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Gunter Grass and the Freedom of Speech

BS”D

I really don’t want to deal with politics, but again I have to speak my mind. This time about the infamous poem of Gunter Grass, apparently most known for being a German intellectual and a former member of a Waffen Panzer division. And now also for confusing Israel and Iran (at least it seems like that for me).

Now, Grass has received a lot of criticism for his latest poem, where he accuses Israel for being a thread against world peace, posing a threat against the Iranian people, possibly wiping out the whole population of Iran, as well as other like accusations. Needlessly to say, Israel didn’t take this light, nor did many other reactions show too much of support for Grass’ thoughts as they were expressed in the poem.

Of course I have my thoughts on his poem, and on his stance as well, especially his confusion of who wants to eradicate who, having Israel threaten to attack targets in Iran, true, but never threatening, as Iran has, to “wipe of the country of the map.” But that’s not so much my focus here. My focus is more on the reactions, some of which I find wise, and others I find, well, less wise. Okay, not wise at all.

One thing is the reactions against his poem. That is fine and well, I sincerely do believe that his poem and thoughts should be reacted to. Another thing is the demand to censure him or – as is the case now here in Israel, after Eli Yishai’s rather childish reaction – to prohibit him to enter.

One of the foundations of Democracy is free speech. That freedom should be given to anybody, whether one agrees with them or not, also Gunter Grass. He is in his full right to express his opinion, no matter how wrong or stupid we might find it, as well as we are in our full right to react to his opinions and statements. That is what creates a healthy debate in democracies. If we disagree with a person, then it should be expressed orally. Therefor it goes counter to what we believe in, when we believe in the freedom of speech and Democracy. That is one thing.

Prohibiting Grass from entering Israel is not only childish, it is also stupid. Rather instead he should be invited to Israel, so he could see for himself how life really is here. Instead we prevented ourselves (or Yishai did) to show him that he is wrong, to instead maybe even cause him to think that he actually is right. If Israel doesn’t have anything to hide (and here I’m not thinking about security matters or the like), then we shouldn’t prevent people from seeing the country and the society, no matter how twisted and wrong their views might be, especially not if that is the case. If they indeed are honest, then they will admit their erroneous views, as for exampel was the case for Nicky Larkin.

I’m against silencing people, no matter how annoying I find them, how much I disagree with them, or how much I have to shake my head in disbelieve caused by their lack of knowledge of simple facts (or refusing to acknowledge them). They are not being shown their errors by trying to silence them, rather that would enforce them in their believe that they are right. They are being shown their errors by pointing out their errors. This is the way a Democracy deals with differing opinions.

A third way(?)

BS”D

I know that I’ve said earlier that I’m not going to focus much on politics, and I’m intending to keep those words, though only to a certain extent.

The thing is, I live in Israel, in what is popular known as a “settlement”. If you wonder why I’m putting settlement in quotation-marks, then it’s because that the “settlement” I’m living in is basically a city (Ma’aleh Adumim), with more than 35,000 citizens, among them some few Palestinians (yes, you read correctly).

Anyway, I don’t live here based on any kind of ideological motives, especially not that the Palestinians don’t have any rights to live here. I simply live here, because that’s where I’m ended up (more or less, my wife lived here when we got married, and our budget is not to finding an apartment big enough for four people and a dog in Jerusalem or anywhere near Jerusalem – not that I would’ve moved would we have the money, maybe, maybe not).

That said, what bothers me to a certain extent is how Jews and Palestinians in general are being portrayed in relation to each other. Either Jews as evil imperial or colonial settlers, harassing and beating up innocent Palestinians, or Palestinians as fanatic religious extremist with the sole purpose in life being to blow themselves up in the middle of Jewish civilians. Or simply that we hate each other and want each other dead.

There is some truth in the above description, but it is far from the general picture you’ll get when living here. Sure, there are people who want to do everything they can in order to make you believe that, but they are not telling the whole truth, namely that most people here just live, and live together. It has to be added though that it’s not always harmonious or that we hang out together, but it’s not the opposite either.

Anyway, in order to challenge the stereotype presentation of Israel/Palestine, I will once in a while write posts on incidents, groups, organisations, something else, which shows that Jews and Palestinians actually can and in some extent also do live and share lives together. Not only in Tel Aviv or Haifa, but also on the West Bank (or as it is known in Hebrew, Shomron and Yehudah). As far as possible these representations will be nonpolitical, in that sense that it will deal more with the general lives than political discussions. And, if possible, I will invite friends to write posts about their lives here, Jews as well as Palestinians.

The first two incidents I will present is dealing with the Gush Etzion bloc, which is just south-west of Jerusalem, next to Bethlehem. The first is a video presenting the initiative for dialog between Palestinians and settlers in the area (the settlers belonging to R. Froman’s, shelita, group, a group of religious settlers struggling for promoting mutual understanding, acceptance and coexistence.

The other a recent happening, in connection to Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish New Year for the trees, just being celebrated, where Jews and Palestinians planted trees together.

But before we get to it then a short word to all of you guys out there only focusing on the negative in the other, and being pessimistic. Yes, Jews can be evil, Palestinians as well, no group of humans has patent on that one. And maybe we don’t see Jews and Palestinians flocking on the street to jump into each other’s arms, wanting peace, but we won’t get peace, if we don’t believe in it.

Enough talk, here you are:

Settlers for Peace on Youtube

Jews, Palestinians Plant Trees Together in West Bank

Note: All opinions expressed in the material is not necessarily the same as my opinions. Nor am I attempting to promote any political opinion, or saying who is right or wrong.