The future of Israel?
A Q-and-A with Dutch novelist and filmmaker Leon de Winter.
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It has been a breathtaking adventure – but it did not happen in a geographical or cultural or historical vacuum. It happened when the Islamic world was slowly awakening from the enormous blow executed by giant European forces, beginning with Napoleon's easy march into Egypt in 1798, and by the search by Arab and Muslim intellectuals for their own answers to the question why their universe collapsed.Skip to next paragraph
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There have been very strong arguments for the case of a Jewish state in Palestine (a name given to the region by the Romans – until recently, there has never been an Arab tribe called the Palestinians), but now, decades later, if it would have been up to me, I would have picked another region, like the former Dutch colony Surinam, or Montana, or New Mexico.
Or better: a region with some oil and gold in the ground. Just like the United States of America, Israel is the expression of an idea, and as such, it can be discussed, its existence can even be denied – contrary to China or France, which are historical entities and not per se intellectual concepts. But Israel is there, I love to visit it, I admire it, I am moved to tears when I hear its national anthem or see its fighter jets, and at the same time, I deeply worry about its future.
It would have been so much easier if it would have been created right after World War II in what soon after became the German Democratic Republic. Wouldn't that have been a nice way for the Germans to repay some of their debt to the Jews?
Gardels: How do you respond to critics who say you are harming Israel by spelling out a dim future for the Jewish state?
De Winter: Would it be more realistic if I had written a novel describing how in 2024 the Jews are going on vacation in Mecca, how the Saudi princes will enjoy their stay in the fancy suites of the Tel Aviv Hilton, how the Jordanian desert will blossom and the slums of Cairo have been transformed into wealthy suburbs and in the Middle East there is nothing but peace and joy and happiness?
I just continued and enlarged the present trends. Very realistically, I did my job. I fear that Israel will not see its first centennial. Not because of a lack of vitality or commitment, but because after many decades in a region where they have been met with violence, wars, and hatred, the Israeli Jews will conclude that they love their children more than their country.
Gardels: What prompted you to write such a book?
De Winter: Sleepless nights.
Gardels: What needs to happen – or not happen – by 2024 for your vision not to come true?