Thursday, 13 December 2012

Too Much Certainty, Too Few Teaspoons

(This is a very long post, but, as I'm going down the coast for a bit and then it's Christmas, it may have to last
a while. If I don't manage to do any more posting before then, Happy Christmas to all.)

On Radio Three recently I heard Amos Oz talking about the situation in Israel and Palestine. By the end, my
impression was that one of the central problems in the struggle between the two entities is that the extremists on both sides seem unable to question their own positions; both are equally sure that they - and only they - are right. However, as Amos Oz points out, this is one of those unusual situations where there is actually right on both sides; both parties have legitimate claims.

Anyway, rather than giving my comments, I thought I would simply transcribe what Oz said, because it really is so full of insight and intelligence. I think I've rarely heard anything so good on the subject - and, if I have, I think it's usually been from exactly the same source, Amos Oz himself. He does seem to me to be not only a wonderful writer but one of the wisest spokesmen in his part of the world.

Here is a link to the audio of the talk I listened to.  Here is my transcript of it:

Philip Dodd: My guest today, Amos Oz, was born in Jerusalem in 1939 and has lived not only through the founding of Israel but through the almost terminally intractable and often unforgiving dispute between the Palestinians and the state of Israel   He's been called the national conscience of Israel, perhaps sometimes a controversial conscience. As long ago as 1967, he called for a two-state solution to the conflict and was a founder of Peace Now. But he is also the author of over 30 novels and many essays, as well as one of the great post-war memoirs, A Tale of Love and Darkness, about childhood, the birth of Israel and the suicide of his mother. His family were Zionist immigrants into Jerusalem and Amos Oz went on to live in a kibbutz and to fight in two wars - he was in a tank unit during the 1967 Six Days War - and he's marinaded himself in the life of his country. Even his novels show that loyalty. He once said that a translation of Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg Ohio 'helped me to write about what was around me'. He's just published a brace of essays, one entitled 'Between Right and Right', a reference to both Israel and the Palestinians, and another called 'How to Cure a Fanatic.' Both were originally lectures, given in German in 2002, and are now published in English. They go deep into the wound that is the Palestinian-Israel conflict, as unafraid to mock the sentimentalities of the European left as to oppose 'the fanatic gene in all of us.' That's his phrase. It's not surprising that Amos Oz is often cited as one of the most important intellectuals in the world. Let us greet him.

Amos Oz: I have always regarded the clash between Israeli and Palestinian as a tragedy in the classic sense of the term 'tragedy' - a clash between right and right, a clash between two, powerful, convincing, genuine claims over the same small country. The disputed land of Israel/Palestine is very small indeed. It is about the size of Wales. It makes so much fuss about itself you will think it is as big as China, but actually it is a small plot of land, and the Palestinians claim it as their only homeland in the world, and they are right. The Palestinians are in Palestine for the same reason for which the Norwegians are in Norway and the Dutch are in Holland. They have no other homeland.

We Israeli Jews claim the same land for the same reason. We have no other homeland in the world. Jews as individuals, yes, they found home in many countries. Jews, as a people, as a nation, never had a homeland, except for their historical homeland in the land of Israel.

Now, two powerful claims clashing with each other for more than a hundred years. The two peoples cannot live together as one happy family, because they are not one, because they are not happy and because they are not even family. They are two unhappy families. The only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a partitition of the land, a division of the house into two smaller apartments. I think this is called in English a semi-detached house.

A two-state solution: yes, I have been - my colleagues and I have been - advocating a painful solution and a two-state solution forever - since 1967 at least. The Czechs and the Slovaks have given us a good example of peaceful separation, peaceful divorce. There was a country called Czechoslovakia. At some point the two nations, the Czechs and the Slovaks, decided that they were not happy together. They peacefully divided the Czechoslovak republic into the Czech Republic and the Slovak republic and they have lived more or less happily ever after. This is the solution for Israel/Palestine.

I don't expect a sudden honeymoon for Israelis and Palestinians once a redeeming formula is discovered. It doesn't work like this. It is not that somebody will find the magic formula and the Israelis and the Palestinians will hug one another like longlost brothers in tears - 'Oh brother, take the land, who cares about the land, give me your love and forgiveness.' That is unlikely to happen. The best we can hope for is a clenched-teeth compromise - not a honeymoon, but a divorce.

