Frieden ist die einzige OptionDavid Grossman übers. v. Anne Birkenhauer, Helene Seidler
Hanser Feb 202410 € 64 S.
The Yellow Wind [הזמן הצהוב]David Grossman übers. v. Haim Watzman
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux Aug 1988ca. 10 $ 240 S.

On April 29, 1987, for the 20th anniversary of the Six-Day War, David Grossman, then a young 33-year-old author, published one of the most important works to have ever appeared in Israel on the Palestinian question: The Yellow Time. In non-Hebrew languages, the book was titled The Yellow Wind. Two titles for the same story – one for indifference, the other for catastrophe. The book documented Grossman’s travels through the West Bank. To an indifferent Israeli public, it revealed the sick, violent reality of the occupation and warned that its continued neglect would lead to catastrophe. Six months later, the First Intifada broke out.

The Yellow Time became a cult read. As early as 1987, the book was adapted into a play. It was translated into English, German, Arabic and other languages. The title found its way into pop songs – in 1988 Shlomo Artzi sang «Yellow time, that’s what Grossman calls the bad situation,» and a year later Nurit Galron provoked with a protest song that read: «And I don’t care what happens in the occupied territories, don’t tell me about yellow time, about prisoners and rebels, let’s make love, let’s live, Tel Aviv is life».

Indeed, the Hebrew title of Grossman’s book – The Yellow Time – hinted at the state of consciousness with which the Jewish Israeli public reacted to the horrors of the occupation: the disregard, the indifference, the mental drought. «We have lived for twenty years in a false and artificial situation, based on illusions, on a teetering center of gravity between hate and fear, in a desert void of emotion and consciousness, and the passing time turns slowly into a separate, forbidding entity hanging above us like a suffocating layer of yellow dust».

The young Grossman concluded his impressions with a prophecy of hatred and revenge: «There are those who say it is possible to continue on in this way for years. That over the years the ‹fabric of life› (mutual acquaintance, economic links, and so on) will overcome enmity. That is idiocy, and reality proves it even now. And the more the present ‹fabric of life› continues, the clearer it becomes that it is woven around an iron fist of hate and revenge … One day we will wake up to a bitter surprise … The history of the world proves that the situation we preserve here cannot last for long. And if it lasts, it will exact a deadly price».

This prophecy came true a few months later and has kept on coming true since then. However, Grossman’s 1987 book contains a special prophecy about the terrible wrath of October 7, 2023, from the mouth of a Palestinian old man, Abu Harb, the «Father of War». When he hears the Hebrew title of the book – The Yellow Time, an expression of indifference to the occupation – an Arabic expression comes to the Palestinian’s mind, rih asfar, «the yellow wind», the name of the catastrophe: «The wind will come from the gate of Hell … a hot and terrible east wind which comes once in a few generations, sets the world afire, and people seek shelter from its wrath in the caves and caverns, but even there it finds those it seeks, those who have performed cruel and unjust deeds, and there, in the cracks in the boulders, it kills them, one by one. After that day, Abu Harb says, the land will be covered with bodies. The rocks will be white from the heat, and the mountains will crumble into a powder which will cover the land like yellow cotton».

A historical event such as an occupation or a war is to be understood not only from the perspective of the victory of the driving forces, but also that of the failure of the resistance. The strength of the one and the weakness of the other are interlinked and to a certain extent combine in the total dynamic. In the case of Israel, it is not enough (as many critical voices do) to point to the current government, the corruption at its top, its nationalism, racism and authoritarianism and the right’s dominance in order to understand the nature of the current catastrophe. To grasp the depth of the crisis, one must also look at the weakness of the opposition and the impotence of what is called the «left»: democratic, liberal, humanist, good.

There is hardly a figure today who embodies Israeli humanism in such an exemplary way as David Grossman. His books also shaped my own political and poetic consciousness as a teenager in Haifa in the 80s and 90s. See Under: Love and The Book of Intimate Grammar showed me what literature is, what sensitivity the soul is capable of. I still remember the amazement, the dizziness caused by the words I could not grasp. The Smile of the Lamb, Grossman’s debut novel about the occupation, accompanied me during my military service in the occupied territories. I told him this when I met him one day at a crosswalk in Tel Aviv. Years later, I read his children’s books to my daughter in Berlin.

Grossman is also a role model for politically committed intellectuals. He is a member of the public advisory board of B’Tselem – the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories – and has been involved in various human rights organizations. Over the years and in the face of all that has happened, Grossman has continued to write and speak out, to raise a humane and empathetic voice against the violence, to be, as my friend Amir says, the voice of conscience for the Israeli public. I remember one night during the series of attacks at the end of the 1990s, after the murder of Yitzchak Rabin, when Grossman was interviewed at the end of a news program, talking about loss and pain, the interviewer was in tears. When I read Grossman today and think about the weak points of his thinking and writing, I am confronting myself.

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