furniture and sculptures he acquired on his travels in Goa and Dakar. He sat on his sofa beneath a photograph of himself with Yitzhak Rabin.

You published a piece entitled ‘War: A Painful Necessity’ when Israel began its most recent bombing campaign in Gaza. Why ‘painful’?

Shouldn’t you be asking me “why necessary”? But OK, I’ll answer your question. “Painful” because war hurts; people die. We lost some of our best young men, more than 60 of them. Many Palestinians also died, in no small part thanks to Hamas, our more than willing partner in this wretched conflict. Again, we are trapped in this horrifying cycle of violence. Sometimes, living in this country, which I love so much but which causes me so much pain, I think: I can’t go on. But I must – as Samuel Beckett would have said.

But wouldn’t you say there’s something of a disparity in the casualty figures?

“Something of a disparity.” You impress me. So delicately put: I would have expected nothing less from a writer at the London Review of Books, publisher of Walt and Mearsheimer. Yes, we killed a lot more people than they killed, because we are a powerful state, and they are not. But what do you expect of us? Are we not allowed to defend ourselves? Look, I am not happy that we killed 2,000 Palestinians. As I wrote in Ha’aretz when the war began: mow the lawn, don’t uproot it. But then Kerry stepped in with his stupid ceasefire initiative and really betrayed us.

Betrayed Israel?

No, betrayed us, the peace camp. We, the peace camp, were calling for a limited war, not a massive invasion, which the maximalists around Netanyahu were pushing for. But when Kerry bent over backwards to Qatar and Turkey, Hamas’s sponsors, he strengthened the maximalists who don’t want a two-state settlement, and they got their war. Because of that genius Kerry, the same Kerry who is so eager to make nice with President Rouhani and the Supreme Leader of Iran, we are now further from peace, and further from a resolution based on territorial compromise. If it hadn’t been for Kerry, we would have had a small war like in 2012, when we made our point and made a deal. We didn’t need a big war to “protect our edge.” But don’t misunderstand me: war was necessary.

But why exactly? Hamas denied responsibility for the killing of the three teenagers, and it has since come to light that the Israeli army had reasonable intelligence that the boys were already dead – information the Netanyahu government suppressed in order to justify a massive assault on Hamas in the West Bank and in Gaza. The rocket fire that Israel invoked as a casus belli came after seven Hamas operatives in Gaza were killed.

So well informed you are about the details, so knowledgeable about who-did-what-and-when. It must be nice to contemplate our agonies from the serenity of a Brooklyn brownstone. Please, you mistake me for a political man. I am a writer. If I didn’t live in this place, I wouldn’t write about politics. I would spend my days reading Proust and writing novels like those of my friends in London and New York and Paris, who are free to write about love and relationships and washing their kids’ diapers. Unfortunately, like all of us who live in the land of Israel, I am condemned by the situation, this endless, unbearable conflict. In case you’re not aware of it, we are really depressed here, the peace camp! It’s the Palestinians who are dying in greater numbers, but at least they’re not suffering from this sense of internal exile, as we do. In some ways, living with this sort of depression is harder than dying. But, like all Israelis, we are determined to live and to fight for what we believe is right: survival, you must remember, is what Israel is about. And it’s that dialectic of suffering and survival that gives life and literature in Israel its unique power.

But to get back to the question about why Israel had to go to war…

Have you forgotten about the tunnels? How would you feel with the Ho Chi Minh trail running beneath your beaches? Would you tolerate ceaseless rocket attacks aimed at your kindergartens? If you can’t answer that question honestly, you have no right to criticize us. I also ask you: does it really matter if it was Hamas or Jihad or al-Qaeda or ISIS who killed those yeshiva students? They’re cut from the same apocalyptic-jihadi cloth. For all their doctrinal differences, which you writers in New York and London tease out with such exquisite finesse, as if you were talking about the differences between organic goat cheeses, they all have the same objective: killing Jews, the more the merrier. Analyzing their motivations is a waste of time: The Hamas Charter says all that you need to know.

But more Jews – more Israelis – have died as a result of this war, which Israel launched, than in the last few years, and nearly 2,000 Palestinians have died.