And let me tell you, this is going to be a very funny divorce, because the two divorcing parties are definitely staying under the same roof, and they will have to make the complicated decision of who gets bedroom A and who gets bedroom B and what about the living-room, and, the apartment being very small, we will have to make spatial arrangements about the bathroom and the kitchen.Very inconvenient, but infinitely preferable to the present condition of domination and submission, oppression and terrorism, mutual unhappiness and mutual hatred. Maybe, once we divide the house into a two-family unit - soon after we do that - we 'll start hopping over the partition to have coffee together with each other. Eventually, one day, we might even laugh at our past stupidities. Eventually, one day, we may be able to cook our meals together in the kitchen - by which I mean the shared economy - and then the sky is the limit, perhaps a federation, who knows.

But step one ought to be a painful and honest divorce between Israelis and Palestinians. Otherwise, the suffering, the misery, the hopelessness, will go on forever. The real rift in Israel/Palestine is no longer the rift between Israelis and Palestinians; it is the battle between the fanatics on both sides and the moderates and the prgamatics on both sides. The majority are the pragmatics and they are unhappily ready for a two-state solution. Public opinion surveys in both Israel and Palestine show, month after month,  that the silent majority, both in Israel and in Palestine, is ready to accept, with clenched teeth - but ready to accept - a partition and a two-state solution.

No-one is happy about it. Will there be dancing in the streets in Israel and in Palestine, once the two-state solution is implemented? There will not be dancing in the streets. But they will accept it. The leaders don't have the courage to do what is unavoidable, what is crucial, what is necessary to do. And I accuse the leaderships on both sides in not having the courage to carry out the surgery for which the patient is unhappily ready.

I don't belittle the strength of the fanatics on both sides - the Islamic fundamentalists, the Islamic Jihad, the Hamas on the Palestinian side; many of the West Bank settlers - not all of them, but many of the West Bank settlers - on the Israeli side.

And, by the way, the image of Israel in the media is very distorted. When I see Israel on British television, or American television for that matter - or any other European television - I see about eighy per cent fanatic settlers and ultra-orthodox zealots, about nineteen per cent heartless soldiers on the road blocks in the occupied territories, and one per cent 'wonderful intellectuals', like myself, who criticise the government and want peace.

This is not at all Israel. In fact, seventy or eighty per cent of the Israeli Jews live on the coastal plain. They are pragmatic. They are compromise-oriented. They don't trust the Arabs - and the Arabs don't trust the Jews: there is no trust. But they are willing to live in a two-state solution. This Israeli majority is noisy, hearty, temperamental, pushy, argumentative. Every line by a bus stop in Israel is likely to catch a spark and turn into a fiery street seminary on politics, history, religion and the real purpose of God, and the participants of such a street seminary between total strangers, while differing on political and metaphysical good and evil, are nevertheless elbowing their way to the top of the line. We are a very Mediterranean people; we belong in a Fellini movie, not an Ingmar Bergmann film.

Now all around us the much hoped for Arab spring is rapidly turning into Islamic winter - rigid, fanatical, fundamentalist, uncompromising, extremist. This is happening in different ways in different Arab countries. But whoever hoped to witness in the Middle East a repetition of the collapse of the Communist bloc in the early nineties must be bitterly disappointed - and I am one of those. However, the hope is not lost. Let us always remember that the fanatics are the minority.

Now the Israeli peace movement is not a replica of the European pacifist movements. We are not in the business of better red than dead. It wouldn't make sense in the Israeli case. We are not in the business of turning the other cheek to the enemy. It won't make sense. We are peaceniks, not pacifists. Whereas the slogan of the American pacifists during the Vietnam war was, 'Make Love, Not War', my slogan vis a vis the Palestinians is 'Make Peace, Not War'.

After all, the opposite of war is not love, it is peace. Many sentimentalists in Europe tend to confuse peace with love, with compassion, with forgiveness, with understanding - these words are not synonymous. Peace is made between enemies. And you make peace with your enemy, not because your enemy is wonderful and not because the enemy is loveable and not because you are ready to fall for the enemy. You make peace with the enemy, because the enemy is an enemy.

