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Amos Oz, Israel’s Best Known Novelist and An Advocate of Middle East Peace, Is Profiled

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
November - December 2004

Amos Oz, Israel’s best known novelist and a long time advocate of Middle East peace — and a two-state solution, is profiled by David Remnick in The New Yorker (Nov. 8, 2004).  

Comparing his own experience as a young man while the British occupied Palestine with that of young Palestinians under Israeli occupation today, Oz notes that, “As a child, I had nightmares — genetic, family nightmares — of uniformed aliens coming to our little street to kill us: the British, the Arabs, the Romans, tsarist soldiers, anyone from the long Jewish martyrology. My father bowed to the uniformed British, the same reaction he had in Lithuania. In 1967, suddenly I was the uniformed alien. I was in the West Bank in uniform with a submachine gun released for reserve service,and those Palestinian kids were willing to kiss my hand for chewing gum.”  

Remnick writes that, “After the Yom Kippur War, advocates of the two-state solution were no longer considered members of the Flat Earth Society, and, in 1978, Oz, along with many other liberal activists and former Army officers and reservists, created the grassroots movement called Shalom Achshav — Peace Now ... Oz believes (as the pollsters do) that both the Israeli and the Palestinian public support a two-state solution — a realistic, ‘clenched-teeth compromise’ — but neither Sharon nor ... Arafat, has the courage to carry the process to its conclusion. (‘The patients are ready for the operation, but the surgeons are cowards,’ he says.) That is now fairly conventional wisdom, at least in moderate and liberal circles. What Oz adds to the political debate is an emotional, imaginative dimension ... Oz tries to envisage a series of improbable gestures that would break the deadlock: Suppose Sharon gave a Sadat-style speech to the Palestinian National Assembly expressing empathy, saying we’ll do anything to heal the Palestinian wounds short of committing suicide, saying it will be hard but you will have a state with a share of Jerusalem. Suppose he said it on the anniversary of the massacre of Palestinians at Deir Yassin. Can you imagine the earthquake? And suppose Arafat went on Palestinian television and said that after a hundred years of bloody wars I finally realize this is the Jewish national home, too. We need a two-state solution. Can you imagine? ... But no one is ready to do it.”  

In the political imaginations of Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs, “Europe” continues to play an overwhelming role. Oz declares: “The Jews and the Arabs had the same oppressors. The Europeans were guilty of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, and the Europeans were guilty of colonialism in the Middle East and, the exploitation of the Arabs. In Brecht’s poems, the oppressed join hands and march together. But the two children of the same oppressive parent can often be the worst of enemies. The Palestinians look at me, the Israeli, as an extension of white, sophisticated, colonizing Europe, which returned to the Middle East to do the same old thing: dominate, humiliate, like European crusaders. The other side, the Israelis, see the Palestinians not as fellow-victims but as pogrom-makers, Cossacks, Nazis, oppressors in kaffiyehs and mustaches playing the same ancient game cutting Jewish throats for the fun of it. You will hear this in many synagogues: They are pharaohs, the goyim, and we are lambs surrounded by seventy wolves. Neither party will ever give up this sense of victimhood and will forever dispute who was David and who was Goliath.”  

In his own family, Oz points out, many members were right-wing Zionist Revisionists. “The remarkable thing is that those people were not fascists,” he says. “In their own views, they rejected any racist notion. They just happened to maintain that the Arab nation has a land mass three times as big as Europe,’ whereas the Jewish people have nothing. ... The environment was very right-wing, very militaristic, intoxicated by the fact that Jews can fight and fight well. Thrilled by it in a childish way. Remember, this is two years after the Holocaust. In those years, the Jews were never accused of being bullies or thugs; they were accused of being cowards who hide and will not fight back ... There was a strong element of self-righteousness and short-sightedness in the early Zionists, and they overlooked, the presence of the Arab population and its significance. They had the self-righteousness of victims preoccupied with their own victimhood to the degree that they could not even imagine that they could commit any kind of injustice to another. ...”  

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