Picks and Pans Review: The Yellow Wind

06/27/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by David Grossman

It's hard to imagine a more painful book than this impressionistic report of the conflict between Israel and the Arabs who live in the West Bank territory that Israel has occupied since 1967. Grossman, 34, a leading Israeli novelist, spent seven weeks in 1987 talking with Arabs, with Israelis who work with (and reign over) them and with the settlers in independent communities founded in the occupied territories Israel conquered in the Six Day War. What he wrote is that the Arabs disdain, fear and hate the Israelis, who return the sentiments. (The book is controversial in Israel, where Grossman's critics argue that he is too sympathetic to the Arabs' viewpoint.) Typical is the Israeli soldier serving as a bag searcher at the Allen by Bridge, where Arabs from the occupied territories travel to and from neighboring Jordan. "On a busy day you cannot be judicious and polite," he tells Grossman. "I've seen soldiers who throw out clothes and belongings of Arabs out of spite and in order to hurt them. More than once I've seen a young, angry soldier use his position to humiliate an elderly and venerable man, making him run all over the place in his socks, jeer and degrade him in front of people from his village." Grossman also argues that Israel's policy toward the Arabs damages the Israelis themselves. In the book's most affecting chapter, a stream-of-consciousness narrative about an Israeli security agent who is the de facto government of four Arab villages, he portrays the agent as a man of terrible cynicism: "Courage was only fear that had not been put to the test. Honesty was only deceitfulness that had not had to face temptation. All noble virtues were now in his eyes only signals which pointed the observer to their opposites, their ruin." For the Arabs' part, one villager tells of hearing a mother threaten a child by saying, "If you don't eat, I'll tell a Jew to come and kill you!" By confronting his own reactions as an Israeli—and the Arabs' reaction to him—Grossman maintains a personal perspective on this grueling problem, and he emerges with very little that resembles hope. Even a funeral for Ofra Moses, a pregnant Israeli settler killed by a terrorist bomb, becomes a political event to show the settlers' determination to remain in the occupied land. But after the demonstrators and TV crew have left, Grossman records this scene: "The sun was covered by a slight cloud, shimmering through it, as if covered by a handkerchief. Ofra Moses' close friends and relatives quietly approached the grave. Now they were alone, without politicians and functionaries and merchants of tragedy. The close friends gathered into a tight group, embracing and solid in their pain around the small, long mound of earth, and tightened their circle more and more, gazing inconsolable and unbelieving at the new scar on the ground." (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $17.95)

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