The future of Israel?
A Q-and-A with Dutch novelist and filmmaker Leon de Winter.
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Leon De Winter: I describe an Israel that is basically the area of larger Tel Aviv, with the northern part of the Negev, including Dimona. The north is gone, the south is gone, Jerusalem is gone. The country fell apart because of external pressure – continuous rocket bombardments – that caused families to leave, and because of internal erosion: The Israeli Arabs and the ultra-Orthodox Jews moved away from the secular Jewish heart of the nation. Those with a criminal record, those who are old, another group fascinated to be part of an apocalypse, and those who just want to stay and defend the country no matter what happens, were left behind.
But this is all background, the setting. The main focus is on Bram Mannheim, originally a Dutch Jew who makes aliyah when he is 18 and becomes, at a young age, a celebrated professor. He teaches history of the Middle East at Tel Aviv University. But tragedy hits when, in 2008, he has moved to Princeton with his wife and young son to become a professor there. His 4-year-old son disappears. Just like that.
His marriage collapses, his life stops, and he turns into a madman, a psychotic transient wandering around in the USA. His old father finds him and brings him back to Tel Aviv. And in 2024, Bram runs a little bureau that helps parents of children who have disappeared as well in this Jewish ghetto-city called Israel. And after a devastating attack, apparently executed by a young Jew who disappeared in the same period as Bram's child, Bram starts to hope again, starts to think that maybe his son is still alive, just like these other Jewish boys – a group that seems to have been kidnapped and trained to become Muslim suicide killers, Jewish kids who will come back to Israel to kill their parents.
Gardels: Your book has caused a huge stir in Germany, where it has just been published. Some critics charge that your dark vision of the future abets an increasing chorus of voices that argue the founding of Israel was a mistake in the first place.
De Winter: Let me first be clear about my personal loyalties (which are not always identical to my loyalties as a novelist): I am an admirer of the Zionist project, of the historical necessity, to use a Marxist phrase, to create a safe haven for European Jews as a reaction to 19th century anti-Semitism.