Amos Oz

Israeli writer, novelist, journalist and intellectual (1939–2018)

Amos Oz (4 May 193928 December 2018) was an Israeli novelist and journalist.

Amos Oz in 2004


  • "Out there, in the world, all the walls were covered with graffiti: 'Yids, go back to Palestine,' so we came back to Palestine, and now the worldatlarge [sic] shouts at us: 'Yids, get out of Palestine.'"
    • A Tale of Love and Darkness (2003).
    • Quoted on U.S. radio program "Fresh Air" (December 1, 2004).
  • The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been a tragedy, a clash between one very powerful, very convincing, very painful claim over this land and another no less powerful, no less convincing claim. Now such a clash between right claims can be resolved in one of two manners. There's the Shakespeare tradition of resolving a tragedy with the stage hewed with dead bodies and justice of sorts prevails. But there is also the Chekhov tradition. In the conclusion of the tragedy by Chekhov, everyone is disappointed, disillusioned, embittered, heartbroken, but alive. And my colleagues and I have been working, trying...not to find the sentimental happy ending, a brotherly love, a sudden honeymoon to the Israeli-Palestinian tragedy, but a Chekhovian ending, which means clenched teeth compromise.
  • The minute we leave south Lebanon we will have to erase the word Hezbollah from our vocabulary, because the whole idea of the State of Israel versus Hezbollah was sheer folly from the outset. It most certainly no longer will be relevant when Israel returns to her internationally recognized northern border.
    • "Try a Little Tenderness" (interview) in Ha'aretz, March 17, 2000.
  • The [political] left are people with an imagination and the right are those without an imagination.
    • "Between Oz and Ayalon" (interview), the Supplement to Shabbat, 21 November 2008, Yedioth Ahronoth, p. 2.
  • The kibbutz way of life is not for everyone. It is meant for people who are not in the business of working harder than they should be working, in order to make more money than they need, in order to buy things they don't really want, in order to impress people they don't really like.
    • "The Great Disruption", In Our Time, BBC Radio 4 (17 June 1999). [1]

Interview (1986)