And I believe in peace between enemies - peace in clenched teeth. It is a mistake to assume that step one ought to be an improved understanding between the parties, sympathy between the parties, empathy between the parties, and after that peace can be signed. Throughout history it works the other way round. First governments signed a legal document - a peace treaty - with clenched teeth, and sometimes with mal-intentions. After that, sometimes, there takes place a gradual emotional de-escalation, which may take years - and may even take generations.

The condition of the Israeli peace movement is not becoming easier. My colleagues and I have been advocating a two-state solution for almost forty years now. Forty years. And we have been telling our own people, the Israeli people, that once Israel withdraws from the occupied territories and removes the settlements from the occupied territories, peace will prevail.

Well, in 2005, Prime Minister Sharon, of all people, evacuated the Israeli army and the Israeli settlements from Gaza. Unilaterally, without an agreement. Without a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Thirty-six Israeli settlements were wiped off and removed overnight. The Israeli military withdrew from Gaza to the last inch, to the last centimetre. The result was not peace; the result was an attack from Hamas from Gaza on Israel, which received in the course of those six years no less than 10,000 rockets and missiles on Israeli towns and settlements. It makes it very hard for the Israeli peace movement to go on advocating an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank.

But I am not advocating a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank. I am advocating an agreement. I'm advocating a compromise. Now the word 'compromise' has a very negative connotation, especially in the ears of young idealists. They tend to think that compromise is dishonest, compromise is lack of honesty, compromise is devious, compromise is weak, compromise is unidealistic. Not in my vocabulary, ladies and gentlemen. In my vocabulary, compromise is synonymous with the word 'life' and where there is life there ought to be compromises.

And the opposite of compromise is not idealism, and the opposite of compromise is not devotion, and the opposite of compromise is not honesty. The opposite of compromise is fanaticism and death. And on fanaticism I am a bit of an expert. My childhood in Jerusalem rendered me an expertise in comparative fanaticism. If you ever hear of a university or a school starting a course in comparative fanaticism, I hearby apply for a teaching job. I am qualified. And I'm not joking. Perhaps it is high time that every school and every university in the world starts a couple of course in comparative fanaticism, because it is all over us.

I don't believe in Huntingdon's clash of civilisations - east and west, Islam and Christianity. No. I think the battle of the 21st century is between the fanatics of all colours and all faiths and the rest of us. There is difference in scope but not in essence between Bin Laden and people who blow up abortion clinics in America or burn down synagogues and mosques in Europe. They are fanatics, big or small, but they are fanatics. And fanaticism is on the rise in Islam, in Christianity in some places and, alas, yes, also in Judaism. Our problem is fanaticism.

There are difficult issues between Israelis and Palestinians - boundaries, settlements, security, water, the holy places in Jerusalem. Almost all of those issues could be resolved by a compromise - almost all of them. And we even know the nature of the compromise. And I dare say that even the politicians know the content of the compromise.

Take for example the issue of the disputed holy places in Jerusalem. My grandmother had the answer for this problem. Many years ago when I was a little boy my grandmother explained to me in simple words the difference between Jew and Christian - not between Jew and Muslim but between Jew and Christian. She said the following, she said:

"You see, my boy, the Christians believe that the Messiah has been here once and he is coming again some day. We Jews believe that the Messiah has not been here and he is still to come. Over this disagreement,"

said my grandmother,

"you cannot imagine how much bloodshed and hatred and persecution and oppression there has been. Why?"

she said,

"Why can't everybody simply wait and see? If the Messiah comes saying, 'Hello, it's nice to see you again', the Jews will have to concede. If, on the other hand, the Messiah comes saying, 'How do you do, I'm pleased to meet you', the entire Christian world will have to apologise to the Jews. Until then, live and let live."

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the answer to the question of the disputed holy places in Jerusalem. Let no flag wave over those holy places. Let them be accessible to every worshipper of every religion and every faith and every creed. And let no-one claim sovereignity over those holy places. Comes the Messiah and he - or maybe she - will tell us who is the right proprietor of those holy places.