Numbers schnumbers. Look, I’m disturbed by how many Palestinians were killed, OK? But I’m no less disturbed by the number of Jews Hamas was plotting to kill with those tunnels. Would you have preferred that we waited until they carried out a big massacre? Maybe you would have. The bien pensant intellectuals of New York and London seem to like us Jews only when we are weak, not when we are strong. Sometimes I think that the only chance we have of regaining the world’s sympathy is to go back to the crematorium.

And, since you mentioned the question of responsibility, what about the people of Gaza, so beloved of the Guardian and the London Review? The Gazans voted for Hamas knowing that Hamas would continue what they call their “resistance,” and Hamas continued that resistance knowing that we would be forced to respond. When we left in 2005, a disengagement that, may I remind you, was very risky, and that threatened to provoke a civil war in the State of Israel, the Gazans had a choice: develop or arm. They made their choice, and now they are paying a price, a high price, I’m sorry to say. Imagine what Gaza might look like now if, instead of building those tunnels, Hamas had created a vibrant economy?

But the Gaza Strip has been under siege for the last seven years, and in any case comprises only two percent of historical Palestine.

Only two percent, really? I thought it was more. Well, you have to start somewhere. Imagine if we’d given them 98 percent – I mean 22 percent, with territorial swaps, as I might remind you we offered them in 2000. I’m afraid that we would have seen even more tunnels. I hate to agree with Prime Minister Netanyahu, but the root of the conflict is that the Arabs refuse to accept a Jewish state in any part of Palestine.

But aren’t you overlooking some of the shifts in the region, notably the solid support that Israel has received from General Sisi in Egypt, and from the Saudis?

I have always said that we should have responded to the Saudi peace plan, for all its imperfections, and, I admit, we are sleeping more easily now that Egyptians have kicked out the Muslim Brotherhood, even if it wasn’t exactly democratic. The leaders in Cairo and Damascus are consumed with their own internal problems – and handling them much as we do, in case you haven’t noticed. But the basic contours haven’t really changed, the fundamental hostility to our presence. Have you not heard of ISIS? And the Palestinians…they will not forget what happened to them in 1948. It’s a real problem. They can’t seem to move on. I wrote a book,Partition and Its Discontents, in which I talked, very frankly, about the expulsions, the Nakba. So did Benny Morris. I thought this was an olive branch. I said to myself, maybe now that we’ve admitted it, now that we’ve come clean, the Palestinians will agree to a Jewish state within – well, more or less within – the Green Line. Instead, they keep talking about the right of return, they keep making intifada. This, after we not only acknowledge their history, but, for god’s sake, write it!

And so I have come to the uncomfortable conclusion that they have too much invested in hating us. It’s become their identity: they can’t give it up. And so they try to kill us, and when we end up killing more of them, because we are more powerful, they say we are committing genocide. Come on! Yes, 2,000 deaths is a lot. But it’s not six million. Look, I promised myself that I would not bring up the Holocaust, but I am afraid I can’t avoid it. The Shoah looms over us like a dark cloud. We are a traumatized people, and we react – we over-react – in the way that traumatized people do. That tendency to over-react, whether in war or in conversation or in our cars, is something that’s in Zionism’s DNA: it’s part of the dark, crazy energy that makes Israel such an intense and creative place. It’s what makes us a start-up nation, and, unfortunately, an occupying and sometimes aggressive nation. And believe me, though I am sometimes pained by the results – as I often tell my Palestinian friends – I wouldn’t have it any other way.

But the price…

As I’ve said, I am not happy about all the killing. I know that it will lead to more bitterness, more violence, more despair, and more hopelessness on both sides. Really, we are like prisoners, us and the Palestinians, unable to see outside our cells. But suffering isn’t all that we share: we share this love of the land, even the same food! That’s why, in spite of everything, I remain hopeful. That’s why I continue to support Seeds for Peace, even as I continue to serve in the reserves. It’s so important for young Israelis to know that Palestinians are also human. To them, at least to the Jewish majority, it’s not so obvious. And this is heartbreaking. It was much better before the First Intifada, when the Arabs came to work in Israel and we developed real friendships. It wasn’t equal, but the feeling was genuine. Most Israelis had their cars repaired by Arabs, and the hummus definitely improved. Now we’ve replaced the Palestinians with Thais and Romanians, and though I love Thai food as much as any of my friends in Brooklyn, we’ve lost a lot, lost that contact with the Arabs. Well, the Palestinian Arabs. The ones in Israel are another can of worms. Did I say worms? I didn’t mean it that way.

