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'We need good leaders'

November 26, 2012

The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is once again on everyone’s lips. But according to Israeli author Assaf Gavron, his countrymen normally do not like talking about the dispute.

The writer Assaf Gavron at the Frankfurt Book Fair .
Image: picture alliance / dpa

DW: Assaf Gavron, the conflict in the Middle East has such a long history. How do you deal with it? Is it an inherent part of daily life?

Assaf Gavron: I would say it is always present. But every individual decides on how much they allow themselves to be affected by it. On days such as last week, where Palestinians fire rockets at us, the conflict is, of course, much more palpable. You cannot really escape from it. But in more peaceful times, life is in most parts of the country not much different from that in Germany. You can do your work and got out, meet friends. Especially in Tel Aviv, the conflict does not seem to have a great impact on people's lives. On the other hand, politics are always there. In my writings I deal with the conflict, so I am mentally and emotionally more involved than most people. Nevertheless, I continue to go about my ordinary life, working, taking the kids to kindergarten and so on.

Do many people talk about the conflict?

It depends. Last week, for instance, you could not avoid the subject. Everybody talked about it no matter where they went. On the other hand, it wasn't really that much of an issue two months ago. Even during the electoral campaign, where the conflict is supposed to be addressed, almost nobody wanted to talk about it.

What is the reason for this?

Most people were afraid of addressing the issue. It was relatively quiet here for some years. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made Iran his main topic. And the remaining parties avoided it since they knew that the people did not want to talk about the dispute with the Palestinians. That is why they focused rather on economic and social issues. Of course, this has changed. But if you ask me about the last four years since the election, no one wanted to hear about it.

Did the media not report on the matter?

Not really. You barely heard or read anything about it. There is one newspaper, Haaretz, that reports every week from the Palestinian Territories. But in the major newspapers, the topic simply did not exist.

What did you tell your children when rockets started to fall on Tel Aviv?

My oldest daughter is five and a half years old. I told her that there were rockets coming our way and that she had to rush for shelter every time she heard the sirens. This is difficult to explain. When she asked me why, I replied that there were people out there who were angry at us because we hurt them and that, on the other hand, we were angry at them because they hurt us and so on. As a child, she accepts reality as it is. For me as an adult, it seems totally surreal that in the middle of the day you have to look for shelter because there are rockets coming down on your city. But for the children, this is all they know so far. It is sad, but that is the way it is.

Do you still believe there is a solution to the conflict?

I don't know. It is hard to say. It seems that we kill every opportunity we get. The new generation is doing the same. It is not really changing. Maybe we need another leader, someone really special to come up and to rally enough people behind him. Most people just want to live quietly. But I think we really need great leaders on both sides. And I do not see that coming. On the contrary, we have worse and worse leaders.

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man (L) overlooks the Palestian town of Bethlehem as he stands at the end of a raffiti-painted protective wall in the Gilo neighborhood in the southern part of Jerusalem (Photo: EPA)
The wall separating Israel from the Palestinian territoriesImage: picture-alliance/dpa

You said recently in an interview that the political perspectives did not seem very bright, but that small steps were being taken to improve conditions. What did you mean by that?

There is an array of cooperations at the cultural level, such as the Daniel Barenboim Project, that promote social interactions between Israelis and Palestinians. There are also business cooperations where you have, for instance, Israelis helping out Palestinians harvest olives. Just last month Israelis travelled into the Palestinian territories and not only gave them a hand with the harvest but also helped with problems regarding neighbors, settlers, the Army and so on. Israelis and Palestinians also get together every week to protest peacefully against the wall separating Israel from the Palestinian territories. But these people represent maybe one percent of the population. The huge majority is afraid - on both sides.

You address the conflict in your books. Are you on a mission when you write?

No. I write about things that catch my attention. The conflict is, for example, fascinating in terms of literary material but it is also full of absurdities and things to explore. I am interested in that. I do not have a mission to educate. If someone reads a book of mine, learns from it and maybe even changes his mind about a certain issue, then I am happy about it. But I do not have a mission.

Assaf Gavron, born in Jerusalem in 1968, is a translator and musician and one of the most successful Israeli writers. He lives with his family in Tel Aviv. His book "Croc Attack!" was selected by the city of Cologne as the "Book for the City 2012" together with "Thyme and Stones" by Palestinian writer and peace activist Sumaya Farhat-Naser. His latest novel, which will appear in January 2013, deals with Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Interview: Petra Lambeck / gd