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Amos Oz, May 2005
May 4, 1939
Jerusalem, Mandate Palestine
|Occupation||Writer, Novelist and Journalist|
|Notable award(s)||Bialik Prize (1986)
Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (1992)
Légion d'honneur (1997)
Israel Prize (1998)
Ovid Prize (2004)
Goethe Prize (2005)
Prince of Asturias Award (2007)
Heinrich Heine Prize (2008)
Since 1967, he has been a prominent advocate and major cultural voice of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Oz's work has been published in some 41 languages, including Arabic in 35 countries. He has received many honours and awards, among them the National Order of the Legion of Honour of France, the Goethe Prize, the Prince of Asturias Award, the Heinrich Heine Prize and the Israel Prize. In 2007, a selection from the Chinese translation of A Tale of Love and Darkness was the first work of modern Hebrew literature to appear in an official Chinese textbook.
His parents, Yehuda Arieh Klausner and Fania Mussman, were Zionist immigrants from Eastern Europe. His father studied history and literature in Vilnius, Lithuania, and after immigrating, worked as a librarian and writer. His maternal grandfather had owned a mill in Rovno, Ukraine, but moved with the family to Haifa in 1934. Many of Klausner's family members were right-wing Revisionist Zionists. His great uncle Joseph Klausner was the Herut party candidate for the presidency against Chaim Weizmann and was chair of the Hebrew literary society at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
He and his family were distant from religion, disdaining what they perceived to be its irrationality. Yet he attended the community religious school Tachkemoni as the alternative was the socialist school affiliated with the labor movement, to which his family was decidedly opposed in their political values. The noted poet Zelda was one of his teachers. After Tachkemoni he attended Gymnasia Rehavia.
His mother, who had suffered from depression, committed suicide when he was 12, repercussions of which he would explore in his memoir A Tale of Love and Darkness. Soon after, at the age of 15, he became a Labor Zionist, left home, and joined kibbutz Hulda.
There he was adopted by the Huldai family (whose firstborn son Ron now serves as mayor of Tel Aviv) and lived a full kibbutz life. He also changed his surname to "Oz", Hebrew for "strength". Asked why he did not leave Jerusalem for Tel Aviv, he later said, “Tel Aviv was not radical enough – only the kibbutz was radical enough.” However by his own account he was “a disaster as a laborer... the joke of the kibbutz.” When Oz first began to write, the kibbutz gave him one day a week to write; when his book “My Michael” became a best-seller, and he had become “a branch of the farm”, three days; and in the eighties he had four days for writing, while teaching for two days and taking turns as a waiter in the kibbutz dining hall on Saturdays.”
Like most Israeli Jews, he served in the Israel Defense Forces. In the late 1950s he served in the kibbutz-oriented Nahal unit and was involved in border skirmishes with Syria; during the Six-Day War (1967) he was with a tank unit in Sinai; during the Yom Kippur War (1973) he served in the Golan Heights. After Nahal, Oz studied philosophy and Hebrew literature at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, where he was sent by the General Assembly of the kibbutz. After graduating in 1963, he worked as a teacher of literature and philosophy.
His earliest publications were a few short articles in the kibbutz newsletter and the newspaper Davar. His first book Where the Jackals Howl, a collection of short stories, was published in 1965. His first novel Elsewhere, Perhaps was published in 1966. Following this, he began to write prolifically, publishing an average of one book per year on the Labor Party press, Am Oved. He ultimately left Am Oved, despite his political affiliation, and went to Keter Publishing House and signed an exclusive contract that granted him a fixed monthly salary regardless of frequency of publication.
Oz married Nily Oz-Zuckerman in 1960. The couple has three children. They remained in kibbutz Hulda until they moved to Arad in the Negev desert in 1986, due to their son Daniel's asthma. Their oldest daughter, Fania Oz-Salzberger, teaches history at the University of Haifa.
Oz has written 18 books in Hebrew, and about 450 articles and essays. His works have been translated into some 40 languages, including Arabic. In 2008 he was Nr. 72 on the Foreign Policy/Prospect list of 100 top public intellectuals.
Besides his fiction, Oz regularly publishes essays on the subjects of politics, literature, and peace. He has written extensively for the Israeli Labor newspaper Davar and (since the demise of Davar in the 1990s) for Yedioth Ahronoth. In English, his non-fiction has appeared in various places, including the New York Review of Books. Oz is one of the writers whose works literary researchers study from a fundamental approach. At Ben-Gurion University a special collection was established dealing with him and his works.
In his works, Oz tends to present protagonists in a realistic light with an ironic touch while his treatment of the life in the kibbutz is accompanied by a somewhat critical tone. Oz credits a 1959 translation of American writer Sherwood Anderson’s short story collection Winesburg, Ohio with his decision to “write about what was around me.” In A Tale of Love and Darkness, his memoir of coming of age in the midst of Israel’s violent birth pangs, Oz credits Anderson’s “modest book” with his own realization that "the written world … always revolves around the hand that is writing, wherever it happens to be writing: where you are is the center of the universe." In his 2004 essay "How to Cure a Fanatic" (later the title essay of a 2006 collection), Oz argues that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a war of religion or cultures or traditions, but rather a real estate dispute — one that will be resolved not by greater understanding, but by painful compromise.
