Israeli Intellectual David Grossman Calls for 2-State Solution; ‘If We Totally Lose Hope Then We Are Defeated’

Toshiyuki Fukushima / The Yomiuri Shimbun
David Grossman at his home in the suburbs of Jerusalem

The war between Israel and the militant group Hamas, mainly in the Palestinian territory of Gaza, continues to claim many casualties, including children. David Grossman, a famed writer, leading Israeli leftist intellectual, and critic of right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, spoke to Yomiuri Shimbun Jerusalem Bureau Chief Toshiyuki Fukushima about the deep-rooted problems behind the conflict and the prospects for peace. The following is excerpted from the interview.


Yomiuri Shimbun: How do you see the current situation?

David Grossman: The situation is first of all frightening. We the Israelis who thought ourselves to be the major superpower in the region, who have the most equipped army and the best intelligence, suddenly we found ourselves taken by surprise, broken down, humiliated. Suddenly we understood the fragility of this state and how easy it is to crush it. People are walking in the streets quite desperate, frightened. It’s not only a matter of a passing mood. It is something deeper that we have never experienced as a nation. I mean the Israeli nation since 1948 [when Israel was established].

Yomiuri: What are your thoughts on the background of the Oct. 7 cross-border attack on Israel by Hamas?

Grossman: There are several reasons for it. One of them, the declared reason, is to bring an end to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinians since 1967. And probably, the people of Hamas felt that if they do not fight for their freedom, the Palestinians’ cause will be forgotten. They saw the Abraham Accords, which were signed above their heads, with the [United Arab] Emirates and Morocco, and maybe even in a short time it was planned to have peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia. All of these peace accords are overlooking the Palestinians and their destiny and misery.

The other reason is a religious reason. Hamas is a religious movement, and they declare openly that they do not want Israel to exist. Whether there can be a justification for what Hamas did — of course not. What Hamas did was a manifestation of inhumanity, brutality, hatred.

They could have turned Gaza into a blossoming place. They chose the other way. They chose the way of violence and the way of hatred and they deteriorate the situation.

Yomiuri: The fighting in Gaza is still continuing.

Grossman: It is very hard, if at all possible, to eliminate a religious — especially fanatic fundamentalist — organization like Hamas. So, let’s try something else. I assume there will be kind of a hudna, which is a long ceasefire for some years. Now it is very clear that we will live by the sword and die by the sword. And we shall not have the life that we wished to have. The price of ignoring the needs of the Palestinians we shall have to pay in the most horrible way.

Yomiuri: Why do you support a two-state solution in which a Palestinian state coexists with Israel?

Grossman: Without peace our life will be much worse to the extent that our lives will be endangered. If we have no peace with the Palestinians we will have no democracy. You cannot rule over another people for 56 years and still believe yourself to be a real democracy.

I do not believe that Israelis and Palestinians, distorted by everlasting war, can be productive citizens in the same state. Israelis and Palestinians are unable to live together as partners in one state. We need to have a state for the Palestinians with all the needs of a healthy society. Two societies, two countries which live in peace with each other and gradually, slowly develop empathy to the other side.

Yomiuri: What will it take to make that happen?

Grossman: If we are lucky, and we have courageous leaders. And if these leaders can contain the acts of terror that will be carried out by the extreme elements in both societies. If we are lucky, then we shall have it. We will have two states that slowly; slowly will start to regain their life. Life that has been confiscated by the state of war.

To have hope today, you really need to invest a lot of emotional effort. But I think that if we totally lose hope then we are defeated. Defeated in a deeper way than losing a war. If I insist on hope, even an artificial one, it means that somewhere inside you there is still a bubble of hope that some day we’ll have normal life. I am not sure I will see it at my age, but I hope my granddaughters will see it.

Yomiuri: You lost your son Uri in the 2006 Second Lebanon War, and many soldiers have died in the current Gaza war. How do you think repeated wars affect the people of Israel and the state of Israel?

Grossman: Death is very present. It is present in the Jewish consciousness and awareness since the beginning of our history as a people. Death was always very, very present. The worst presence was the Shoa [Holocaust]. The way 6 million Jews were slaughtered just because they are Jews. It continued in the war that Israel had. Military actions that Israel had. Life is deeply immersed with death and there is an understanding that we shall live with that and die with that.

It is even hard to imagine to what extent, how deep we breathe the air of being all the time on guard, all the time suspicious. All the time immersed in possible violence. A society becomes narrower and narrower.

Yomiuri: Do you think the state of Israeli can continue to exist in the future?

Grossman: I guess we can survive because we do have a strong army to protect us, and Israeli society is in solidarity in times of war. But the question is, do you want just to survive from catastrophe to catastrophe or do you want to live a full life?

We do not have any other state to go to. We have no other future than to try and reach peace. I am very much for peace and dialogue, but at the same time, all along the years, I think I am a very sober person. I know that we are not loved or even liked in this area.

Yomiuri: In addition to novels, you’ve also written children’s books.

Grossman: I wrote a lot of children’s books. Maybe 20. I think a lot about the children of Gaza. The children break my heart. Every time we hear a boom, I always think how it is for a child to hear such a sound and to see his parents terrified. I think about their childhood and about the grownups they will become after such a childhood. And how the simple, vicious circle of violence will perpetuate again and again and again.

Yomiuri: What message do you want to convey to the world through your books?

Grossman: [I only write if] I have inner incentive. It’s like love or like passion. You cannot force it. But I know that in almost every one of my books, for grownups and for children, the political situation exists. Because it’s a part of my life and a part of our life. You cannot understand the Israelis and the Palestinians without writing them.

Yet, even though I wrote a lot of political texts, the thing I prefer the most is writing fiction. There is no other pleasure [like] inventing a whole reality.

Next time you are coming, you will ask me only about writing and literature.

David Grossman / Israeli writer

Born in Jerusalem in 1954. After graduating from Hebrew University of Jerusalem, he published his first full-length novel, “The Smile of the Lamb,” in 1983. The story about the Israeli occupation of Palestine became a bestseller. He has written a series of high-profile works since then, and in 2017 he won the Man Booker International Prize in the United Kingdom. His works have been translated into about 40 languages, including Japanese.