2019-01-02 / Editorial

The Jewish and literary worlds lost a giant with Amos Oz’s passing

Amos Oz, who passed away on December 28 after a bout with cancer, was Israel’s most well known literary figure. When he died at the age of 79, he had a worldwide reputation both for his writing and his politics.

In his lifetime, Oz created a prolific body of work that included dozens of Hebrew-language novels, novellas, short stories and essays, and hundreds of articles for Israeli and international periodicals. Politically, he was both demonized and lionized for speaking out in support of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Born Amos Klausner in Jerusalem in 1939, Oz moved to Kibbutz Hulda when he was 15. He witnessed the unsteady first days of Israel’s independence, which informed both his work and his political views. In the autobiographical “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” Oz wrote of “barbed wire, minefields, walls, and snipers…” Before attending university, Oz spent three years in the Israel Defense Forces’ Nahal Brigade, then returned to duty during the Six-Day War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Oz’s army experience led him to become an advocate for peace, promoting dialogue between Israelis and Arabs and writing extensively about the conflict. During Israeli military operations in Lebanon and Gaza, Oz called for restraint and peaceful discussion.

Though beloved for his literary contributions, Oz continued to receive both accolades and criticism for his continued vocal support of the two-state solution. A co-founder of the Peace Now group, Oz said in an interview, “The Palestinians are not going anywhere, they have nowhere to go; we have nowhere to go. The house should be divided into two families.” His support of a two-state solution led some to brand Oz a traitor, a title, he said, that he wore “as a badge of honor.”

This past April, he suggested that every country should follow President Trump’s example by moving their embassy to Jerusalem, while opening another embassy in East Jerusalem “as the capital of the Palestinian people.”

Oz’s battle with cancer was not widely publicized, and his death on Friday came as a shock to many. Fania Oz-Salzberger, one of Oz’s daughters, announced his death via Twitter: “My beloved father passed away from cancer, just now, after a rapid deterioration, when he was sleeping at peace, surrounded by the people who love him…”

In Israel, heartfelt tributes to the author poured in from across the political spectrum. Wrote author and journalist Jonathan Freedland, Oz was “a guiding light to all those who longed for a just Israel, living in peace with its neighbors.”

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said, “A tale of love and light, and now great darkness,” referencing Oz’s “A Tale of Love and Darkness.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu said that Oz was one of the greatest authors ever.

Amos Oz’s work will be read for generations. Agree or disagree with his politics, he was a giant of Hebrew literature. 

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