Amos Oz

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Amos Oz
עמוס עוז
Amos oz675.jpg
Oz in 2005
Born Amos Klausner
(1939-05-04) May 4, 1939 (age 76)
Jerusalem, Mandatory Palestine
Occupation Writer, Novelist and Journalist
Nationality Israeli
Notable awards
Spouse Nily Oz-Zuckerman

Amos Oz (Hebrew: עמוס עוז; born May 4, 1939, birth name Amos Klausner) is an Israeli writer, novelist, journalist and intellectual. He is also a professor of literature at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba.

Oz's work has been published in 42 languages, including Arabic, in 43 countries. He has received many honours and awards, among them the Legion of Honour of France, the Goethe Prize, the Prince of Asturias Award in Literature, 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.

Since 1967, Oz has been a prominent advocate of a two-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.


Amos Klausner (later Oz) was born in Jerusalem in 1939, where he grew up at No. 18 Amos Street in the Kerem Avraham neighborhood.

His parents, Yehuda Arieh Klausner and Fania Mussman, were immigrants to Mandatory Palestine, who met while studying at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. His father's family was from Poland and Lithuania, where they had been farmers, raising cattle and vegetables near Vilna.[1] His father studied history and literature in Wilno, Poland and hoped to become a professor of comparative literature but never gained headway in the academic world. He worked most of his life as a librarian at the Jewish National and University Library.[2]

Oz's mother came from Rivne (now in the Ukraine, but then part of the Russian Empire). She was a highly sensitive and cultured daughter of a wealthy mill owner and attended Charles University in Prague where she studied history and philosophy. She had to abandon her studies when her father's business collapsed in the Great Depression.[3]

Oz's parents were multilingual (his father claimed he could read in 16 or 17 languages, while his mother spoke four or five different languages, but could read in 7 or 8) but neither was comfortable speaking in Hebrew. They spoke with each other in Russian and Polish[4] although the only language they allowed Oz to learn was Hebrew.

Many of Oz'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 literature department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Oz and his family were not religious, considering it irrational. Oz, however, attended the community religious school Tachkemoni since the only alternative was a socialist school affiliated with the labour movement, to which his family was even more opposed. The noted poet Zelda was one of his teachers. After Tachkemoni he attended Gymnasia Rehavia.

His mother, who suffered from depression, committed suicide when he was 12. He would later explore the repercussions of this event in his memoir A Tale of Love and Darkness.

Amoz Oz in 2005

Two years after the suicide of his mother, at the age of 14, he became a Labor Zionist, left home, and joined kibbutz Hulda.[5]

There he was adopted by the Huldai family and changed his last name 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." By his own account he was "a disaster as a laborer... the joke of the kibbutz." When Oz first began to write, the kibbutz allotted him one day per week for this work. When his book My Michael turned out to be a best-seller Oz quipped that he had become "a branch of the economy" and the kibbutz allotted him three days. By the 1980s he was given four days for writing, two for teaching, while continuing to take his turn as a waiter in the kibbutz dining hall on Saturdays.”[6]

Oz did his Israel Defense Forces service in the Nahal brigade, participating in border skirmishes with Syria. After concluding his army service he was sent by his kibbutz to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where he studied philosophy and Hebrew literature. He graduated in 1963 and began work as a teacher of literature and philosophy. He subsequently served with a tank unit in the Sinai Peninsula during the Six-Day War and in the Golan Heights during the Yom Kippur War.[6][7]

Oz married Nily Oz-Zuckerman in 1960. The couple has three children. The family continued to live at kibbutz Hulda until 1986, when they moved to Arad in the Negev for the sake of their son Daniel's asthma. Their oldest daughter, Fania Oz-Salzberger, teaches history at the University of Haifa.

Literary career[edit]

Oz's earliest publications were 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. Subsequently Oz averaged a book per year with the Histadrut press Am Oved. Ultimately Oz left Am Oved for the Keter Publishing House, which offered him an exclusive contract that granted him a fixed monthly salary regardless of output.

Amos Oz, 2013

Oz has published 38 books, among them 13 novels, four collections of stories and novellas, children’s books, and nine books of articles and essays (as well as six selections of essays that appeared in various languages), and about 450 articles and essays. His works have been translated into some 42 languages, including Arabic.[6]

Oz's political commentary and literary criticism have been published in the Histradrut newspaper Davar and Yedioth Ahronoth. Translations of his essays have appeared in the New York Review of Books. The Ben-Gurion University of the Negev maintains an archive of his work.

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.[8][9]

Political views[edit]

Oz with his wife Nily in New York in 2008

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. He does not oppose (and in 1991 advocated[7]) the construction of an Israeli West Bank barrier, but believes that it should be roughly along the Green Line, the pre-1967 border.[6] 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.[7]

He is opposed to Israeli settlement activity and was among the first to praise the Oslo Accords and talks with the PLO.[7] In his speeches and essays he frequently attacks the non-Zionist left and always emphasizes his Zionist identity. He is perceived as an eloquent spokesperson of the Zionist left.

For many years Oz was identified with the Israeli Labor Party and was close to its leader Shimon Peres. When 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).[6] 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.

Oz was a supporter of the Second Lebanon War in 2006. In the Los Angeles Times, he wrote: "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. [10][11]

Oz changed his position of unequivocal support of the war as "self-defense" in the wake of the cabinet's decision to expand operations in Lebanon.[12]

A day before the outbreak of the 2008–2009 Israel–Gaza conflict, Oz signed a statement supporting military action against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Two weeks later he advocated a ceasefire with Hamas and called attention to the harsh conditions there.[13] He was quoted in the Italian paper Corriere della Sera as saying Hamas was responsible for the outbreak of violence, but the time had come to seek a cease-fire.[14] Oz also said that if innocent citizens were indeed killed in Gaza, it should be treated as a war crime, although he doubted that bombing UN structures was intentional.[15]

In a New York Times editorial in June 2010, he 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... Israel has to sign a peace agreement with President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah government in the West Bank.”[16]

In March 2011, Oz 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”.[17] The gesture was criticized by members of rightist political parties,[18] among them Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely.[19] Assaf Harofeh Hospital canceled Oz's invitation to give the keynote speech at an awards ceremony for outstanding physicians in the wake of this incident.[20]

Oz supported Israeli actions in Gaza during the 2014 Israel–Gaza conflict, criticizing Hamas alleged tactic of using human shields, saying: "What would you do if your neighbor across the street sits down on the balcony, puts his little boy on his lap, and starts shooting machine-gun fire into your nursery? What would you do if your neighbor across the street digs a tunnel from his nursery to your nursery in order to blow up your home or in order to kidnap your family?"[21][22]

Awards and recognition[edit]

  • 2015 – The UCLA Israel studies program annual award.
  • 2015 – A world premiere of the film "A Tale Of Love And Darkness", based on Amos Oz's novel, takes place in Cannes international film festival. The film is written, directed and starred by Natalie Portman.

In 2008 he was number 72 on the Foreign Policy/Prospect list of 100 top public intellectuals.[1]

Published works[edit]



Short stories[edit]

  • Oz, Amos (January 22, 2007). "Heirs". The New Yorker. Retrieved March 28, 2011. 
  • Oz, Amos (December 8, 2008). "Waiting". The New Yorker 84 (40): 82–89. Retrieved May 22, 2009. 
  • Oz, Amos (January 17, 2011). "The King of Norway". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on 28 February 2011. Retrieved January 17, 2011. 

See also[edit]


External links[edit]