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A mixed blessing for Amos Oz

Israel/Palestine
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An oft-repeated adage in rural Palestine declares wishes of blessings as the only proper sentiment towards the dead. However, after offering the standard platitude, speakers often cleverly hedge their bets by following the positive statement with the reservation of “May God reward him/her in proportion to his/her good deeds.” Somehow, that seems an appropriate way to express my own sense of loss at receiving the news of the death of the star Israeli writer, Amos Oz. I have to admit to his superior literary skill but do have my reservations about his commitment to peace in our shared birth colony of mandatory Palestine.

Leading news media across the globe have eulogized Oz as a prizewinning writer and a fearless peace activist. In the first two days after the official announcement of his departure, Haaretz, the liberal Israeli daily, published nearly a dozen glowing commentaries about his life, literary achievements and ‘enlightened’ political views. Some prominent Israelis felt the country is not the same without him, its star writer, academician and intellectual. And indeed, the man was a gifted narrator and a refined literary craftsman. Alas, throughout his public life he functioned as the literary equivalent of the oxymoronic Shimon Peres, a Nobel Peace prize laureate who introduced nuclear weapons to the middle East. In similar fashion, Oz used his superior skill to apologize for Israel’s aggressions and war crimes, witness the following gem in which he eloquently shared his government’s talking points with the international media during Israel’s 2014 war on Gaza:

“What would you do if your neighbour across the street sits down on the balcony, puts his little boy on his lap & starts shooting machine gun fire into your nursery?”

Every single word and every little brushstroke in the eloquent sentence are selected to maximize the impact of juxtaposing the peaceful Israeli with the terrorist Palestinian without ever using the specific terms. That is fiction writing skill at its best. The validity of the intended message is further fortified by its artful shades. Strangely, the image of the late 12-year-old Mohammad al-Durra cowering next to his father under a hail of bullets in Gaza in 2000 jumps at me from the paragraph. Which should give the reader pause about where Oz and I are coming from: liberal tribal Zionism versus pacifist international egalitarianism.

To the majority of the Israeli public, Amos Oz is known for his persistent campaign in support of the Israeli “peace movement” that advocates for a two-state solution to end the political morass of the Israeli occupation and of the defunct Oslo Accords. Soon after the 1967 war (in which he had fought) Oz started campaigning for an end to the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Yet, at the bottom of such peace sentiments lurked the less-than-innocent ethnic separation monstrosity that Zionists have planned and practiced in Israel from its first inception as a dream in the late nineteenth century. Regardless how he felt about the recently passed Jewish Nation State Law, such Apartheid practices were the inevitable culmination of those racial separation designs.

Oz lived, produced and prospered for a good part of his life in Kibbutz Hulda in our coastal plain. The fact that the original Palestinian farming community by the same name was erased and his kibbutz, along with other Israeli settlements, took over its space, its farming land and even its name, didn’t seem to impact his conscience in advocating for a peaceful ethnic separation of Palestinians from Jewish Israelis. The Nakba of 1948 was a done deed and the place for the Palestinian refugees, if they have to be considered at all, was among their kind on the other side of an agreed border. And till then we will put up a wall. Here then is our man’s argument:

“If there are not two states here, very soon, there will be one,” he wrote in [his 2017 book] Dear Zealots. “If there is one state, it will be an Arab one that stretches from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River. Jews and Arabs can and should live together, but I would find it absolutely unacceptable to be part of a Jewish minority under Arab rule, because almost all the Arab regimes in the Middle East oppress and humiliate their minorities. And more importantly, because I insist on the right of Israeli Jews, like any other people, to be a majority, if only on a tiny strip of land.”

Needless to say, to Mr. Oz, the internationally sanctioned Palestinian refugees’ Right of Return is null and void. No wonder the Joint [Arab] List Chairman, MK Ayman Odeh has said in eulogizing him:

“I met with Amos Oz several times … Even when we argued (quite a bit!), he was a man of partnership; he supported the end of the occupation. He was not afraid to say what was on his mind and did it with unusual talent.”

Amos Oz’s departure is a significant loss to the literary field and to the cause of Israeli liberal Zionism. To non-Zionist peace advocates, his light shined dimly at a distance. May other pure lights continue to shine in our skies.

Hatim Kanaaneh
About Hatim Kanaaneh

Dr. Hatim Kanaaneh is a Palestinian doctor who has worked for over 35 years to bring medical care to Palestinians in Galilee, against a culture of anti-Arab discrimination. He is the author of the book A Doctor in Galilee: The Life and Struggle of a Palestinian in Israel. His collection of short stories entitled Chief Complaint was released by Just World Books in the spring of 2015.

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4 Responses

  1. smithgp
    smithgp
    January 1, 2019, 1:48 pm

    Hatim Kanaaneh: This essay is a welcome antidote to the tedious adulation of the Wizard of Oz we read in almost all commentary since his death. For all his denunciation of the occupation and pretty words, he was at base a rock-solid obstacle to justice. His light indeed shone dimly at a distance.

  2. annie
    annie
    January 1, 2019, 5:18 pm

    throughout his public life he functioned as the literary equivalent of the oxymoronic Shimon Peres, a Nobel Peace prize laureate who introduced nuclear weapons to the middle East.

    love you Hatim!

  3. DaBakr
    DaBakr
    January 1, 2019, 7:05 pm

    A writer, I think it was Kundera , wrote about an argument in heaven between Beethoven and Goethe. The fight was about wether reading an authors works (in this case, Hemingway) or a biography of the authors life was preferable to understanding what they had to say to the world. I don’t believe the argument was won by either Goethe or Ludwig.

    • Misterioso
      Misterioso
      January 2, 2019, 9:57 am

      @DaBakr, et al

      For the record:
      As Israel launched the June 1967 war, Amos Oz served as one of its propagandists:

      “The Israeli military undoubtedly faced real dangers; even so, a very small group of individuals floated an exaggerated, cataclysmic scenario for the benefit of ‘public opinion’ in the West and at home, a key part of Israel’s strategy to this day. When General Israel Tal led his forces into the Sinai desert, he published an order of the day:

      “‘Today we shall go forth to crush the hand that reached out to strangle us. This is a battle that the enemy wanted and the enemy began. We will strike the enemy twice as hard as he hit us . . . For the third time the Egyptian dagger has been brandished at us. For the third time the enemy has erred in its mad delusion of seeing Israel brought to its knees. With blood, fire and iron, this time we shall purge this intention from their hearts.’

      “It sounds insane (the ‘second’ time the Egyptians are supposed to have threatened Israel was in 1956), but it is still part of the Israeli credo, which is why it is so important to know that it was Amos Oz who wrote that text for General Tal. Our truths lie beyond the facts; they are always rapidly subsumed in fiction and mythology.” ( London Review of Books, 1 November 2007, “Orchestrated Panic” by Yitzhak Laor – review of “1967: Israel, the War and the Year That Transformed the Middle East” by Tom Segev, translated by Jessica Cohen.)

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