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Israeli Novelist Aharon Appelfeld: It Is Not Morally Easy to Be Cruel

PHILIPPE MERLE via Getty Images

Since the beginning of the war, I have spoken twice to Aharon Appelfeld, the celebrated Israeli novelist and Holocaust survivor whose book, "Blooms of Darkness," has sold over a million copies.

He is sort of secluded in his home in a little village close to Jerusalem. When there is an alarm, he goes into his cellar with his wife -- like everybody else does these days in Israel. When I asked his opinion about the events, he answered twice that his mind was not yet crystallized for an answer, but then he decided to tell me what he thinks up to now.

"All the memories of the Second World War are coming up to my mind, and I am sure that this happens to all the Holocaust survivors, to the Six Days War and the Yom Kippur War survivors. It is not easy to live in an environment where all our towns are under the rockets."

Generally the concept for Israel is that it is a very strong country, very well-armed?

Nevertheless a small group of terrorists, maybe 5,000 or 7,000 against a country of more than 6 million people, have dug and built another city 30 to 40 meters underground, and they have tunnels reaching, if not already penetrating, into Israeli land. These people keep on sending rockets against us. To fight against them on the ground. . .for Israel it means a battle from house to house, and it will be a brutal combat -- and that becomes a real problem. If we want to solve the problem, it means that we have to be very cruel, and this is not morally easy to do. Many people can die on both sides.

But what can you do against terrorists that have an underground town?

Israel is under a very heavy dilemma.

Do you think there are other solutions?

The proposal of Israel is to demilitarize Gaza, but I doubt the terrorists will accept.

How is the mood in which the Israelis live today?

The Israelis are very strong, of course they suffer every time there is a new rocket, even if they know the rockets luckily are intercepted. I am not in permanent danger myself, but I am locked in the house. Every five minutes there are sirens, mainly on the shore. Less in Jerusalem.

But what do you think?

I am thinking about the Jewish faith. We thought that by coming here, we would stop suffering. Coming here had a logic: it was the country where the Jews, their culture and their faith were born. At the beginning, there was only a half million Jews, a half million Arabs and the desert. But to answer your question -- how do the Israelis feel -- I want to say that there is a kind of solidarity among people. In times of peace, there are a lot of quarrels and suddenly the quarrels become meaningless in front of the war.

Do you think the war is going to last?

It will not be short because Israel cannot leave such an arsenal near its border. As an example, if we think that 13 well-armed Arabs come out of a tunnel during the night to destroy a small town in Israel! It means some of their tunnels are deep into Israel. I am horrified to think that all the money given to the poor Palestinians went to build tunnels.

What about the other Arab countries?

We are very lucky because Hamas became an enemy of Egypt. Syria and Iraq have other problems -- they kill each other. Luckily we made peace with Egypt and Jordan.

What about America and Europe?

America became weak, or maybe tired of Afghanistan and Iraq, and they are not ready to invest money in other wars. They have possibly learned that Israel is a steady rock in this area and therefore they keep increasing their help all the time. The Europeans want to be somewhere neutral in the conflict between Israel and Arabs.

But isn't it terrible to think that children are dying?

The terrorists protect themselves, not their population. The value of human life is not important to them. You die, and you will be in Heaven. The other world seems to be more important.

How do you spend your daily life?

I work as usual, but it is more difficult. I have to listen to the radio all the time. In the previous wars, I was mobilized. I am too old, and I write novels. But at the end of the day, my wish and my belief is that this endless conflict will stop and that there will be peace.

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