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A Pilgrimage to Palestine : THE YELLOW WIND by David Grossman; translated from the Hebrew by Haim Watzman (Farrar, Straus & Giroux: $17.95; 216 pp.)

March 06, 1988|Muhammad Siddiq

To Palestine or Israel or . . . the United States. The United States counts for more than any other third nation in this protracted struggle, not just because of American Jews who have become Israelis but also because of Palestinians and Israelis who have become Americans.

"If I forget thee, O Jerusalem. . . ." We need not insist on how nationality is gained or lost or changed or doubled. People who began there are now living here, and vice versa. This would be enough to triangulate the struggle, quite apart from American money and diplomacy.

Below, we review, twice, an Israeli journalist's report of his journey to Palestine. One reviewer is Palestinian, the other Israeli. Both are living in the United States.

The first reviewer is Muhammad Siddiq, 42. Like many Palestinians who grew up under Israeli rule, Siddiq is bilingual in Hebrew and in Arabic. Unlike most, he has made the study of Hebrew literature an integral part of his career. He holds a doctorate in comparative literature from the University of California at Berkeley and teaches at the University of Washington.

In the fall of 1967, while still a sophomore at the Hebrew University, Siddiq was arrested by the Israeli secret police and kept under administrative detention without charge or trial for nearly two years. Heavy student and faculty pressure at the Hebrew University finally made possible his release and subsequent departure for the United States to resume his studies.

Siddiq and his wife were both born in Galilee. They have two children and talk often of returning home. "But now, the way things are. . . ." His voice trails off. Some Israelis might not welcome him back. One who would is the distinguished Israeli novelist A. B. Yehoshua, who sent Siddiq a copy of his last book with an inscription in Hebrew: "To Muhammad, hoping that this may speed his return to his homeland."

The second reviewer, Ruth Broyde-Sharon, was born and educated in Chicago. After graduating from the Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University, she worked as a print and television reporter and writer, then as a documentary film maker. One of her films, for Britannica, dealt with growing up on a kibbutz.

In 1971, she emigrated to Israel, where she lived and worked for 10 years, and where she married. Her husband, a sabra, and she have two children. Like the Siddiqs, the Sharons talk often of a return. They speak Hebrew as well as English at home and, since moving to California in 1981, have returned to Israel for a long visit, once a year, to reinforce their children's Israeli identification. Their 7-year-old son, born in Israel, knows, Sharon says, that "if we return, he will be required, when he turns 18, to serve in the Israeli army."

In early 1987, the Hebrew weekly Koteret Rashit commissioned the young and gifted Israeli writer David Grossman to write a field report from the occupied West Bank commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Six-Day War and the 39th anniversary of Israel's independence. For this purpose, Grossman journeyed alone through the refugee camps, towns, and villages of the West Bank where he met with and interviewed Palestinians from all age groups and diverse walks of life. His monthlong excursion also took him to the settlements of Gush Emunim and the terrorist Jewish underground.

One of the 18 pieces that comprise "The Yellow Wind" is a short story; the rest are informal interviews with Palestinians in various locales. Thus, for example, the writer dares the open sewer of the Deheisha refugee camp to visit a Palestinian kindergarten, where 2-year-old Palestinian boys "shoot" him with their imaginary guns. On the Allenby Bridge, the crossing point to and from Jordan, he witnesses the humiliation of grown-up Palestinians and the pain of a child whose doll is confiscated on orders of the military commander.

In Israel, where politics is a national obsession, no other issue arouses as much political passion as the debate over the status and fate of the occupied territories. Grossman is fully aware of this and other general truths about his society's political behavior. "In Israel," he writes, "it is easier for a man to change his religion, and maybe even his sex, than to change in any decisive way his political opinion." Hence Grossman's evident reluctance to tackle political questions directly and his deliberate exclusion of politicians, Arab and Jewish, from the list of his interlocutors in "The Yellow Wind."

Nor do abstract questions of who is right and who is wrong in the historical conflict over Palestine hold any greater interest for Grossman. Rather, his expressed purpose is twofold:

1--To gauge the impact of the policies and practices of the occupation regime on the daily lives and private hopes, fears, and dreams of ordinary Palestinians.

2--To unearth the ways in which the continued occupation has imperceptibly but tangibly altered the ethical fiber of the Israeli society beyond the national consensus with which Israel won the Six-Day War.

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