Finally, I don't like to make predictions and prophecies, especially about the future. There is too much competition in the prophecy business in my country anyway. But I'll give you one prediction: one day, I hope sooner rather than later, there will be a Palestinian embassy in Israel and an Israeli embassy in Palestine and those two embassies will be walking distance from one another, because one of them will be in the Palestinian East Jerusalem and the other one in the Jewish capital, the Israeli West Jerusalem. On this relatively happy note, I am ready for questions, protestations, allegations or cries of anger. Thank you very much.

Philip Dodd: Amos Oz, not only a very fine writer, a wonderful polemicist, but a stand-up comedian. I hadn't quite readied myself for that. We will turn out to the audience, as Amos has invited us to do, but I want to start with three questions that arise from your talk. You'ver read War and Peace in your time, and there is that great chapter where Tolstoy wonders if Napoleon has crossed the rubicon because the troops follow him or whether the troops push him across. Netanyahu was elected. In Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood was elected. On the West Bank even Hamas was elected. One could dispute the legitimacy and as long as I remember reading you you have been saying what you're saying and it's honourable and in many ways it's moving. It feels to me that democracy - not only history, but democracy - is against what you are saying.

Amos Oz: Well, I'm not sure about the democratic intentions and inclinations of Arabs and Jews alike. It's true that the Israelis elected Netanyahu by a narrow majority. It's true that the Egyptians elected Morsi, by a narrow majority. It's true that in Gaza - though not in the West Bank - Hamas carried the day. But, remember, in the Arab world, millions of women don't go to vote. Millions of women don't go to vote. They might have changed the balance. In Israel, many of the people who voted for Netanyahu, voted for Netanyahu because Netanyahu himself adopted the two-state solution. Whether he is serious about it or not is a different question. Whether I trust him or not - the answer is I don't trust him. But at least verbally he adopted the two-state solution. So I maintain that the silent majorities on both sides are unhappily ready for this two-state compromise. Unhappily, they will not be dancing in the streets. And, as you have mentioned War and Peace, let me tell you a quick story, which is relevant and irrelevant at the same time. On the eve of the six-day war in 1967, I was recruited as a reservist in a tank army in the Israeli army on the Egyptian border. The last night before the outbreak of the fighting, I was sitting with my men around a campfire and we were guessing what's going to happen. At some point, the General showed in our midst, the General being the supreme Israeli commander of the Israeli Army on the Egyptian front in that '67 war. There was silence, and the General began to give us his own ideas about the impending battle. He was interrupted after five sentences by a rotund, bespectacled, middle-aged reserve corporal, who said, politely: 'Excuse me, General, have you ever read Tolstoy's War and Peace?' The General said, 'What a question - of course I have read it, many times.' 'Are you aware, General, that you are about to repeat exactly the same conceptual mistake which, according to Tolstoy, the Russians committed in the Battle of Borodino?' In no time, the entire platoon was immersed in a fiery screaming argument on Tolstoy, on War and Peace, on strategy, on literature, on morality, with everyone screaming at the tops of their voices, including the General, including the corporal, including everybody. In the end, it turned out that the corporal was a professor of Russian literature at Tel Aviv university but the general had a degree in philosophy from Jerusalem University high above.

Philip Dodd: I don't quite know what to say after that. Yes, I do. When I hear you say and I have read a great deal of what you write - and you repeated it here - that in a sense it's an extraordinary, very complex, real estate problem, that one has to divide the house, and you say that the issue is that there are two sides to this, the Palestinians and Israel, but actually it's more complex than that - the Americans are there, the Iranians are there, the Soviets used to be there and in certain ways they still are. So this isn't a house with two people in it. The struggle between the Palestinians and Israelis is, in effect, a global struggle.

Amos Oz: Yes, it's part of a global struggle. But let us not forget that the seed of this struggle is in the clash between two small peoples, the Israelis and the Palestinians. The Iranians would not have got involved - they would have had no excuse to get involved, were it not for the Israeli/Palestinian clash. We are the excuse, we Israelis and we Palestinians. America would not be directly involved if there wouldn't have been a conflict. There would have been no reason for American involvement. So I believe we have to deal with the crux of the matter, and the crux of the matter is this tiny little land which is rightly claimed by two equally right claimants.

Philip Dodd: How do you get the others out of the house?

