Grossman spoke with PW by phone from his home in Jerusalem two days after the war in Iraq began. He cautioned that he was happy to do the interview but might have to hang up quickly if an air raid siren sounded. Fortunately, no such interruption took place.

PW: You write in Death as a Way of Life that maybe there was no other direction the Israeli-Palestinian peace process could have taken . Do you think, from this distance, the current state of affairs was inevitable?

David Grossman: I think maybe it was. To act against our fears and mutual suspicions takes so much power. I'm afraid that we had no such leaders who could help us do that. And I don't know even if we had that kind of leader if there would have been enough people who would follow him. But then, maybe it wasn't inevitable. Maybe saying it was is my way of explaining a situation that's so unbearable.

PW: With every suicide attack, the left in Israel is further accused of naïveté. Do you believe those who negotiated Oslo suffered from too much optimism?

DG: The left made two big mistakes: They felt that if we [Israelis] came with a good suggestion it will be received [by the Palestinians], and they thought that if we promise it, it will be kept. Yet both sides, right after they signed an agreement, started breaking it. It's another symptom of our disease in both our natures that causes people to act against their own interest. But I'm not interested in accusing anyone. I'm more interested in the mechanism of the mistake, in describing why we were not able to uproot ourselves from our own history.

PW: What, if anything, do you think can be done now, particularly from the Israeli side?

DG: Because of our paranoia, all our security is reduced to one word and one word only: Power. And this is not enough. Power does not create security. What creates security is a mix of things. It's not even one-tenth power. I'm not saying we're surrounded by the Salvation Army. But I think we need to overcome our primal fears. When you act out of fear you are doomed to live out your nightmares.

PW: Are you optimistic, then, that there might one day soon be a return to the peace table? Is the left not in shambles the way some argue?

DG: There can be ways to change people's minds. The fact that our prime minister says things that [noted Israeli leftist] Amos Oz said 25 years ago about a Palestinian state, even if he says them reluctantly, I find encouraging. Big obstacles to peace, right of return and the settlements, are solvable.

PW: You write in the book that you're a reluctant pundit, that you'd rather just write novels. Does living in a place as tense as Israel help you as a novelist? Or does it just make you feel pressure to write about politics?

DG: There's a criticism of Israeli writers who don't write about politics. But sometimes the task and challenge is to uproot yourself—not from the situation, but from the despair of the situation. Living in our area confronts you with the most existential and moral questions of life. I'm writing so much about politics these days and putting so much energy into the political level of life, I don't want to lose the things that are really important.

PW: Is there a parallel, then, between your own pursuits and how you view Israeli society as a whole, where, as you write, the conflict creates deeper problems than those that are simply diplomatic and military?

DG: The conflict is only circumstantial. The big danger is how the circumstances prevent us from dealing with the important parts of being a human being. When you raise children in fear, it infects human relationships. You train yourself to narrow your soul. We devote so much passion to our borders, to our security, that the danger is it's not life; the danger is that we will become armor without the knight inside.