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Saturday, February 14, 2009

A life in writing: Amos Oz Interview by Aida Edemariam

Amos Oz works in a study that has the subterranean feel of the basement flat in which he grew up in 1940s Jerusalem - except that up the stairs and outside there are no narrow streets full of refugees fleeing the pogroms of eastern Europe, but blue sky and rocky ochre desert and the clearest air, through which the sound of fighter jets resonates for miles. He was a bookish child, wanted to grow up to be a book; here in Arad, where the Judaean desert meets the Negev and drops towards the Dead Sea, he has created a burrow lined with books, most in Hebrew, a good number by him.

Oz has often protested that his novels - experiments in verse, in epistolary narrative; meditations on family, on, in the case of his novel Rhyming Love and Death, published this week in the UK, how the creative imagination works, the devious way it feeds on reality - are not crude allegory: or, as he has rather impatiently said, a father is not necessarily the government, the mother not necessarily the old values, the daughter not necessarily a symbol of the shattered economy. But when we meet, the Gaza offensive is only just over, Israeli elections are two weeks away (Oz is campaigning for Meretz, a Zionist-left, social democratic party), and it isn't long before politics obtrudes. "I am outraged with both Hamas and the Israelis in this war," he says. "I feel an anger I find difficult to express because it's an anger in both directions."

Do many people feel that way? "I'm not sure. Israelis were genuinely infuriated, as was I, about the harassment and bombardment and rocket attacks on Israeli towns and villages for years and years by Hamas from Gaza. And the public mood was 'Let's teach them a lesson'. Trouble is, this so-called lesson" - which Oz supported - "went completely out of proportion. There is no comparison between the suffering and devastation and death that Gaza inflicted on Israel for eight years, and the suffering, devastation and death Israel inflicted on Gaza in 20 days. No proportion at all." He is appalled by the numbers - "300 dead children. Hundreds of innocent civilians. Thousands of homes demolished" - and while he would like to think that bombing UN structures was accidental, he is also appalled by reports that white phosphorus may have been used, and Dime bombs: "There is no justification. No way this could be justified. If this is true, it's a war crime and it should be treated as a war crime." ...


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