Israeli Novelist's View Of Gaza Conflict

The many Israelis who have been watching the conflict in Gaza include Amos Oz. The Israeli novelist is known as a dove. He co-founded a group called "Peace Now" in 1978. Yet, he tells Steve Inskeep that he initially supported Israel's air strikes on Gaza.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

One of the Israelis closely watching the conflict is Amos Oz. When written on the page, his name looks to many Americans like Amos Oz. And many Americans have seen it on the page, because he may be Israel's best-known novelist, and has been translated into many languages. He's also well-known as a so-called dove. He co-founded a group called Peace Now in 1978.

Mr. AMOS OZ (Israeli Author; Co-Founder, Peace Now): I deal with language all my life. I get up in the morning, I drink a cup of coffee, and I start working with the language. This gives me a certain obligation to respond publicly to political events, to questions of life and death.

INSKEEP: Amos Oz first supported Israel's strikes on Gaza. He believed it was a legitimate response to years of Hamas rocket fire. But now he's speaking out in favor of a cease-fire.

Mr. OZ: I objected the ground offensive. I think this went out of proportion. I felt after the aerial raid, Israel should have stopped the operation and wait to see the response from Hamas. If Hamas ceases the fire, then there would have been a cease-fire.

INSKEEP: Amos Oz, I'd like to know, because you've written so movingly of Israel's past - more than 60 years of existence - how you think Israelis' view of a conflict like this is shaped by their past?

Mr. OZ: Well, everything is shaped by the past. The Israelis are haunted by the fact that they have been besieged for decades. They are haunted by the historical ordeal of the Jewish people, by the sense of being alienated by many countries and nations, and by world public opinion. This provides the Israelis with a certain sense of stubbornness. The world will criticize us anyway, whatever we do, whichever way we behave, so let's be tough.

INSKEEP: Is that your point of view sometimes?

Mr. OZ: No, it's not. I don't believe in toughness for toughness sake.

INSKEEP: Although when you write - you talk about people feeling besieged - you write about Israel's war for independence in the late 1940s, and being a child and being besieged in Jerusalem.

Mr. OZ: Yes. I wrote about this state of siege which is - ironically, makes me capable of image the plight of the civilians in Gaza under Israeli siege.

INSKEEP: What do you imagine is going through their minds, based on what went through yours as a young person?

Mr. OZ: Fear, loneliness, despair, inability to do anything. Unlike myself as a child under the Arab siege in 1948, those Palestinians can not really uprise against Hamas, and they are caught between the Israeli fire and the Hamas operation.

INSKEEP: You're saying that that feeling of being besieged, which you personally felt as a child, makes people stubborn and determined later on. Is that part of the reason that you think that besieging Palestinians in Gaza will not work for Israel in the long term? It makes them stubborn?

Mr. OZ: In the long term, the only thing that will work for Israel and for the Palestinians is the unavoidable one and only political solution, which is a two-state solution. The Palestinians are in Palestine for the same reason for which the Norwegians are in Norway. It is their homeland, and they are not going away. The Israelis are in Israel for exactly the same reason, and they're not going anywhere, either. They cannot become one happy family because they are not one and because they are not happy, and because they are not even a family. They are two unhappy families. Now the good news - and there are some good news from the Middle East, although you people only get the bad news all the time. The good news is that the majority of the Israeli Jews and the majority of the Palestinian Arabs know now in their heart of hearts that in the end of the day, there will be a partition and a two- state solution.

INSKEEP: I wonder if you think that it's possible to get past the cycle that your country and that region seem to have been in for so long. Someone finally is forced into a kind of cease-fire - such as what you describe - and maybe it works for an hour, maybe it works for a day; sometimes, it works for a year. But the violence comes back in a different form.

Mr. OZ: Well, as I told you, we know the solution. We know the way out. We don't like this way out. It's like a patient who has to undergo a painful surgery, an amputation. And dividing the country into two nation states is going to be like an amputation, both for the Israelis and for the Palestinians. But it has to be done, and it's time for bold leadership on both sides to carry out this solution and to do what people know has to be done.

INSKEEP: Amos Oz is the author of many novels, short stories and a memoir called "A Tale of Love and Darkness". Thanks very much.

Mr. OZ: Thank you for having me.

INSKEEP: We're hearing many perspectives on the conflict. On Monday, we spoke with the historian Michael Oren, who's a spokesman for Israel's military and wearing their uniform. Tomorrow, we'll hear from the Palestinian intellectual Sari Nusseibeh.

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