Oz is among the most influential and well-regarded intellectuals in Israel. This regard is also evident in the societal realm where he regularly speaks out, although not as frequently as he did in the mid-1990s. Oz was one of the first Israelis to advocate a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after the Six-Day War. He did so in a 1967 article "Land of our Forefathers" in the Labor newspaper Davar. "Even unavoidable occupation is a corrupting occupation," he wrote. In 1978, he was one of the founders of Peace Now. Unlike some others in the Israeli peace movement, he does not oppose (and in 1991 advocated) the construction of an Israeli West Bank barrier, but believes that it should be roughly along the Green Line, the pre-1967 border. He has also advocated that Jerusalem be divided into numerous zones, not just Jewish and Palestinian zones; including, one for the Eastern Orthodox, one for Hasidic Jews, an international zone, and so on.
He has opposed settlement activity from the beginning and was among the first to praise the Oslo Accords and talks with the PLO. In his speeches and essays he frequently attacks the non-Zionist left and always emphasizes his Zionist identity. He is identified by many right-wing observers as the most eloquent spokesperson of the Zionist left. His views can be encapsulated as follows:
Two Palestinian-Israeli wars have erupted in this region. One is the Palestinian nation's war for its freedom from occupation and for its right to independent statehood. Any decent person ought to support this cause. The second war is waged by fanatical Islam, from Iran to Gaza and from Lebanon to Ramallah, to destroy Israel and drive the Jews out of their land. Any decent person ought to abhor this cause." (April 7, 2002)
(Unofficial translation from Hebrew) Our biggest problem is the disappearance of social solidarity. A gross egotism is developing here, that isn't even ashamed of itself. Twenty years ago a girl from Bet Shean said on television "I'm hungry", and the doorposts shook (Isaiah 6:4). Yes, partly it was just lip service, but at least there was lip service. Today, even if she died of hunger on a live broadcast, nothing would happen, apart from high ratings and copywriters using the incident for their purposes. Anyone who once naively thought that the engine of the entrepreneurs and the rich would pull behind it a long train in which the rear cars would also go forward, was mistaken. That didn't happen. The engines are moving, and the rear cars are left behind on the rusting tracks. (September 6, 2002)
For many years Oz was identified with the Israeli Labor Party and was close to its leader Shimon Peres. When Shimon Peres retired from party leadership, he is said to have named Oz as one of three possible successors, along with Ehud Barak (later Prime Minister) and Shlomo Ben-Ami (later Barak's foreign minister). In the 1990s, Oz withdrew his support from Labor and went further left to the Meretz Party, where he had close connections with the leader, Shulamit Aloni. In the elections to the sixteenth Knesset that took place in 2003, Oz appeared in the Meretz television campaign, calling upon the public to vote for Meretz.
In July 2006, Oz supported the Israeli army in its war with Lebanon, writing in the Los Angeles Times "Many times in the past, the Israeli peace movement has criticized Israeli military operations. Not this time. This time, the battle is not over Israeli expansion and colonization. There is no Lebanese territory occupied by Israel. There are no territorial claims from either side… The Israeli peace movement should support Israel's attempt at self-defense, pure and simple, as long as this operation targets mostly Hezbollah and spares, as much as possible, the lives of Lebanese civilians. 
Like fellow Israeli novelists David Grossman and A.B. Yehoshua, Oz changed his position (of unequivocal support for a military act of "self-defense" at the outbreak of the war) in the face of the cabinet's later decision to expand operations in Lebanon. Grossman shared their view at a press conference as he argued that Israel already exhausted its self-defense right.
On December 26, 2008, a day before the Israeli offensive into Gaza commenced, Oz signed a statement published as an ad in Yediot Aharonot supporting military action against Hamas in Gaza. Two weeks later in a Yediot Aharonot article he advocated a ceasefire with Hamas and called attention to the harsh conditions there. He was also quoted in the Italian paper Corriere della Sera as saying "Hamas is responsible" for the outbreak of violence, but "the time has come to seek a cease-fire." He called for a "complete cease-fire, in which they don't fire at us, in exchange for us easing the blockade of the Gaza Strip." Oz also condemned some of the actions taken by the Israeli defence forces and called them war crimes.
In an editorial in the New York Times of June 1, 2010, criticizing aspects of Israel's policy towards Gaza and its interception of the Marmara boat, Oz wrote: “Hamas is not just a terrorist organization. Hamas is an idea, a desperate and fanatical idea that grew out of the desolation and frustration of many Palestinians. No idea has ever been defeated by force ... To defeat an idea, you have to offer a better idea, a more attractive and acceptable one. Thus, the only way for Israel to edge out Hamas would be to quickly reach an agreement with the Palestinians on the establishment of an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as defined by the 1967 borders, with its capital in East Jerusalem. Israel has to sign a peace agreement with President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah government in the West Bank — and by doing so, reduce the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to a conflict between Israel and the Gaza Strip. That latter conflict, in turn, can be resolved only by negotiating with Hamas or, more reasonably, by the integration of Fatah with Hamas.”
In March 2011, Israeli media reported that Oz had sent imprisoned former Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti a copy of his book A Tale of Love and Darkness in Arabic translation with his personal dedication in Hebrew: “This story is our story, I hope you read it and understand us as we understand you, hoping to see you outside and in peace, yours, Amos Oz”. The gesture was criticized by members of rightist political parties. He was singled out for published criticism by the Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely. The incident led Assaf Harofeh Hospital to cancel Oz's invitation to give the keynote speech at an awards ceremony for outstanding physicians.
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