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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|Ruth Broyde-Sharon

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 1987, 20 years after the Six-Day War and Israel's occupation of the West Bank of the Jordan River, David Grossman, a young Israeli novelist, received an assignment to write a series of in-depth articles about the Palestinian dilemma.

"The Yellow Wind" is the result of his journey to Palestinian camps and Jewish settlements, to kindergartens and divided Arab villages, to Israeli military courts where Palestinians are tried for terrorist associations, real or imagined, and to Israeli factories where Arab "coolie" labor is a fact of life. Many deep and painful wounds were reopened by this young Israeli writer. When his articles were finally published in their entirety as a book, "The Yellow Wind" became an instant best seller.

According to a legend that Grossman heard from Abu Harb, a Palestinian whom he interviewed, the rih a s far (yellow wind) is a hot and terrible east wind that blows from the gate of hell "once in a few generations, sets the world afire, and people may seek shelter from its heat 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 and the boulders, it exterminates them, one by one. After that day . . . 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." It is the disturbing scent of this "yellow wind" that Grossman relentlessly pursues. He dares himself and all Israelis to face up to the moral consequences of 20 years of occupation.

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