PEACE IN THE LAND OF OZ
AN EVENING WITH AMOS OZ
By: Joseph Puder
A room full of people greeted Amos Oz, one of Israel's premier authors, and currently a visiting professor at Princeton University. The newly opened Jewish Community Center in Scotch Plains, New Jersey had standing room only for the program. Luis Fleischman, the Jewish Community Relations Council Director was more than satisfied by the overwhelming attendance. Mr. Fleischman, a great admirer of Amos Oz, advertised the event widely and was delighted that Oz was being so well received by an adoring audience.
Amos Oz is the epitome of a crowd pleaser. His leftist ideology expressed in universal and humanist terms, salted with appropriate humor, a bit of self-deprecation and tempered by literary insight, produced a winning combination. He entertains and leaves his audience with, easy to remember, literary metaphors such as: the "Israeli-Palestinian dispute is like a Fellini movie with lots of setbacks and surprises" and "having defined the Arab-Israeli conflict as a tragedy, I should remind you that tragedies can be resolved in one of two ways - a Shakespearean conclusion where, in the end, the stage is filled with dead bodies and justice sort of prevails or, a Chekhovian conclusion where everyone is sad, melancholic, shattered, but alive..."
For Oz this analogy from the stage encompasses the very essence of his ideology, as he puts it, in his call to the audience "let us all work for Chekhov" or a Chekhovian solution. He wants us to understand that the Arab/Palestinian-Israel/Jewish conflict is a clash between two peoples who are both right - both justified in their claims to the land. Only a compromise can save us from a Shakespearean ending.
The charm of Oz, together with his political correctness, makes him acceptable to virtually everyone. Moreover, how can one argue with sincere passion as expressed in "I love my country (Israel) even when I do not like it. It happens, as you know, in the best of families." And one gets caught up in Oz's notion that "Israel is a dream come true, as such, it was destined for disillusionment and disappointments. It is in the nature of dreams only to remain rosy and wonderful as long as they remain dreams. This is true about everything: planting a tree, writing a novel, a sexual fantasy, or building a nation. Israel was destined to be less than perfect because it is a dream come true."
Among the founders of the Peace Now movement in Israel, Oz, always articulate and precise in his literary works, is less than clear about his ideology. He now considers Peace now "a pejorative term", agreeing with questioner in the audience, Ferne Hassan, the National Coordinator of an Israeli organization, Peace For Generations, that "peace is an evolutionary process - a slow and painful process". Moreover, he agreed that conflicts do not disappear as a result of finding a marvelous formula - i.e., The Oslo Accords. Conflicts, as General MacArthur said about himself, "fade away" through fatigue and exhaustion. Oz maintains that he is realistic enough to know that the end to the Arab-Israeli conflict will not be a "scene from Dostoyevsky, of brotherly love and of falling into each other's arms begging for forgiveness".
To explain his vision of a solution, Oz uses, metaphorically, Israel and Palestinians as a couple who must get a divorce but have to share the same house. As he puts it, "perhaps they can one day meet in the kitchen for a cup of coffee". A two-state solution is, in Oz's view, the only existing reality.
What is disturbing to many in the American-Jewish community is Oz's usage of moral equivalency - a term coined by Professor Paul Eidelberg of Bar-Ilan University in Israel. Oz habitually presents the intentions of Palestinian-Arabs to be the same as those of Israeli-Jews. He makes no distinction between Israeli democracy and adherence to human rights and the lack of these values in the Palestinian society or the Arab-Muslim world in general. Nor does he qualify the that even the most extremist of Jews have never killed women and children indiscriminately - there are no Israeli-Jewish suicide bombers who blow up buses in urban centers with the aim of killing innocent civilians.
Oz must also be aware that Israeli schools do not teach hatred and revenge against Palestinians. This is common in Arab schools, however, and no attempts are being made by Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority to remedy the situation. Yet, when asked by Rabbi Elazar Teitz of the Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth whether the Palestinians have their own brand of Amos Oz, the author answered in the affirmative. A reply that is wishful thinking since many protesters and human rights activists, more often than not, find themselves subjected to harsh treatment in Palestinian prisons, as in the case of Bassam Eid, the noted human rights activist.
One must take note that what passes for human rights efforts (and, they are limited, at best) in the Arab world and among the Palestinians, concerns only the plight of their fellow Muslims. There are no efforts made on behalf of equal and human rights for Jews, Christians or, for that matter, their own women. Oz, however, promotes an image of a Palestinian society that is just like Israel. In 1994, at the University of Prague, Czech Republic, this writer was in attendance when a local student asked if a "Peace Now" movement existed among the Palestinians. This writer recalls Oz's glowing enthusiasm for the kind of social developments he observed taking place in the Palestinian society. Shortly thereafter, Oz had to swallow a bitter pill as Palestinian suicide bombers, praised by their society, blew up buses in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
In reflecting on the history of the conflict, Oz mentioned Israeli mistakes in 1967 following the Six-Day War but, he omits the fact that at the Khartoum Summit, when Israel as much as offered to relinquish the territories for a genuine peace, the Arabs announced to the world the famous "Three No's" - Amos Oz's idealism and sincere efforts on behalf of peace cannot change the fact that the Palestinians are simply not ready or willing to make true peace. They refuse to abandon the calls for "armed struggle" and terrorism - as agreed upon in the Oslo Accords, as well as their obligation to amend the clauses of the P.L.O. Covenant that calls for the elimination of the Zionist entity - that is, the State of Israel. Oz stated that "the good news is that the Israelis recognized, however painfully, the reality of the Palestinian identity, and the Palestinians accepted, however bitterly, the reality of Israel". Oz is correct in the first part - the second part is yet to be realized.
Amos Oz's presentation is like poetic inspiration. His words capture one's thoughts and soul and his hopes melt his audience's hearts. Unfortunately, it has done little the affect the actions, attitudes and psyche of the Palestinian people and their polity.
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