From We Are All Close: Conversations with Israeli Writers by Haim Chertok (1989)
  • America is too large and too abstract to generalize about.
  • [M]uch like Israel itself, this is a novel about great dreams, about great expectations, about bigger-than-life visions and, indeed, about the morning after and the sad realization that every dream come true is bound to be flawed by coming true. (about Black Box)
  • I am a great believer in compromising. I think the only alternative to compromising is fight to the death on any front, on any level.
  • I don't believe in magnanimous dreams coming true. Every fulfillment of a dream or of an ambition is bound, destined, to be partial, especially because Israel was founded on such a shaky coalition of conflicting and contradicting dreams, master plans and visions. There was no way they all could come true. The other reason, of course, is that since its creation and even since earlier, Israel has been stuck with a nasty, violent conflict with its Arab neighbors. And I don't think an atmosphere of a constant, violent, hateful conflict is the right atmosphere to create the most egalitarian and just society in the world.
  • I'd fight again and again if it would be a matter of life and death for the nation. I would not fight, though, for any other cause. I would not fight for resources. I'd not fight for interests. When it comes to life and death, I have always believed that there is one thing in this world which is more ugly, more sordid, than using violence. And this thing is giving in to violence. In this respect, I am a peacenik not a pacifist. And the Israeli Peace Now movement is clearly not a Make Love Not War movement - not one of those.
  • [H]aving fought a war, you will never be the same human being. Having shot at people, having been shot at by total strangers, you will never be the same again.
  • To me, reconciliation means a political settlement. If I had to entitle my vision vis a vis the Arabs in general and the Palestinians in particular, I would say make peace not love. The name of the game for Israelis and for Palestinians, as I see it, is a fair and decent and painful divorce rather than a honeymoon bed together. I think Israelis and Palestinians should separate land and assets, divide the land between the two nations and live in peace like two ex people rather than try to reconcile in the way of living together. The conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians is not a family dispute. It's a dispute between two families.
  • We have been through many wars in our life. We have been through fighting. I've been on the battlefield myself. This combination of gas and Jewish state certainly hits a chord and touches a nerve. And what's moreover, a German-manufactured gas aimed at Jews in the Jewish state is something which touches a very deep emotion in all of us.
  • [T]ime and again, I mentioned to our soldiers, to our reservists that there is no point in hating every Arab for being an Arab, that many of them are as much victims of this fanaticism and ruthlessness as we are or perhaps more so because they suffer more, and they will suffer more.
  • [T]his has been the condition of Israel for 40 years now. Not so extreme, not so dramatic, but we have always lived under a constant threat. Ever since the creation of this nation, we've never had a single day of a full-scale peace. We have always lived on edge.
  • [I]n the 1940s, Israel was still a dream, a vision and a blueprint. They talked about the impending creation of a Jewish state in messianic terms. This state, which is about to be born, will be pure, angelic, idyllic. It will hold world records in high job morality, gold medal in good behavior, in treating minorities, in social justice. It will be both biblical and modern, both very Jewish and very secular and very democratic and very socialistic. It will be more everything than anyone. But this, of course, was a dream, a fantasy, a vision. And then came the morning after. (And?) OZ: Well, the morning after is a disappointment by definition. I maintain that the only way to keep a dream - not only a Zionist dream, any dream, a sexual dream, a sexual fantasy. The only way to keep any dream or fantasy intact and rosy and perfect and flawless is never to try to live it out. Israel is a dream come true. As such, it is destined to be a disappointment to some extent. And I accept it philosophically.
  • Judaism to me is a culture - first and foremost, the Hebrew language, which I think is the crux of the heritage, a long line of books, creations, certain sensibilities which I identify as Jewish sensibilities, although they are not exclusively Jewish, humor and skepticism, certain anarchism, certain lack of confidence in any regime or government whatsoever, certain utopian ambitions about world reforming. All of these, I identify - this and more, I identify as Jewish heritage, Jewish sensibilities. And all of those are alive and kicking - sometimes kicking too hard - outside the realm of synagogue.
  • Israel is essentially a refugee camp. So is Palestine, which is what makes this conflict so tragic. It's a conflict - tragic conflict between two victims, between two refugee camps.
  • (What are your memories of Israel's Independence Day? You write that your father told you to take it all in because this is something you'd be talking about to your children, to your grandchildren.) OZ: Yes. This was a euphoric night for me. I was about a 9-year-old when the General Assembly of the United Nations, then in Lake Success, resolved by a two-thirds vote to divide Palestine into two sovereign states - Palestinian Arab states and Israeli Jewish states. This, in brackets, is going to be the bottom line of several decades of conflict. In the end, Israelis and Palestinians will come back to a two-state solution, closed brackets. Now, for me that night is a memory which I will carry for the rest of my life. Never in my life, either before or after, have I seen such a burst of public euphoria - euphoria combined with fear of the future. No one was certain of the results. No one was certain whether we are going to survive the impending battle with the Arab world. But this euphoria that the Jews will become an independent nation for the first time in 19 centuries since the eradication of ancient Israel by the Roman armies - by the Roman Empire - that once again, there will be a Jewish regime, a Jewish government and the Jewish law, a Jewish sovereignty. That kind of vindication of people who have always been an oppressed and loathed minority wherever - everywhere except, perhaps, in the United States of America - but everywhere else, the feeling that at last, we are going to have a home; it may be very small; it may be a home the size of a handkerchief or a postal stamp on the map of the world. But nonetheless, it's going to be our home. This euphoria of that night - the singing, the dancing in the street, the hugging between total strangers, the tears, the vows - this I'll never forget, just as I will not forget the deep, sad silence which dawned on the Arab neighborhoods. Our joy was their catastrophe. Their fear and trembling and despair and anger and bewilderment - I will never forget how while half Jerusalem celebrated with fireworks and singing and dancing, the other parts of Jerusalem were erupting darkness, silence and sadness.
  • We regard Judaism as a civilization, not just as a religion. I think there are many, many ways to be a Jew. And one of those ways to be a Jew is to be a nonreligious Jew. The heritage contains, first and foremost, books, texts, spiritual creativity. And religion is only one of the components of this magnificent heritage.
  • For thousands of years, we Jews had nothing but books. We had no lands, we had no holy sites, we had no magnificent architecture, we had no heroes. We had books, we had texts, and those texts were always discussed around the family table. They became part of the family life, and they traveled from one generation to the next — not unchanged, not unchallenged, but reinterpreted in each generation and reread by each generation.
  • The very term 'Israel' means 'he who struggles with God.' This is the literal, dictionary sense of the word 'Israel.' So chutzpah is built into this civilization. A pupil is not expected to obey, to follow and to learn by heart. A student is expected to say a chiddush, which means something new, something original, something of his or her own interpretation of the sacred texts.
  • I've been called a traitor a few times in my life by some of my countrymen. But this is no exception. Almost every person who steps out of the consensus is accused of treason by his contemporaries, or by her contemporaries. In fact, my protagonist in this novel (Judas) says that a traitor is very often simply a person who changes in the eyes of those who despise change, who mistrust change, who are antagonized to every change.
  • I feel much more comfortable talking about the past than about the future. I'm old enough to know that life is full of surprises, and this is true of this country as much as it is true of Israel. I have seen people surprising not only others but even themselves.
  • (In the book (Dear Zealots: Letters from a Divided Land), you describe your childhood as a “little Zionist-nationalist fanatic.” Your attitude changed because of your friendship with a British policeman. What happened?) Amos Oz: He shared with me different perspectives. He taught me to ask questions: If I were a Palestinian Arab whose family lived here for many, many generations, how would I feel about the influx of Jewish immigrants armed with the Bible and claiming exclusive rights to the land? How would I feel if I were a British [man] who shed his blood in order to beat Hitler, and now he is being labeled by militant Israelis, militant Zionists, as a continuation of the Nazis? Those conversations were eye-openers for me, because this was a kind of language I hadn’t heard spoken around me.
  • Very often, fanaticism begins at home. It begins inside the family. It begins with the urge to change our kin, to change our beloved ones for their own good because we think we know better than them what is good and what is bad for them, what is right and what is wrong in their thinking. The urge to change other people contains sometimes a certain fanatic potential.
  • I think loathing begets fanaticism, and in the end loathing begets hatred and violence. I listen to my political rivals sometimes with fear and trembling, sometimes with awe, sometimes with near panic, but always with a curiosity of nuances, curiosity for the language, curiosity for the story behind the “impossible” position. So I think curiosity, a certain capacity of imagining the other, and, yes, sense of humor, all of those are powerful antidotes to fanaticism.
  • If I had to squeeze my wisdom into one word, I would say: "Listen, you don't necessarily have to agree to what you listen to, but listen very carefully. Listen even to voices which you regard as dangerous, abhorrent, terrible, monstrous." Even if your conclusion is going to be, "I have to rebuff those voices, I have to fight them, I regard them as a threat to the future of my people or the future of my family," you still would be wise to listen very carefully to what those other people are saying before you form your position or even your tactic of combating them or struggling against them. Listen with a certain degree of curiosity. Even try to ask yourself: What would it be that would have made me one of them? A different background? A different family? A different upbringing? Different values? A different environment? Could I be one of those? I think this is a very simple practice, but it’s a helpful one.
  • I am old enough to tell you, here in the Middle East, words such as "never," "forever" or "eternity" mean something like six months to 30 years.
  • Israel is a dream come true, and as a dream come true it is flawed, very flawed, and sometimes dangerously flawed or painfully flawed. But this is in the nature of dreams, not necessarily in the nature of Israel.

