A few days ago, on an afternoon in Tel Aviv, author David Grossman recited a selection of his poems and lyrics in a dark basement packed with people. Several lyrics were put to music and performed on a small stage; among the performers were Yoni Rechter and Rona Keinan. Professor Nissim Calderon organized the meeting and was the driving spirit behind it.
Grossman, who recently lost his son in what is now officially termed "The Second Lebanon War," asked to recite something other than a poem from the closing paragraph of his book "See under: Love." Grossman told his audience that as Memorial Day is drawing near, and due to personal circumstances, he would like to end the session with an excerpt from his book relating to man's wish to live life without experiencing war.
Momentarily a chill ran through the Tel Aviv audience, after which they went upstairs for a glass of beer. Grossman remained behind on the rear end of the darkening stage.
On July 20th 1949 the final armistice agreements between the victorious State of Israel and the defeated Arab states were signed on the Greek island of Rhodes. The signing of the ceasefire agreements, wrote historian Professor Benny Morris marked the end of the first Arab-Israeli war. The first in a series of wars, which came one after another:
- The first border war from 1950 to 1956
- The Sinai Campaign in 1956
- The second border war from 1957 to 1967
- The Six-Day War in 1967
- The War of Attrition from 1967 to 1969
- The first terror war from 1970 to 1973
- The Yom Kippur War in 1973
- Operation Litani in 1978
- The First Lebanon War in 1982
- The first Intifada from 1988 to 1991
- The second Intifada from 2000 to 2005
- The Second Lebanon War in 2006
The statistics are clear: Twelve wars in 59 years, one war every five years. The aspiration of Grossman's protagonist to live without war was never realized throughout the history of the State.
Those who enlisted into the IDF on the day of the armistice agreements partook in nine wars until ultimately being released from reserve duty. Their sons who enlisted into the army in the beginning of the 1970s, had already participated in six wars, if they survived them unharmed. Their grandsons have yet to complete the count. I do not know another country that has experienced such an abundance of wars and victories in such a short history.
"We did not come back from the battles carousing in victory," wrote Yariv Ben Aharon in his introduction to "The Seventh Day: Soldiers' Talk about the Six-Day War," a collection of conversations held amongst kibbutz soldiers at end of the war. The book was rejected by the kibbutz establishment and was published in October 1967 by a young group of kibbutz movement members.
Ben Aharon added that between the written words, there is growing reservation towards a victorious society that tends to view military achievements as the singular soundest testimony of its values and integrity.
An additional motif intrinsic in "The Seventh Day" is the inability to avoid future wars. Eli, one of the participants in the conversations, said he didn't see a solution to this problem… this is our life, this is how we must live and this is how we must educate our children – there will be future wars. It's not in our hands. Another participant asked whether the third, fourth or fifth time around, heaven forbid, would lead to a state where we would tire of the entire business? The question is, he said was how far can we could stretch ourselves as human beings? Are we able to live with this feeling indefinitely, a state where every few years we have to stand with our backs to the wall?
It appears to be every five years, for the past 40 years that have elapsed since then.
While they were discussing the future of the kibbutz fighters who returned from the Six-Day War, a young dark skinned playwright performed a scathing political satire in a warehouse rented in a garage complex in Tel Aviv.
Theatre managers refused to stage it: The playwright was Hanoch Levin and his sketches ridiculed the impassioned nationalist-military pride brought on by the victory in the war. Above all, what symbolized his messages more than anything was the refrain "You and me and the next war:"
"While waiting in the delivery rooms," wrote Levin in the summer of 1967, "with us waits the next war." Part of the audience didn't take to his black premonitions and loudly hackled him.
On that sun-swept afternoon when I left the auditorium where Grossman had recited his unanswered prayer of living life without war, I recalled the full name of the play that was staged 40 years ago in a similar Tel Aviv auditorium. It was called "The last war, a provisional name."