Amos Oz: I don't want to get the others out of the house

Philip Dodd: No, I mean the Iranians and the Americans

Amos Oz: Ah, the Iranians and the Americans - I think that if the Israelis and the Palestinians will reach an agreement - which is not unthinkable, they were pretty close a couple of times, they were pretty close in Camp David in 1999, with the guidance of Bill Clinton, they were pretty close. They were about inches apart. And again during the Olmert government in Israel in 2008 when the distance between the two parties in the negotiation became minimal, they disagreed about 50 or 60 square miles. That is a progress. I mean 20 or 30 years ago the Palestinians failed to even pronounce the word 'Israel', they would resort to a euphemism such as the 'Zionist entity'. The Israelis would not even pronounce the word 'Palestine'; they would say 'the local Arabs', in order to evade the term Palestinians. No longer. Now both know that the other is real and that the other is not going to go anywhere. Are they happy about this realisation? They are not happy about it. But they know it. It's a good basis, it's a good starting point.

Philip Dodd: You've been saying for a long time that Europe is not the model. So I still want to ask you - you 've told me in informal terms, but it'll be a Middle Eastern democracy, there's no doubt for instance that there'll be a theocratic element in Egypt. It seems to me that's unlikely to disappear. Do you think there'll continue to be - or there will be - a theocratic dimension to an Israeli state after this settlement?

Amos Oz: This might be, but I'm not sure, because it depends on what length of time we are talking about. Bear in mind that it took Europe two millenia of bloodshed and hatred - rivers of blood and fire - to become what it is now. I can assure you that we people of the Middle East - we Israelis, we Arabs - are not going to take two thousand years. We are taking too long. We are taking too long. But we are not going to take two thousand years. And we are gonig to spill less innocent blood than the Europeans did on the way. So, before Europe is moralising and patronising the Israelis and the Arabs, let Europe remember the long bloody way it took Europe to be present Europe. We will be quicker. How much quicker I can't tell you, but we will be quicker.

Philip Dodd: Do you think you and I will live long enough to see it?

Amos Oz: That is a question I can't answer, because I don't know my longevity and I wish you a very long life.

Philip Dodd: Two quick questions before we turn out to the audience. The first is you mention being patronised by Europeans, by Americans too?

Amos Oz:  Oh yes, and how - and how. Perhaps even more by Americans than Europeans.

Philip Dodd: There is a wonderful - and what must be in some ways a painful for you - recognition. You lived on a kibbutz and you're honest enough to say people now with whom you profoundly disagree - the settlers - have something of the same spirit driving them that drove the kibbutz people, to go out into, as it were, the wilderness, to make a living, to make a life there. I assume part of the difficulty you see is that settler spirit is deep inside Israeli Jewish DNA?

Amos Oz:  Yes, the settlers carry certain genes of the original Israeli pioneering movement. But those genes in the settlers are, in my humble judgment, very distorted. Because the original Israeli pioneers, the founding fathers and mothers of Israel, the founding fathers and mothers of the kibbutz movement, never aimed at displacing anyone else. They deliberately settled on the empty parts of British Palestine or Turkish Ottoman Palestine before that. They deliberately focussed on the swamps and the desert, whereas the settlers deliberately penetrate the most heavily populated Arab zones on the West Bank. And that is the main difference between the spirit of the founding fathers and mothers and the present day West Bank settlers.

Philip Dodd: Israel has got worse rather than better?

Amos Oz: Israel is a dream come true and, as a dream come true, it is disappointing. This is not about the nature of Israel; it is about the nature of dreams. The only way to keep a dream rosy and perfect and intact is never to live it out. This is true of everything. It's true of writing a novel. It's true of building a country. It's true of living out a sexual fantasy. The only way to keep it perfect is never to live it out. Let me remind you, Israel is, after all, a dream come true. As such, there is a certain disappointment. It is natural, and I am therefore very philosophical about it. Let me add, by the same token, that, as you might have guessed from what I've said here tonight, I love Israel even at times when I don't like it. In fact, I love Israel even at times when I can't stand it, but such juxtaposition happens in the best of familes.