I admit, and this is very painful to me: I do not see peace on the horizon, not in my lifetime or even my children’s. But I will continue to fight for peace as if there is no war, and I will continue to defend my country when it is under threat. You can’t imagine how lonely it is to be a dove in Israel today. It takes a particular kind of personality – determined, stubborn, crazy, a bit of a meshuggunah – to keep fighting for peace, on the basis of two states.

So you still believe in a two-state settlement?

Yes, two states and one army. The Palestinian state must be demilitarised. The fishermen in Gaza will have to rely on us for their protection. It’s not just or fair, but it’s reality, OK? And reality is something you can’t argue with.

[*] Adam Shatz is a contributing editor at the London Review of Books. He lives in Brooklyn, though not in a brownstone.

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    1. Pedro X

      Satire? Maybe Mr. Shatz needs to find a dictionary or a life.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Nojavoni Massuer

      What you want is peace with no price. It is not possible and you know it. If this point of view represents the consensus within the Israeli Peace Movement, the Palestinians should abandon peace in favor of war. Fight to the death or be exterminated slowly.

      Reply to Comment
      • Reza Lustig

        So you think that exterminating them for the sake of “your right to self-defense” is justified, as long as they refuse to surrender? What makes the Jews so damn special they can do that, and not the Palestinians?

        Reply to Comment
    3. Wow what an asshole. This is almost like satire.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Dr. Hatim Kanaaneh

      This is satire at its best, so real you miss the author’s point.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Where does the mosaïc dove come from, please ?

      Reply to Comment
    6. Jaap Hamburger

      Mr. Shatz, thank Y so mch for this great, merciless piece of satire!

      JH, chairman of A Different Jewish Voice, Amsterdam

      Reply to Comment
    7. Eliza

      Yes, thanks for Amos Yehoshua-Shavit. May he live long and continue to delight us with his liberal Zionist viewpoint.

      Must admit to being sucked in as I failed to note Shavit’s fictional nature until my second reading. Consequently wasted an hour to two fuming away – od dear!

      Agree with Jaap, that this satire is merciless and I would like some more.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Tomer

      The liberal zionists have ultimately reached the logical zenith of their “land for peace” ideology. Either they agree with the rest of us that we must fight Hamas Savages with all our might, OR we allow them to bomb our towns and butcher our citizens.

      All that is now left of the “Israeli Left” are:
      1. Traitors eg Ilan Pappe
      2. The mentally-challenged eg Gideon Levy

      Reply to Comment
    9. Fraz

      Haha, thanks a lot for writing this.

      Reply to Comment
    10. JG

      “living with this sort of depression is harder than dying”

      Stupidest bullshit I ever heard. I respect rightwingers more than Liberals, they have a clear rascist view on things, but so called liberals are bourgeois rightwingers who are afraid to stand to their deep hate for other than white male pricks.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Yes, I feel for Israel. I read a piece about a poor woman who was gaining weight because everytime an air raid siren goes off, she has to eat chocolate. Chocolate is one of the food products Israel doesn’t allow into Gaza, so they don’t have that problem.

      If I hadn’t learned that driving Palestinians off their land was part of the plan from the beginning, I might have bought some of what this guy is saying, but sorry, sympathy for the Zionist state of Israel is waning. Even some Jewish groups are speaking out and their numbers are swelling.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Piotr Berman

      Adam Shatz is a contributing editor at the London Review of Books. He lives in Brooklyn, though not in a brownstone.

      Steven Plaut:
      Golly how many rockets can we fire at Adam Shatz’ brownstone before he will want to shoot back?

      How much reading comprehension is needed to matriculate from an Israeli high school?

      In any case, Plaut’s favorite rhetoric is “Boo-hoo”, which smacks of the preschool. Rather then spending so much effort to describe slight mental problems among liberals, the level of neurosis deserves attention. After all, they rule Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    13. ES

      I will never understand how intelligent people can remotely defend Hamas. They hang gays, kill Christians, use their own people as human shields, brain wash their people that if they die by killing Jews they get 72 virgins. I can understand wanting a better life for the Palestinians, but they will never have a better life under the oppressive hand of the terrorists Hamas. And somehow where is your bleeding heart for the Syrian Palestinians who are being slaughtered by the hundreds daily for months and months? Hamas will only stop when Israel is gone, that is why the Gazans don’t have a nice life. If they were to overthrow Hamas and accept the fact that Israel gets a teny tiny piece of their own land here, which they have held onto for 3500 years, almost all Israelis would root for their freedom.

