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Profile of Amos Oz
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|Also Know As:
|Date of Birth:
||4th May 1939
|Place of Birth:
||Jerusalem, Palestine [now Israel]
Amos Oz (born May 4, 1939), birth name Amos Klausner, is an Israeli writer, novelist, and journalist. He is also a professor of literature at Ben-Gurion University in Be'er Sheva. Since 1967, he has been a prominent advocate of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
He was born in Jerusalem, where he grew up at No. 18 Amos Street in the Kerem Avraham neighborhood. Roughly half of his fiction is set within a mile of where he grew up. His parents, Yehuda Arieh Klausner and Fania Musman, were Zionist immigrants from Eastern Europe. His father studied history and literature in Vilnius, Lithuania. In Jerusalem his father was a librarian and writer. His maternal grandfather had owned a mill in Rovno, western Ukraine, but moved with his family to Haifa in 1934.
Politically his family background was right-wing Revisionist Zionists. His 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 its irrationality. Yet he attended the community religious school Tachkemoni. The alternative was the socialistic 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. His secondary schooling took place at the Hebrew high school Rehavia.
His mother committed suicide when he was twelve, causing him repercussions that he would explore in his memoir A Tale of Love and Darkness. He became a Labor Zionist and joined Kibbutz Hulda at the age of fourteen. 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. At this time he changed his surname to "Oz", Hebrew for "strength". "Tel Aviv was not radical enough," he later said, "only the kibbutz was radical enough." However, by his own account he was "a disaster as a laborer... the joke of the kibbutz." [Remnick, 2004, p.91] He remained living and working on the kibbutz until he and his wife Nily moved to Arad in 1986 on account of his son Daniel's asthma; however, as his writing career flowered he was allowed to gradually decrease his time devoted to normal kibbutz work: the royalties from his writing produced sufficient income for the kibbutz to justify this. In his own words, he "became a branch of the farm". [Remnick, 2004, p.92]
Like most Jewish Israelis, he served in the Israeli 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. [Remnick, 2004, p.92]
After Nahal, Oz studied philosophy and Hebrew literature at the Hebrew University. Except for some short articles in the kibbutz newsletter and the newspaper Davar, he didn't publish anything until the age of 22, when he began to publish books. His first collection of stories Where the Jackal Howls appeared in 1965. His first novel Elsewhere, Perhaps was published in 1966. He began to write incessantly, publishing an average of one book per year on the Labor Party press, Am Oved.
Oz left Am Oved despite his political affiliation. He went to Keter because he received an exclusive contract that granted him a fixed monthly salary regardless of frequency of publication.
His oldest daughter, Fania, teaches history at Haifa University.
Oz was awarded his country’s most prestigious prize: the Israel Prize for Literature in 1998, the fiftieth anniversary year of Israel’s independence. In 2005, he was awarded the Goethe Cultural Award from the city of Frankfurt, Germany, a prestigious prize which was awarded in the past to the likes of Sigmund Freud and Thomas Mann for his life's work.
He has written 18 books in Hebrew, and about 450 articles and essays. His works have been translated into some 30 languages.
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 Yediot Achronot. In English, his non-fiction has appeared in various places, including the New York Review of Books.
Amos Oz is one of the writers whose work literary researchers study from a fundamental approach. At Ben-Gurion University in the Negev a special collection was established dealing with him and his works. Amos Oz has been considered in recent years one of the serious candidates to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. He received the Israel Prize in the category of literature in 1998.
In his works Amos Oz tends to present protagonists in a realistic light with a light ironic touch. His treatment of the subject of the kibbutz in his writings is accompanied by a somewhat critical tone.
His books other than novels include:
- In the Land of Israel (essays on political issues)
- Israel, Palestine and Peace: Essays
- Under This Blazing Light
- A Tale of Love and Darkness (2003)
He has written the following novels.
- Where the Jackals Howl (1965)
- Elsewhere, Perhaps (1966)
- My Michael (1968)
- Unto Death (1971)
- Touch the Water, Touch the Wind (1973)
- The Hill of Evil Counsel (1976)
- Soumchi (1978)
- A Perfect Peace (1982)
- Black Box (1987)
- To Know a Woman (1989)
- Fima (1991)
- Don't Call It Night (1994)
- A Panther in the Basement (1995)
- The Same Sea (1999)
Amos 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-90s, when he received news coverage for every utterance.
Oz's positions are notably dovish in the political sphere and social-democratic in the socio-economic sphere. 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. [Remnick, 2004, p.92] In 1978, he was one of the founders of Peace Now. Unlike some others in the Israeli peace movement, he does not oppose the construction of an Israeli West Bank barrier, but believes that it should be roughly along the Green Line, the pre-1967 border. [Remnick, 2004, p.93]
He opposed settlement activity from the very first 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, to the point of self-abnegation as he says, and always emphasizes his Zionist identity. He is identified by many right-wing observers as the most eloquent spokesperson of the Zionist left.
A couple of quotes that express his positions well:
- "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 was retiring from the leadership of the Israeli Labour Party, 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). [Remnick, 2004, p.92]
In the 90s Oz withdrew his support from Labor and went left to Meretz, where he had good, close connections with the leader, Shulamit Aloni. In recent years he described the Labor Party as a party that "in my view almost doesn't exist any more". 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.
Criticism of his politics
Scholars of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been critical of Oz for failing to recognize the PLO's 1976 acceptance of the principles of 1967 UN Security Council Resolution 242, calling on Israel to withdraw to the pre-June 1967 borders and calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state next to Israel. Oz has continued to take the position that the PLO wishes to bring about Israel's destruction, despite their approval of these resolutions. The charge was first raised by Noam Chomsky in his book, Fateful Triangle (South End Press, 1983). This criticism is despite the PLO constitution calling for Israel's destruction for many years afterwards as well as the express pronouncement of members of the PLO leadership calling for Israel's destruction.
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