The Pen - Mightier Than the Sword?

Whereas 60 young Israeli writers are calling for a cease-fire, an older generation views this as a 'war of no choice.'

This week a group of some 60 young literary personalities - authors, song writers, critics and editors - got together and published a letter calling for an immediate halt to the war in Lebanon. The letter is part of the beginning of a series of planned activities that will apparently continue during the meeting of the signatories - mainly members of Israeli literature's younger generation - and may include a demonstration. Among the initiators of the letter, which was sent to Defense Minister Amir Peretz, Education Minister Yuli Tamir and others, are authors Shimon Adaf, Dudu Busi and Nir Baram.

"We believe that after over two weeks of fighting, the campaign being waged in the north should be halted immediately," they wrote. "There is no doubt that Israel has the right to defend herself against the aggression that infringes on her sovereignty and harms her citizens. Nevertheless, the exercising of unreasonable force, mainly toward civilians, attests to neither might nor deterrent power. On the contrary, it is an expression of hysteria, of the loss of ability to distinguish between a localized threat and existential danger, between a reasonable response and an excessive show of strength."

In the letter, the authors write that the Israel Defense Forces is dragging the political echelon and Israeli society into a ground war in Lebanon whose goals are unclear. In the early days of the war, they write, they still believed that the campaign would be short, whereas now "we are viewing scenes reminiscent of the grim days of Operation Peace for Galilee, which also initially enjoyed broad consensus."

"Since it is clear that the war will end in diplomatic negotiations between Israel, the Lebanese government and international mediators, and since there are already international initiatives toward a cease-fire, which Israel is consistently rejecting, we call on the Israeli government to declare a cease-fire and to begin negotiations now."

The signatories to the letter include: Maya Arad, Sayed Kashua, Dror Burstein, Gabi Nitzan, Gilad Kahana, Roi Arad, Hagar Yanai, Orna Coussin, Yehezkel Nafshi, Amalia Rosenblum, Tal Nitzan, Roi Chen and Erez Schweitzer.

A 'war of no choice'

A different perspective is taken by more than a few literary personalities who support Israel's policy and view the current war as a "war of no choice." Yoram Kaniuk, Yehoshua Sobol and Prof. Zohar Shavit of Tel Aviv University, for example, published a response to the young literati's letter on the Ynet web site.

"I signed petitions and demonstrated against the IDF's involvement in Lebanon in 1982," writes Shavit. "I signed petitions and demonstrated against government policies when the intifada erupted in 1987. I was and remain a leftist. But that petition I will not sign - it gives the impression that there is a small group of left-wing radicals in Israel, whose support for the other side is automatic. Intellectuals in Israel must also take a sober look at reality." This seems to be an intergenerational struggle, as the literati's letter voices mainly the sentiments of the young artists in the Israeli literary scene. Still, there are also more than a few authors from that generation expressing their reservations about the letter.

Etgar Keret, for example, knew about the letter and the planning of activities, but did not sign it and was not interested in relating to it. Author Eshkol Nevo also knew about the letter but did not sign it.

"Young people of my generation whom I highly esteem are behind that petition," said Nevo. "I too am terrified by the pictures of destruction and death in Haifa and Beirut, and I too am certain that this war will end in negotiations, but unlike them, I think that there is tremendous importance in our arriving at the negotiating table after we exact a painful and unequivocal price from Hezbollah."

Author Amir Gutfreund, who lives with his family in the community of Tzurit, near Carmiel, had not heard of the letter's existence.

"Perhaps because they know that they have no chance with me," he says. "I am in favor of continuing the war and increasing the pressure at the stage. I sit in my home in the north, where the Katyushas are falling, and I am raising small children, so my opinion is completely different than the authors of that letter."