      Reply to Comment
      • Reza Lustig

        Who is defending Hamas? I defend Palestinians’ right to resist the occupation.

        If you really feel sorry for the “human shields,” you won’t give the enemy what he wants by killing them.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn8

          You mean we should allow them to continue shooting rockets at our own civilians. Brilliant.

          Yes, you and every other useful idiot that has raised their voice against Israel in this conflict is siding with Hamas. In practice you demand that Israel not defend itself and that it surrender to Hamas. If that is not siding with Hamas I do not know what is.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ray

            There is defense, and there is war crimes and indiscriminate “collateral damage.” You could just build more iron dome batteries, and bunker down while you wait for your leaders’ testosterone to wear off and morals to kick in.

            You, and Israel, present the world with a false dilemma. At the very least, try for a little honesty by admitting you pulled the “pity for human shields” talking points directly out of your anus as a desperate PR ploy.

            Reply to Comment
          • mohsen

            I am an Iranian and my country has been threaten to be attacked by zionist regim for hundreds of times. question is should we attack zionists just for beeing threatened . we have not done it while we can..I don’t think gazan people have even threaten you!

            Reply to Comment
    14. TOMER

      Who is defending Hamas? (the anti-gay, anti-feminist, fanatical islamic fundamentalist gang of antisemites)


      Hamas is resisting Israel’s non-existent occupation of Aza!!

      Reply to Comment
      • Eliza

        Israel controls Gaza’s airspace, sea access and land borders (albeit with Egyptian assistance)and thus controls the flow of goods and services as well as people in or out of Gaza. This effectively stifles normal commercial trading opportunities for Gaza. This constitutes occupation even though Israel has removed its Jewish settlers.

        Gaza is occupied by Israel just as the West Bank is occupied by Israel.

        As for Hamas – I am yet to condone the lack of civil, human rights for people even if they do hold ultra-conservative views re sexuality, women’s rights etc. I wouldn’t vote for them but they are entitled to live and entitled to struggle against occupation. Ain’t gonna think its OK to kill someone just because they hold views I do not.

        If that’s a defence of Hamas, then count me in.

        As for Israeli reaction – do you really think the Palestinians under Fatah governance in the West Bank are well treated by Israel. They just see a lower level of death meted out by the IDF and their land eaten up by Jewish only settlements. Or do you think they should be grateful for this lesser violence?

        Reply to Comment
        • Pedro X

          Abbas in 2009 told Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post that the Palestinians had no intention to negotiate with Netanyahu. He said life was good in Ramallah and he would wait for President Obama to cause the downfall of the Netanyahu government. At the time, Labor was a coalition partner and the makeup of the government was much more centrist than it is now.

          If Abbas and the Palestinians found the Israeli presence in the West Bank so bad, they would have taken Olmert’s golden offer and began building their own state. He chose instead not to have a Palestinian state but to continue the status quo because economically things are not bad in the West Bank for Palestinians.

          Reply to Comment
    15. Susan

      Will Hamas’s actions end the occupation one day sooner? No. Palestinians may have the right to resist occupation, but what they have done so far to resist the occupation is just plain stupid. All it does its strengthen the right wing in Israel. That is because Hamas doesn’t want to end the occupation. It wants to end Israel’s existence.

      Reply to Comment
      • Eliza

        Susan – Let’s put aside the intentions of Hamas just for the moment. After all, whether or not it wants to destroy Israel (and/or all Jews) the point is, that Hamas can’t.

        The real dilemma is that Fatah and leaders like Abbas, who do not engage in violent or even non-violent resistance to Israeli occupation, cannot achieve human and civil rights, including citizenship of a State, for the Palestinians.

        Israel holds all the cards except that of public international opinion where it is tanking. I exclude Western governments from this as they invariably support Israel. So where to now?

        There is still a long way to go for the Palestinians – there is no easy or painless path ahead. It is far more likely that Palestinians will cease to exist than the state of Israel. Any Palestinians resistance is easily called ‘stupid’ in that it seems doomed to failure. But if I were Palestinian I would hope that I would not just roll over.

