Interview with Amos Oz

"For Israel, it is a lose-lose situation"

Israel's ground offensive against Gaza is justified but excessive, says Amos Oz in this interview with Dennis Stute. However, the Israeli writer is also critical of the Hamas strategy of attacking Israel from within civilian areas

Amos Oz: I would like to begin the interview in a very unusual way: by presenting one or two questions to your readers and listeners. May I do that?

Go ahead!

Oz: Question 1: What would you do if your neighbour across the street sat down on the balcony, put his little boy on his lap and started shooting machine gun fire into your nursery?

Question 2: What would you do if your neighbour across the street dug a tunnel from his nursery to your nursery in order to blow up your home or in order to kidnap your family?

With these two questions, I pass the interview to you.

Of course we are now already in the middle in the interview. I take it that – just like in the case of the second Lebanon war in 2006 and the Gaza offensive in 2009 – you support the present Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip?

Oz: No, I only support limited military response and not unlimited military response, as I did in 2006 and as I did later on in the previous fighting in Gaza.

Where do you draw the line?

Oz: Destroy the tunnels wherever they come from and try to hit strictly Hamas targets and no other targets.

There seems to be a problem here. The tunnels are an elaborate system and difficult to find. The entries are hidden in public and private buildings, so you would have to do house-to-house searches - which implies a civilian toll. The same applies to destroying rocket launchers in civilian areas…

Oz: Well, I am afraid that there can be no way in the world to avoid civilian casualties among the Palestinians as long as the neighbour puts his child on his lap while shooting into your nursery.

An Israeli soldier in a Hamas tunnel (photo: picture-alliance/dpa)
An Israeli soldier in a Hamas tunnel. According to Israeli author Amos Oz, Israel should "destroy the tunnels wherever they come from and try to hit strictly Hamas targets and no other targets"

Is the analogy of the child on the lap really appropriate? Gaza is densely populated and Hamas positions are inevitably in civilian areas…

Oz: Yes, and this is Hamas' strategy. This is why for Israel, it is a lose-lose-situation. The more Israeli casualties there are, the better it is for Hamas. The more Palestinian civilian casualties there are, the better it is for Hamas.

Would you consider the present ground offensive to be limited or unlimited?

Oz: I think in some points it is excessive. I don't have detailed information on what is actually happening on the ground, but to judge from some of the hits that the Israeli army caused in Gaza, I think at least in some points the military action is excessive; justified, but excessive.

So what is your suggestion?

Oz: My suggestion is to approach Abu Mazen [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas – ed.] and to accept the terms – which the whole world knows – for a two-state-solution and co-existence between Israel and the West Bank: two capitals in Jerusalem, a mutually agreed territorial modification and removal of most of the Jewish settlements from the West Bank.

When Ramallah and Nablus on the West Bank live on in prosperity and freedom, I believe that the people in Gaza will sooner or later do to Hamas what the people of Romania did to Ceausescu. I do not know how long it will take, but it is destined to happen, simply because the people in Gaza will be very jealous of the freedom and prosperity enjoyed by their brothers and sisters on the West Bank in the state of Palestine. This, in my view, is the solution, although this solution cannot be implemented in 24 hours or 48 hours.

Can you imagine a Palestinian state that is not hostile towards Israel?

Oz: Absolutely. I believe that the majority of the Palestinians are not in love with Israel, but they do accept with clenched teeth that the Israeli Jews are not going anywhere, just like the majority of Israeli Jews – unhappily and with clenched teeth – accept that the Palestinians are here to stay. This is a basis not for a honeymoon, but perhaps for a fair divorce just like the case of the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

But that conjures up the image of a Palestinian state with an economy in turmoil, a weak government that cannot rein in radical groups, and one that may use hostility toward Israel to stay in power.

Oz: That depends on how much support and material aid the new Palestinian state gets from Israel, from the wealthy Arab countries and from the rest of the world.

Many people argue that the two-state-solution is dead, given how far the building of settlements and roads in the West Bank has proceeded.

Oz: Well, I have seen some years ago Prime Minister Ariel Sharon remove all the Jewish settlements and the Jewish military from Gaza in about 36 hours and without bloodshed. I'm not suggesting that that will repeat itself in the West Bank so easily, but I believe that nothing in the world is irrevocable except death.

Nevertheless, Israel's right-wing government has a strong support base among the settlers.

Oz: It is a right-wing government leaning on a centrist and dovish Party called Yesh Atid. And it is in the hands of this centrist and relatively dovish party to decide the future of this right-wing government.

