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Etgar Keret on the Language of the Gaza War

The Israeli novelist says we should use the word ‘compromise,’ not ‘peace’

Stephanie Butnick
August 18, 2014
Etgar Keret. (Yanai Yechiel)
Etgar Keret. (Yanai Yechiel)

Etgar Keret was interviewed by Granta last week, and the Israeli writer and Tablet contributor shared some characteristically sharp insights about fiction, his family, and the recent Israeli operation in Gaza.

He admitted to London-born writer and editor Sophie Lewis that since the conflict began more than a month ago, he hasn’t had any of his usual whimsical ideas for stories. In fact, all he has written are opinion pieces, originally published in Hebrew outlets and republished in places like the New Yorker and the L.A. Times.

They were both very linguistic. About the fact that I think using the word ‘peace’ destroys the actual possibility of peace occurring. Instead we should stop using ‘peace’ and start using ‘compromise’. When you use a word, it’s a pact, a deal; you’re signing a contract. If I say to you, ‘Let’s make love,’ or if I say ‘Let’s fuck,’ then in each case we have a different deal. So for me, in Israel the word ‘peace’ has a kind of Masonic aspect: you pray for peace. But if you use ‘compromise’ you cannot ignore that there is someone on the other side; you cannot ignore that you have to give up on something to achieve it. Peace could be a gift. It’s a word that doesn’t assume any responsibility. It’s not attached to you, nor to the other side.

Writing opinion pieces, he explains, interests him far less than fiction. “When I write opinion, it’s as though I’m washing dishes. I hate it and the only reason I do it is I don’t feel I have a choice.” He’s not incorrect: as an Israeli writer who is well-known in American literary circles, his voice is a trusted one. And inserting respected creative voices into the ongoing international dialogue can break up the monotony of politicians, strategists, and pundits.

His take is decidedly less optimistic than some. “When we reach the same point, we say ‘Oh, we’ve been here before.’ But we’re not where we’ve been before; we’re in a worse place.” It’s not repetition, he explains, but descent. “When you make a mistake and you do something terrible, it’s a tragedy. But when you keep making the same mistake and horrible things happen, then your claim of innocence disappears.”

Stephanie Butnick is chief strategy officer of Tablet Magazine, co-founder of Tablet Studios, and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.

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