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A FATHER'S GRIEF

Israeli writer eulogizes son killed in conflict

JERUSALEM -- For nearly a month, Israeli novelist David Grossman was silent in support of his country's military assault on Hezbollah. Then, as the army was poised to expand its offensive in south Lebanon, he joined two other literary luminaries to speak against the war.

What Israelis and the world didn't know at the time was that Grossman's son was a tank commander in the eye of the storm. Two days before the conflict ended in a cease-fire, Staff Sergeant Uri Grossman, 20, and his three-soldier crew were killed in that South Lebanon offensive by a Hezbollah antitank missile that pierced their armor.

Yesterday, on the eve of the Jewish Sabbath, Israel Radio broadcast excerpts of the grief-stricken father's eulogy for his son, who was buried earlier in the week at Israel's military cemetery, on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, his family's hometown.

``Uri, you lit up our lives. Your mother and I brought you up lovingly," wrote Grossman, 52. ``It was so easy to love you with all our hearts, and I know that you were happy. I know your short life was a good one. I hope that I was a worthy father for a son like you."

Grossman won international acclaim for his 1987 book, ``Yellow Wind," a bitter, penetrating portrayal of Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The book also secured his reputation as a ``peacenik," after his activist opposition to Israel's first war on Lebanon, in 1982-1985.

Grossman's news conference in Tel Aviv on Aug. 10 with fellow writers A. B. Yehoshua and Amos Oz was among the early, significant cracks in a month of national unity over Israel's assault on Hezbollah. The conflict began in response to the militant group's incursion over the northern border July 12, when its fighters killed three Israeli soldiers on patrol and kidnapped two others.

When the three writers spoke out, they appealed for negotiations with the Lebanese government rather than a wider assault on Hezbollah, the Iranian-sponsored militia that had dominated southern Lebanon since Israel withdrew in May 2000 after an 18-year occupation.

``I won't say anything at the moment about the war in which you were killed," Grossman said in the eulogy. ``We, our family, have already lost this war. The state of Israel will now begin its soul-searching."

Uri Grossman was the middle child of the writer's three children. His father described him in the eulogy as the only ``leftist" in his army unit, one who stuck to his ideals but went unwaveringly into military service as his national duty.

He was among 33 Israeli soldiers who were killed in the weekend offensive that accompanied the countdown toward a United Nations-brokered cease-fire. Word of his death was delayed until after all the other soldiers' deaths were announced because his 24-year-old brother, having finished his own army stint, was on vacation in South America. Israel's military keeps secret the identities of its dead soldiers until family members have been notified.

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