February 23, 2011

The full transcript of the conversation between Ian McEwan and Shimon Peres at the Jerusalem Prize Ceremony

ian mcewan great injustice israel

Ian McEwan: Nice meeting you, Mr. President.

Shimon Peres: Oh Ian, can I call you Ian? What a pleasure to meet you! You must know I am a great admirer of your books!

Ian McEwan: I am truly honored. Anything in particular?

Shimon Peres: you know, we used to have that Zionist song when I was young, that we would cover the homeland with "a dress of concrete and cement." And we did it! When you look at Jerusalem today, look at the mountains. A dress of concrete and cement. Isn't that wonderful? Your "Cement Garden" always reminds me of that.

Ian: But, Mr. President. I am not certain that this is what the book was about. I was more interested in children trying to cope with an extreme situation.

Shimon: Exactly what I meant! Weren't we all? Children in extreme situations? I was barely passing thirty when I plotted my first false flag terrorist attack in Egypt.

Ian: I hardly think thirty qualifies as a child. But perhaps, Mr. President, you are confusing my novel with "the lord of the flies?"

Shimon: Not at all! Not at all! Just coming out of the holocaust, traumatized, really, just like those children, having to deal with Nasser's attempts to tie down our hands with peace. Syria offering us peace. The King of Jordan ready to divide Palestine with us. The US even offering our little state a defense pact if we only agreed to make peace with Egypt. That was the time when I started my political career. You can't imagine how lonely and endangered we felt. We were scared to death. We had to be creative. Apropos the holocaust, I really liked how you managed to insert a mention of Dachau in the very first paragraph of your speech today. That's the thing I admire about creative types like yourself. If you ever want to be an ambassador for Israel, call me.

Ian: Oh Mr. President, I am flattered...I hardly think...oh...but there was something I wanted to discuss with you.

Shimon: Of course, Ian, I always enjoy conversations with writers. Thankfully, I don't know how it is in Britain. But Israeli writers always enjoy the illusion that they have the ears of our politicians. Let's walk to the pastry table and you tell me everything what's on your mind.

Ian: It's the settlements.

Shimon: Yes, the settlements. Terrible business. Terrible. Shortsighted. We are digging our own grave. When I started the settlement project, we had young men and women with values. They treated their Palestinian neighbors like...

Ian: You started it?

Shimon: But of course, Ian. Those were the days. Just after the Six Days War. Covering the homeland in "a dress of concrete and cement". Fence and stockade. After 1967, we were at the beginning again. We were reborn again and then reborn again again. God has granted us a second start, to do in Judea and Samaria what the generation before us did in Jaffa and Lydda and Haifa. We were so beautiful, so energized!

Ian: I don't know what to say.

Shimon: If you care for the advice of an old Israeli politician, when you don't know what to say, mention the holocaust!

Ian: Mr. President, no offense, but I need to insist. I came here to be honored for my "contribution to the freedom of the individual in society" and I must tell you that people all over the world are shocked by the way Palestinians in this city even are denied their freedom.

Shimon: Ian, I am with you on that. It is terrible. But as you said yourself in your speech, unlike Hamas, at least we "have embraced freedom of thought and open discourse" and we at least have "a precious tradition of a democracy of ideas in Israel." What can I do that there is nothing like that on the other side?

Ian: That's not what I read from wikileaks. But why don't you just stop the confiscations here in Sheikh Jarrah?

Shimon: We are ready to talk about everything. We and the Palestinians need to negotiate. It's not that complicated. We give a little. They give a little. And we reach a compromise. But if they don't want to talk.. if they only want to do shows and publicity stunts like that damned flotilla...

Ian: You need an international treaty to stop kicking defenseless people out of their homes?

Shimon: This khummus dip is excellent. Too bad I have to watch my cholesterol. The doctors believe they can keep me alive forever...and sometimes I start believing that too.

Ian: I was hoping I could make a difference.

Shimon: But you did already. Wait! Stand still for the camera. Here, give me your hand. Like that. Thank you guys! You're doing a fantasic job. Ian, you have no idea how much the moral support of people like you means to us. Here on the Jordan River is the frontier of Western Civilization, the frontier of Europe. We stand between you an the hords of fanatical Islam that want to take over the world. Egypt can succumb to the masses. Bahrain can succumb to the masses. Jordan can succumb to the masses. But Israel will always remain a civilized, Western country. We protect you from them with our lives on the line, so that, as you said in your speech, you can live in Britain, "in relative stability." Never forget that!

Ian: What about the Palestinians here in Jerusalem?

Shimon: It's tragic. But their situation here is temporary.

Ian: what about the settlements?

Shimon: Ian, Ian! You know about Bismark, do you? Bismark said that politics are like sausage. If you want to be able to enjoy them, you don't want to see how they are made. What's going on here is not very pretty. But this is the price you pay for keeping your country prosperous and safe. And all we ask in return is a little appreciation and a little support. I'll tell you what, next year, you should bring your wife and I'll take you around the desert in a Jeep. The desert is amazing on a starry night.

Ian: Why do I suddenly feel so dirty?

Shimon: you have dip on your tie.

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