Questioner 1: My name is John Smith and, as John Smith, I am completely English. I have a brother in law who is married to a German girl. They live in Munich. Their son, who is 8, goes to the Jewish school in Munich, and he learns Hebrew, and he tells me I should learn Hebrew too. And the one thing that makes me want to learn it is because I have read your books in translation, loved them, but people say 'His writing creates a new Hebrew language, like Shakespeare created a new language in Elizabethan England'. Do you feel you have created a new language and can I understand you and your books by reading them in translation?

Amos Oz: Well, don't get me started because I can go on about the Hebrew language for the rest of the night. I am not a chauvinist for the country but I'm a terrible chauvinist for the language, it's a wonderful musical instrument. No, I have not created it. Two or three generations of Israeli writers, Hebrew writers, Hebrew speakers, Hebrew dreamers, have revived this ancient language which for seventeen centuries had been as dead as ancient Greek or Latin. Today it is ferociously alive and, yes, I have contributed something to this, something, in a least small way. Writing in today's Hebrew has some things in common with writing in Elizabethan English. A writer or a poet of contemporary Hebrew can still take excessive liberties with the language. Legislate into the language. By which I am not implying that every one of our poets is a William Shakespeare. We don't have more than two or three of those in Tel Aviv right now. (Laughter) But the temptation is there, the temptation to legislate into the language and to take liberties with the language, and the Hebrew language is my musical instrument and my love - it's the love of my life.

Philip Dodd: It's interesting that your parents spoke an extraordinary range of languages but Hebrew was the one they wanted you to learn.

Amos Oz: My parents were polyglots. My father could read sixteen or seventeen languages. He spoke eleven, all of them in a heavy Russian accent. My mother spoke five or six languages. They spoke between them Polish or Russian when they wanted me not to understand and 95 per cent of the time they wanted me not to understand what they were saying, not because they were talking about sex, but because they were talking about Holocaust and calamities. So they spoke Russian and Polish. They read books in German, French and English for culture. But me they taught only Hebrew, not for chauvinism, but for fear. They were afraid, in the 1940s, that, if I knew even one European language, I might be seduced by the deadly charms of Europe and go to Europe and catch my death as so many Jews caught their death in Europe in the 1940s

Questioner 2: My name's Courtney. My question is: Do you think that the international community should be playing more of a role in promoting the two-state solution?

Amos Oz: The international community should extend empathy to both sides and help to both sides. This includes even material help. One of the things we will have to do as part of the solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to resettle hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees in the future state of Palestine. We are not talking the whole of Africa. We are not talking the whole of the third world. We are talking abot two hundred thousand jobs and homes. This is feasible and can be done. At the same time three or four hundred thousand Israeli settlers will have to be removed from the West Bank. This also calls for some international help. So the international community, rather than wave the finger, against the Israelis or against the Palestinians, 'Aren't you ashamed of yourselves?', could extend empathy to both sides.

Philip Dodd: I want to ask you about the life that formed the writer. Tale of Love and Darkness I said, honestly, I think is one of the great post-war memoirs. That world of the thirties and the forties and the early fifties, do you feel it as strong now - or maybe even more strongly now - than you did when you were growing up? Was that the crucible in which you became the writer?

Amos Oz: Well, my mother killed herself when I was twelve and a half. For decades, I suppressed her out of my mind, I suppressed my father out of my mind, I suppressed little me out of my mind. I was angry with everybody. I was angry with my mother for killing herself, as if she ran off with a lover without so much as leaving us a note. I was angry with my father for losing her. And I was angry with myself for being a bad boy, because I assumed if I were a good boy my mother would have stayed. So I erased them from my life.But, in the course of years, the anger subsided and gave room to compassion, curiosity and humour. And these are the driving forces of my writing. I wrote A Tale of Love and Darkness as if I were my parents' parents, as if they were my children, I wrote about them without a single ounce of anger, I wrote about them with endless curiosity about their world, who those people were, where did they come from, why did they come, what did they hope to find in Jerusalem and what did they actually find, what did they fear, what were their apprehensions. I wrote with compassion, curiosity and humour, and yes, these are my motives in writing.

Philip Dodd: Can I add another phrase as well as compassion which is there is a profound elegiac quality to that. I interviewed Colm Toibin, the Irish writer, this morning, whose father died when he was twelve, and he said it's an event from which no child ever recovers.

