“If I have to tell you in one word what my entire litterary work is all about, I will say families. If you give me two words, I will say unhappy families. If you give me three words, you have to read my works!”
A life’s work summed up in a few words. Amos Oz’s books have been translated into 35 languages reflecting the universal appeal of the Israeli writer, who is also an influential intellectual in his own country. The Prince of Asturias Foundation is the latest body to recognise Oz’s literary achievements, honouring him with this years Prince of Asturias Award for Letters.
He is the author of some 20 novels which explore human nature and familial relations, and probe Israel’s troubled history. In Oz’s case the literary and political paths merge. He is a strong advocate of the two-state solution in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and is very critical of the Israeli settlement of the Palestinian territories. In 1978 he co-founded the Peace Now movement. He spoke to EuroNews at his home in the Negev desert:
EN: “What is Israel today?”
AO: It’s a complex story. Israel is a fulfilled dream, a dream come true. As such it is disappointing. Dreams only remain wonderful and rosy and perfect as long as you don’t fulfill them. Once you fulfill a dream, it is slighlty disappointing”.
EN: “You say the media treats Israel like a bad western movie. Why do they give this image of Israel?”
OA: “Media often portray the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in black and white. Either the Israelis are white and the Palestinians are black, sometimes the Israelis are black and the Palestinians are white. It is not a black and white issue, it’s a tragic clash between right and right. The Palestinians are in Palestine because they have no other land, the Israelis are in Israel because they have no other land. They will have to divide this country and agree upon turning the house into two appartments. There is no alternative”.
EN: “Recently the existence of neo-Nazi groups composed of young Israelis of Russian origin have relaunched the debate on Israeli nationality. In this case should Israel look more closely at what happens at home?”
OA: “I’m not too worried by the fact that half a dozen young Israelis were painting swastikas on the walls. These are common social parts and the exist in every society and I don’t think there should be a such big fuss about it”
EN: “Until a few years ago refusing to do military service would have been a source of shame. Now it seems a legitimate protest. Why?”
OA: “It’s a symptom of normalisation, part of the fact that Israel has been there for 59 years now, a very long time, some people don’t want to be soldiers.”
EN: “Is it a human response? Nothing to do with the political situation or the Lebanon war?”
“It’s human nature, some people don’t want to be soldiers everywhere, in every country. Israel used to be special because of the existential threat, everybody knew that there was an existential threat. I think the existential threat to Israel still exists but I’m not surprised by the fact that some young Israelis simply don’t want to be soldiers.”
EN: “Israel has recent said it regards Hamas-controlled Gaza as a a “hostile entity”. Is it really under a different situation or is the new policy just a change of description?”
OA: “I think Hamas is first and foremost a disaster for the Palestinians. It’s a fundamentalist regime, very similar to the Taliban in Afghanistan. It’s oppressing the Palestinians in Gaza. First and foremost it is a terrible thing for the Palestinians”
EN: “On the northern front there is Syria. Could one hope for a realistic settlement with the Syrians?
OA: “I think Syria is essentially pragmatic. I think Israel and Syria could one day obtain a realistic solution because Syria has a secular and pragmatic regime. I don’t like this regime, I don’t think it’s a good regime but it’s not a fanatical regime”
EN: “If Iranian President Ahmadinejad was here, now, in front of you, what would you say to him?
OA: “Go away! This man speaks like a Nazi and threatens Israel like a Nazi, I won’t have evil in my home”.
EN: “Israel is a country is ready to face war, but is it ready to face peace?
OA: “I think that it is eager to face peace. I think that vast majority of the Israelis are tired and exhausted of the war. The same applies to the Palestinians. And let me tell you something: sometimes “fatigue” is the best solution for a crisis, not only between nations or between communities but even inside the family.”
EN: “You said Europe should stop its moralising and patronising attitude. And yet Europe is among Israel’s major economic partners. Could you call it a difficult family relationship?”
OA: “The relations between the Jewish people and Europe will always be complicated. Let us not forget that the Jews were the victims of Europe for many centuries. Let us not forget that the creation of Israel is partly a result of the victimisation of the Jews by Europe. The Arabs were also the victims of Europe, let us not forget this either. The conflict between Jew and Arab is a conflict between two former victims of Europe, which burdens Europe with a special responsibility to help both sides, not to moralise, not to wag the finger like this, but to help both sides genuinely. I think the Europeans have a sort of inclination whenever they confront an international conflict. They have the tradition to launch an angry demonstration against the bad guy, signing an enthousiastic petition in favour of the good guy and go to sleep feeling good about themselves.”
EN: “When you were a child, your dream was to be a book, not a writer, a book. Which one?”
OA: “It’s a difficult question, it’s like asking me which one of my children I like best. But I would be glad to be a book by Chekhov, a collection of stories by Chekhov, because he’s my idol and in many ways my mentor in literature.”
EN: “At an early stage of your life you changed your family name to Oz. Is it true that if you were to choose now, your choice would be completely different?”
OA: “Maybe it would be different. When I was 14, I rebelled against the values of my father, I decided to become everything my father was not and not to be anything he was. He was an intellectual, I decided to become a farmer. He was a scholar, I decide to become a tractor driver. He was short, I decided to become really tall. It didn’t work but I tried!! And I changed my name to Oz, which in Hebrew means “strength” and “courage”, this is what I needed most at the age of 14 when I rebelled against my father. Now I’m more confident about my strength, I don’t need to put it in my name.”