You have been talking about a long-term solution. But what form could a short-term agreement take?

Oz: The present hostilities will only stop, unfortunately, when one of the parties or both of them are exhausted. This morning I read very carefully the charter of Hamas. It says that the Prophet commands every Muslim to kill every Jew everywhere in the world. It quotes the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and says that the Jews controlled the world through the League of Nations and through the United Nations, that the Jews caused the two world wars and that the entire world is controlled by Jewish money. So I hardly see a prospect for a compromise between Israel and Hamas. I have been a man of compromise all my life. But even a man of compromise cannot approach Hamas and say: 'Maybe we meet halfway and Israel only exists on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.'

Hamas is presently demanding that the blockade of the Gaza Strip be lifted…

Oz: I am absolutely for it. I think that the blockade should be removed. I think plenty of international, Arab and Israeli resources should be pumped into the Gaza strip in return for effective demilitarisation. This is a proposal that Israel ought to make immediately.

Would that not send out the message that rocket attacks are a feasible means of exerting pressure?

A Palestinian man in front of a burning power plant in Gaza after it was hit by Israeli shelling on 29 July 2014 (photo: Getty Images)
On 29 July, the Israeli army hit the only power plant supplying Gaza City with power (pictured above). The targeting of this plant has exacerbated the massive damage already caused to civilian infrastructure in Gaza since the start of the Israeli offensive to stamp out militant rocket fire and destroy Hamas tunnels

Oz: If the return is an effective demilitarisation of the Gaza strip, I am sure at least 80 per cent of Israeli Jews will endorse such a deal – even in the present militant mood.

Are you among the 85 per cent of Israelis who want the offensive to continue until the strategic goals of destroying the tunnels and rockets are reached?

Oz: The only alternative to continuing the Israeli military operation is simply to follow Jesus Christ and turn the other cheek. I never agreed with Jesus Christ about the need to turn the other cheek to an enemy. Unlike European pacifists, I never believed the ultimate evil in the world is war. In my view, the ultimate evil in the world is aggression, and the only way to repel aggression is, unfortunately, by force.

That is where the difference lies between a European pacifist and an Israeli peacenik like myself. And if I may add a little anecdote: a relative of mine who survived the Nazi Holocaust in Theresienstadt always reminded her children and her grandchildren that her life was saved in 1945 not by peace demonstrators with placards and flowers but by soldiers and submachine guns.

What effect do the constant hostilities have on people?

Oz: A very bad effect. It increases the hatred, the bitterness, the suspicion, the mistrust. But this is the case with every war. It is a common sentimentalist assumption to hope that somehow the enemies will start understanding each other and liking each other and eventually they will reconcile and make peace. Throughout history, things have always worked the other way round. Enemies, with their hearts full of bitterness and hatred, sign a peace contract with clenched teeth and revengeful feelings. Then, in the course of time, eventually there may come a gradual emotional de-escalation.

Fifty years ago you wrote that "even an unavoidable occupation is a corrupting occupation."

Oz: I do not always agree with myself, but here I still agree with myself. Occupation is corrupting, even if it is unavoidable. Brutality, chauvinism, narrow-mindedness, xenophobia are the usual syndromes of conflict and occupation. But the Israeli occupation of the West Bank is no longer unavoidable.

Had it not been you who started the interview, I would have asked: How are you?

Oz: Well, personally I am not very well. I am just back from hospital after three surgeries and I am slowly recovering at home between one air raid siren and the next. During the air raid sirens we go to the shelter and wait there for a few moments and then try to continue our lives until the next alarm.

You were unable to take shelter in hospital...that seems terrifying.

Oz: No, it is not. I have lived a long life and I have myself been on the battlefield two times. So it is only terrifying when I think of my grandchildren.

How secure can Israelis feel?

Oz: How secure can Jewish people feel on this planet? I think not about the last 20 or 50 years but about the last 2,000 years. But I will tell you what my hope and prayer for the future of Israel is: I would like to see Israel removed once and for all from the front pages of all the newspapers in the world and instead conquer, occupy and build settlements in the literary, arts, music and architecture supplements. This is my dream for the future.