Quotes about Amos Oz

  • Beyond his obvious intelligence and talent, Oz has done me several kindnesses, something not often associated with creative personalities of the first rank.
    • Haim Chertok in We Are All Close: Conversations with Israeli Writers (1989)
  • Above and beyond the loss of a major literary talent Amos Oz’s passing is a huge blow to Israelis and Jews of conscience for whom he has long been an articulate, spiritual guide on the very elusive quest for peace
  • When I interviewed Amos Oz last month we joked about how the best examples of coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians were in the medical field and the criminal world. Honored to have spent time in this prolific author’s presence…
  • Among Israeli writers, including the vociferous Amos Oz, renowned internationally for his brilliant novels and bold, critical publication of possible solutions for two-state justice, every Israeli writer I met was against the occupied territories and the harsh measures used against the Palestinian inhabitants.
  • We lost a soul, a mind, a heart, Amos Oz, who brought so much beauty, so much love, and a vision of peace to our lives
  • I'm no Amos Oz, who's always ready to take a firm stance...(Interviewer: "In Europe, Amos Oz is often talked about as some kind of modern Israeli prophet.") DR: That's because he can't let go of the old prophetic gestures. It's a nice role and he's comfortable with it, and maybe we need him to open people's eyes. Who knows, maybe it's just me who's cynical. But there's nothing prophetic about the rest of us, particularly the younger writers. Your horoscope can tell you more about the future than we can.
    • Dorit Rabinyan 2002/2003 interview in Literature and War: Conversations with Israeli and Palestinian Writers by Runo Isaksen, translated into English by Kari Dickson (2009)
  • Two months ago in the last interview Amos Oz gave infornt of the cameras he told me: “I want to leave this world with the feeling my words meant something to someone” – well they certainly did!