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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Il était une grande voix d’un Israel intime et de paix

by Muriel Steinmetz

He was a Great Voice for an Israel Intimate and Peaceful

Translated Tuesday 1 January 2019, by Henry Crapo

In early 2018 Aharon Appelfeld disappeared. At the end of 2018, it was Amos Oz’s turn, Israel’s other great voice. He died last Friday of cancer at the age of 79.

A fervent peace activist, co-founder in 1978 of the movement Peace Now, a movement opposed to colonization in the Palestinian territories, Amos Oz is the recipient of many literary prizes, including the Femina étranger pour la Boîte noire [1] (1988), the very prestigious Peace Prize of German booksellers, received in 1992, and the Goethe Prize (2005) in Germany. He was regularly nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature.

He has been able to give a voice to all components of his country’s society, multiplying the angles of attack and the diversity of human figures. "My characters are neither symbols nor flag bearers. They are flesh and blood," he told us in 2016. His novels are therefore undoubtedly of universal significance.

The latest, "Judas" (Gallimard, 2016), is an intimate account from Jerusalem, eleven years after the first Arab-Israeli war of 1948, at the end of which the city was divided. It is a literary and intellectual closed door, during which political discussions, theological controversies and didactic reflections take place around the figure of the one who betrayed Christ. The book, which when it came out made teeth grind, carried iron in history by cultivating the paradox in the Jesus affair.

Since 1966, it has been hailed as the "Israeli Camus".

A committed man, an influential intellectual, appreciated in Israel for his humour, was loved as much as hated because of his positions, Amos Oz has always called for the emergence of a Palestinian state having to coexist with the State of Israel.

He had just published an essay, "Dear Fanatics: Three Reflections" (Gallimard, October 2018). He wrote: "Without the rapid two-state option, it is very likely that, in order to prevent the establishment of an Arab state trapped between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, there will be a temporary dictatorship of fanatical Jews, a racist regime that will oppress both Arabs and their Jewish opponents. "He added: "This kind of dictatorship will not last. No minority oppressing a majority has survived in modern history. And, in the end, it will be necessary to expect the creation of an Arab state between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, following an international boycott or a bloodbath, or both. "

In addition to novels, Amos Oz composed tales with a subtle enigma. We remember, for example, "Suddenly in the deep forest", which, published in 2006, imagined a cursed people with the particularity of having no animals. Everyone, from the rooster to the cricket, including spiders and fish, had once deserted the area. The oldest inhabitants of the area no longer wanted to talk or remember this disappearance, which some people experienced as a shame. This parable was to be read as that of the Jewish past, the Palestinian present, or both. Recently, Amos Oz had often strongly denounced Prime Minister Netanyahu’s policy and the government’s "growing extremism". "I have often been called a traitor in my life. It is an honour," he told us in 2016.

Born Amos Klausner on May 4, 1939, on Amos Street in Jerusalem, Palestine, he is the only son of a Zionist immigrant couple from Eastern Europe (Lithuania and Poland) who fled the rise of Nazism. He will choose the pseudonym Oz, which means "strength, courage" in Hebrew. His parents were suspicious of religion. He always kept a certain distance from it. His mother committed suicide at the age of 38. He was only 12 years old. He evokes this intimate tragedy in "Une histoire d’amour et de ténèbres" (Gallimard, 2004), an autobiographical text as much as a biography of Israel, which earned him an unpublished popular success. From his first writings (notably "Mon Michaël", published in 1966, reissued by Gallimard in 1995), he was hailed as the "Israeli Camus".

Married and father of three children, he lived for most of the year in Arad, in the northern Negev desert. In 1990, he left the Labour Party to join Meretz, further to the left, which focused its attention on peace with the Palestinians. In 2016, he told us: "Israel’s policy is very bad. The Palestinians had to have a state. I was against colonization as early as the 1967 war. The country is very small. The Palestinians have nowhere to go. The situation is the same for Israelis. They are similar. Why don’t they sleep together? After a century of hate, you can’t have sex all at once. It would be better to first divide the house into two separate apartments. When will we get the same clock? It is difficult to be a prophet in a country that already has so many. »

[1The Black Box


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