The work of Haim Gouri, who died at 94 Wednesday, shaped Israel’s national memory to a great degree. It’s hard to imagine a memorial service for Israeli soldiers without the singing of “Shir Hare’ut” (“song of friendship”) or “Bab el Wad,” or the commemoration of the Holocaust without Gouri’s documentaries “The 81st Blow” and “The Last Sea.” Gouri was the last representative of the “1948 generation” of Hebrew literature, the cultural elder statesman whose biography reads like a summary of Israeli history: the son of Third Aliyah pioneers who helped found the Palmah and to bring Holocaust survivors from Europe and served as an officer in every Israeli war from the War of Independence to the Yom Kippur War.
But Gouri was not just a poet, author, journalist and filmmaker; he was also a public figure who expressed opinions on the heart of the national dispute. His father was a founder of Labor Party forerunner Mapai and one of its leading activists during the Ben-Gurion era. For years he chaired the Knesset Finance Committee. The son, however, veered rightward, joining Ahdut Ha’avoda, which opposed dividing the land into Jewish and Arab states.
After the Six-Day War, which achieved with the army’s weapons the Ahdut Ha’avoda vision of annexation, Gouri was one of the founders of the Movement for Greater Israel. The peak of his influence was in late 1974, when he mediated between the Gush Emunim settlers and the Rabin government, which allowed them to remain on the hilltop in Samaria where they established the illegal settlement of Sebastia. That was the start of the settlement enterprise of religious Zionism, aimed at precluding any partition agreement. Gouri lent it the legitimacy of the old guard, while at the same time opposing infringement of the human rights of the Palestinians in the territories.
In recent years Gouri criticized the direction Israel took, particularly religious extremism, ultra-Orthodox separatism and rejection of the principles of equality expressed in the Declaration of Independence.
His last appearance was in a successful campaign by Palmah veterans against the commemoration of Rehavam Ze’evi, the man of transfer and alleged rape, at the Sha’ar Hagai historic site. But even in his later disillusionment, and despite his recognition of the many injustices causes by the prolonged control of the territories, Gouri refused to view Israel as an occupying power, clinging to the saying, “The Jewish people is not an occupier in the Land of Israel.”
Gouri’s tragedy, like those of many of his generation, was the effort to straddle the fence, to shoot while crying, to be both moral and an occupier. Gouri called it “the third way.” He belatedly realized that the settlers and right-wing governments were leading the state into moral disaster and undermining the democracy the founders established. But he didn’t succeed, or didn’t dare, to offer an alternative and to fight for it. The 1948 generation left that mission to its heirs.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.