26 August 2007 - An argument for fiction
The headlines in the newspapers here in Israel have been really strange for the past few days. Not scary, just bizarre. Maybe they’re always that way, and I’m only just noticing now. This is a period of relative calm, and yet things seem edgy, distracted. I’ve been doing a lot of work, but not much creative writing or observation. I almost feel that reality here is not to be seen, but is lost in some hidden interaction.
A few years ago, I saw an Israeli film called “August (A Moment Before the Eruption),” filmed in August 2000. It depicted a nervous, vulnerable society steaming in the heat, one month before the intifada. A professor whom I saw at the screening thought it was self-indulgent garbage, but something in it stuck with me—its humor, perhaps. Maybe what I’m seeing now is just another Israeli August.
But let’s look at the news for a moment. The front page of the Jerusalem Post this weekend featured a picture of a missile being launched in a ball of fire and a prediction that the next war—with Syria, by apparent consensus—will involve heavy bombardment of Israel by missiles. Today’s paper covers last night’s infiltration of two Palestinian terrorists from Gaza and says there will be more.
Meanwhile, the reversal of the Anti-Defamation League’s position on the Armenian genocide has triggered a real diplomatic crisis between Israel and Turkey. Somehow the Turkish government doesn’t get that Israel doesn’t have an on/off switch for American Jewish groups. It also seems unable to tackle the self-examination that a reckoning with Turkey’s history demands (and which Israel has had to learn, too).
And speaking of history, the Jerusalem Post also has an interview with the rightful owner of the Hebron marketplace that was run by Arabs until a suicide bombing caused the IDF to close it, and which was then occupied by Jewish settlers until the IFD evicted them. He wants to be known as an anti-Zionist and supports a one-state solution. Never mind its consequences; “justice” demands it. Kant versus Mill?
I love this place, and I love what I do, but I feel a sense of fatigue settling in. It strikes me that in all the libraries you could fill with everything that has been written about the Israel-Palestinian conflict, there’s some good poetry and film but so little decent fiction that can speak to the core of this tragedy. At least, little that I know of: I’m no expert, but it seems most fiction on the topic is rather polemical.
In South Africa, the struggle against apartheid produced a flourishing arts industry. After democracy arrived, many creative people found they had lost the source of their inspiration, and things flagged for a bit. Here, it seems, the opposite might be true. The conflict causes imaginations to seize. Only when its resolution looms, perhaps, will a a new literature blossom. Or maybe literature should lead?
A few years ago, when there was a brief lull in the public debate, I told myself I was done writing about the issue, and I wanted to probe it through fiction instead. I never got around to it—perhaps for lack of courage, or maybe because the debate soon flared up again. I don’t see myself focusing on this forever. There’s a point to peace: one seeks it so that life can begin again in all its fullness. Here’s to that day.