        Reply to Comment
        • Whiplash

          Here is the problem. The Palestinians’ use of violence has failed them at every turn. They eschewed a state in 1947 and commenced a war which shattered Palestinian society. Instead of accepting the consequences of the war and striving to build a state on the lands the Arabs held, the Palestinians Arabs continued with violence to undue the results of 1948. Instead in 1967 they suffered a further setback which for another 47 years they have been trying to undue by violence again. The Palestinians further eschewed peace and self rule in 1978, peace in 2000-01 and 2008 whereby they would have received a state. Every effort of Israel to make peace has been met with further violence. Go figure why Israelis do not believe the Palestinians want peace or two states for two people.

          Reply to Comment
          • Eliza

            OK Whiplash – Lets accept your characterization of the problem. I think you are saying that all attempts by Israel to attain peace or to provide a state for Palestinians has been violently rejected by the Palestinians. Therefore, the real aim of Palestinians is to destroy Israel as the nation state of the Jews.

            Therefore it follows that Israeli Jews believe that the Palestinians neither want peace or a 2SS.

            If this is true, then Israel has no choice but to mow the Gazan lawn every 2 years or so, and maintain the occupation of the West Bank.

            But how is this panning out for Israel? And why do you let the Palestinians (who according to you want neither peace nor a 2SS) set the agenda and positively force Israel into actions which is resulting in increasing international isolation?

            Are you saying that Israel has neither the power or the wherewithal to reconcile the Palestinians (the defeated) to the acceptance of Israel? Is Israel the mere pawn of the Palestinian rejection?

            What are you going to do? More of the same? Manage the conflict until something happens? Do you think that one day the Palestinians will just up and leave and applaud the emergence of ‘Greater’ Israel? Will the IDF kill them off?

            Is Israel really so bereft of problem resolution skills that it continues being forced to kill/detain Palestinians? Poor old Israel.

            Reply to Comment
          • Whiplash

            Let us see. Israel made peace with Egypt, the strongest Arab country. It made peace with Jordan. It has deterred Syria since 1973 from invading Israel. Hezbollah has been deterred since 2006. Iraq has not sent troops into Israel since 1948. Sudan accepts everything Israel sends it way.

            The Palestinians got kicked out of Jordan in 1970 with 15,000 dead. They got kicked out of Lebanon in 1982. Kuwait kicked out 400,000 Palestinians in 1991 and disappeared thousands. Syria has made hundreds of thousands of Palestinians homeless and thousands dead. After the downfall of Saddam Hussein the Iraqis booted out many of the Palestinians. If anything it would seem that Palestinians lack skills to negotiate anything and have a difficultly getting along with anyone. So it is no surprise that they are less than forth coming in reasonableness in negotiations with Israel.

            I think that the latest Palestinian fiasco in Gaza, has convinced Netanyahu to never give up the Jordan valley. If Palestinians want a state it is going to be very much a rump state and much less than Barak, Olmert or Netanyahu offered in the past.

            Israel has both the military and economic power to crush the Palestinians both in Gaza and in the West Bank. I suspect it will do nothing of the sort in the next two years and wait to see the outcome of the American elections. Will it be Clinton 2 or Paul Rand? In the meantime the status quo will prevail. Israel will continue to build in Judea and Samaria and solidify their existing communities. It will manage both Gaza and the West Bank.

            After 2016 Israel may annex area “C” and let the Palestinian Arabs continue to have self autonomy in the areas which they control.

            At some time the Palestinians may have a paradigm shift of such a magnitude that they will realize how generous the Israelis have been in offering to share their land with the Palestinian Arabs.

            Reply to Comment
    16. Lee Davies

      I generally like to read your articles but I really can’t take the hate-filled comments !

      Reply to Comment
    17. annie

      “does it really matter if it was Hamas or Jihad or al-Qaeda or ISIS who killed those yeshiva students? They’re cut from the same apocalyptic-jihadi cloth. For all their doctrinal differences, which you writers in New York and London tease out with such exquisite finesse, as if you were talking about the differences between organic goat cheeses”

      omg i can’t stop laughing. i can’t even even get all the thru it without taking a break. this is hysterical! it’s so it’s so …perfect! the israeli peace camp!

      Reply to Comment
    18. Donald

      The problem with this as satire is that it’s almost exactly what real people would say. Sometimes life is satire.

      Reply to Comment
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