Amos Oz: Yes, no child ever recovers from a loss of a parent at a young age and especially from a parent's suicide. This is traumatic. This is life-changing. This is what's turned me into what I am. But also what's turned me into what I am are the stories, the bedtime stories which my mother used to tell me. They were scary stories, not the usual bedtime stories, they were gothic stories, they were imaginative stories,and in a sense I write in her stead, I write the stories which she never lived to write.

Questioner 3: My name's Ros and I work here at the Sage Gateshead, which, as you probably realise is most of the time a music venue. We've produced many fine Israeli and Palestinian musicians here, including on the stage you're on now. I think the most famous example of trying to bring these two communities together through music - the ones we know - is Daniel Barenboim's West Eastern Divan Orchestra. Do you find that a useful metaphor for something that gives us hope for the future?

Amos Oz:  Well, Daniel Barenboim's wonderful project of bringing together Israeli and Palestinian musicians is one of many ways of bringing the two communities closer together, and we have to invest every ounce of energy in attempting such an enterprise, as long as we never forget that this is no substitute for a political compromise, for a contract, for an agreement. We have to reach a liveable contract between Israelis and Palestinians, otherwise all the work of bringing the two communities together will be in vain.

Philip Dodd: I want to ask you a couple of questions to end with. Not only to be the Devil's advocate do I want to defend fanaticism, but a fanatic would include St Paul, undoubtedly a fanatic and historically - and you know your history at least as well as me, if not better than I do Menachem Begin, who was an Israeli terrorist or a Jewish terrorist, who was bombing Britain, so that actually Israel is, paradoxically, partly built on the basis of fanaticism - or it is perfectly possible to argue England is, with the killiing of the King Charles II. There is a great line in Shakespeare's The Tempest "These things of darkness I acknowledge mine own." Actually you can't push out fanatics, somehow they have got to be embraced, they have got to be part of the solution.

Amos Oz: I will take your question further away and I will say there is a fanatic gene in almost every one of us. The origin of fanaticism is in the uncompromising self-righteousness, which is unfortunately very widespread. A fanatic is a great altruist; he wants to change you for your own good. A fanatic is more interested in you than in himself. He wants to cure you of your voting habits or your smoking habits or your praying habits. He is interested in you. He is all yours. He falls on your neck with love. He loves you. He wants to change you. If you don't change, he will kill you, for your own good.

Philip Dodd: No, no, no. There's the stand up comedian in you. Sometimes yes, and sometimes no. You understand, this is very important because, as I've said, across the years I've read you, I've been moved by a loyalty you have for a position you have. It seems to me that, even as I listen to you today, you know what ought to be but, as the philosophers say, how to get from 'ought' to 'is' is the most difficult thing ,and it feels as if it is going further away rather than coming closer to your solution. You must at moments, despite the wit, the eloquence - there must be moments of deep despair.

Amos Oz: Of course there are moments of deep despair, but even in moments of despair I ask myself the elementary question: what can I do? I believe that when an individual sees a great fire, he or she has three options: Option 1: Run away quickly and let those who cannot run burn; Option 2: Write an angry letter to the editor demanding that those responsible for the fire are brought to justice; and Option 3: pour a bucket of water on the fire. And if you don't have a bucket fill a glass with water and pour it on the fire. And if you don't have a glass, fill a teaspoon with water and pour it on the fire. I know the teaspoon is very small and the fire is very big but there are many of us and a teaspoon - each of us has a teaspoon, every one of us. So I ask myself what can I do and even in moments of despair I fill my little teaspoon with water and pour it on the fire and I will go on doing this for as long as I live.

Philip Dodd: Amos Oz, thank you.

(All this should also, perhaps, be read within the prism of something a former Ambassador to Israel once said: 'The problem with all the peace initiatives so far is that the Palestinians don't want peace, they want victory'.)


  1. Thank you so much for this transcription. I would never have had the opportunity to hear/see what Amos Oz had to say otherwise.

    I've taken many notes. The main problem is that so much of it is quotable. If you happen to be in the vicinity, expect to see bits of this appearing on my blog in due course.

    1. I'm particularly fond of the pre-battle seminar about Tolstoy's War and Peace. I would join the army if I thought I could get conversation as good as that.