Interview conducted by Dennis Stute

© Deutsche Welle 2014

Editors: Rob Mudge/Deutsche Welle and Aingeal Flanagan/Qantara.de

Amos Oz, born Amos Klausner, is a renowned Israeli novelist, journalist and professor of literature. His works have been translated into 42 languages, including Arabic. Oz, who was born in Jerusalem, is an advocate of the two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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Comments for this article: "For Israel, it is a lose-lose situation"

Qantara says it seeks to build bridges “with the Islamic world.” (“The Arabic word ‘qantara’ means ‘bridge,’” it notes.)
The project “represents the concerted effort” of four major German institutions, including this one: “The Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung (Federal Center for Political Education) supports the efforts of all interested citizens to learn more about politics. The center’s mission is to promote understanding of political issues, to reinforce democratic awareness and to strengthen citizens’ willingness to engage in political work.”
The “Islamic world” would seem to include the Gaza Strip, while efforts to “promote understanding of political issues” would seem to warrant the exclusion of propaganda.
Why, then, does Qantara allow the self-proclaimed Israeli “peacenik” Amos Oz to fuel Israel’s war machine?
It’s easy for him to denounce aggression. Doesn’t Israel only defend itself?
But wait a minute. Who’s killing whom?
Who’s blowing up whose homes?
And who’s kidnapping whom? (Hint: check out Israel’s widespread practice of “administrative detention.”)
Oz begins the interview by asking, What would you do, if your neighbor put a child on his lap and started shooting at you? Here’s a question for Mr. Oz: Were the four boys who were blown to smithereens on Gaza’s beach sitting on a militant’s lap, or were they playing soccer?
The claim that Hamas is using civilians as human shields is as baseless now as it was in 2008/9. As human rights organizations have documented ad nauseam, the misuse of individuals as human shields is a typical Israeli war crime, while there’s no evidence that Hamas has done the same.
Leaving aside that Israel, as the occupying power, does not have the right to bomb one inch of Palestinian territory, and that Palestinians are not legally barred from the use of force in their struggle for self-determination: Were there Hamas tunnels underneath the sleeping children in the UN school? Were the donkeys, killed in front of the building, also Hamas? Kind of like the 31,000 chickens mowed down – “systematically,” according to the Goldstone Report – by Israeli armored bulldozers during the 2008/9 Gaza invasion?
If Qantara seeks to “reinforce democratic awareness,” how can it allow Oz to advocate for the overthrow of an elected government (which, incidentally, thwarted a coup in 2007)? How dare he make the end of the illegal and inhuman blockade conditional on good behavior? Indeed, why is he pointing his finger at Palestinians when entire families are being wiped out as he speaks?
If Qantara seeks to build bridges, how can it describe Oz as an “advocate of the two-state solution” after he has just perverted the term’s meaning? He claims, “the whole world knows” it means “co-existence between Israel and the West Bank.” In fact, the whole world knows – and reaffirms annually in the UN General Assembly – that the entire Gaza Strip together with the entire West Bank, including East Jerusalem, constitutes one single unit: the occupied Palestinian territory designated for Palestinian self-determination and statehood.
If Qantara wants “interested citizens to learn more about politics,” what’s the point in having Oz, the novelist, present fiction as fact? His interview is pedagogically useful only as an exercise in the dissection of state propaganda.
The facts are available from UN bodies, human rights organizations, doctors, journalists, and other witnesses on the ground, while insightful analysis is available from American-Jewish scholar Norman G. Finkelstein. Those longing to hear from a sane Israeli Jew can turn to journalist Gideon Levy who now needs a bodyguard because, unlike Oz, he is a true dissident.
Israeli intelligence officials have conceded years ago that the odious Hamas charter is no longer relevant. Yet, here we have Oz saying, “This morning I read very carefully the charter of Hamas.” It’s a morbid obsession he shares with Alan Dershowitz, whose work he reads “with thrill.”
Insofar as Qantara is “funded by the German Foreign Office,” it is perhaps inevitable that Oz is given a platform, especially after Raji Sourani was given one. (“Balance”!) But shouldn’t any self-respecting journalist oppose the dehumanization of an oppressed people? And shouldn’t a publication devoted to “dialogue with the Islamic world” take extra care to avoid vilification of Palestinians? Finally, aren’t the images coming out of besieged, bombed, burning Gaza eerily reminiscent of the images of the smoldering Warsaw Ghetto, and shouldn’t Germans in particular feel compelled to speak out and stop this madness?
In Ari Shavit’s bestseller, My Promised Land, Oz is dubbed “the chief rabbi of Israel’s peace congregation.” The truth is, Amos Oz’s performances in the service of state power are as deserving of contempt and ridicule as those by Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev.

Maren Hackmann-...04.08.2014 | 08:42 Uhr