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Culture

A Manifestation of German-Israeli Dialogue

Israeli writer Amos Oz will receive the Goethe Prize from the city of Frankfurt on Sunday. DW-WORLD spoke with him about his work, his ties to Germany and his political activities.

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Oz: "Literary and political work helps people to ged rid of stereotypes"

Born in Jerusalem in 1939, Amos Oz is one of the most famous Israeli writers. He has already received the peace prize of the German book traders' association and the 1998 Israel prize. Oz supports the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and is a co-founder of Shalom Achshav (Peace Now), Israel's largest extra-parliamentary movement and the country's oldest peace movement. He will receive the Goethe Prize of the city of Frankfurt on Sunday.

DW-WORLD: First of all, Mr. Oz, co n gratulatio n s o n receivi n g the Goethe Prize of the city of Fra n kfurt . You are receivi n g it for your literary work, but also especially for your political activities. What does the prize mea n perso n ally for you?

Amos Oz: Thank you for your congratulations. The prize personally means for me an intensification of my personal dialogue with European and German culture -- and of my family's own attachment to Goethe in particular, and to German and European culture in general.

What do you mea n by your family's attachme n t to Goethe?

Both my parents read German and in fact they could speak German. Now my elder daughter, who is a scholar, speaks German. I belong to the lost generation in between. I cannot speak any German. But for many years my parents and grandparents were attracted to German culture and to German heritage and before the rise of the Nazis they often regarded Germany as their kind of spiritual and intellectual promised land. Of course this was a one-sided love. And throughout my childhood and boyhood I knew that my parents were heartbroken about the fact that they loved Germany and were not loved back by it.

The prize certificate puts you i n to the traditio n of Joha n n Wolfga n g vo n Goethe. What does it mea n for Israeli-Germa n relatio n s i n the cultural sector that a n Israeli is getti n g that prize?

deutsch-israelische Beziehungen Flaggen Deutschland Israel

I think it is an intensification -- or a part of the intensification of the relationship. This relationship had been very badly injured during the Nazi period and it took decades to recover. And it recovered particularly through literary dialogue. I think it was the fact that Israeli literature is extensively read in Germany. And postwar German literature was extensively and eagerly read by many Israelis. That provided for the resumption and identification of the Israeli-German dialogue. It is difficult for me to speak in terms of climaxes. But awarding the Goethe prize to an Israeli novelist is a very striking manifestation of the intensity of the literary and spiritual dialogue between the two cultures.

What is comi n g n ext?

I think it is very urgent to prepare a new generation of translators of Hebrew into German and of German into Hebrew. The older generation is naturally disappearing. Israelis who were educated in Germany before World War II are now fewer and fewer. I think there should be an academic university program of training translators in order to make this literary conversation continue and even broaden and deeper.

Would you give some i n put o n such a program?

Well, I could give a guest lecture on the philosophical and artistic significance of translation. But of course I could not tell anyone how to translate -- not knowing a word of German. We need people who have translated before and who have experiences in translation and speak both languages.

Of course your literary work ca n n ot be completely separated from your political work. But do they have the same ambitio n ? Do you believe that your books have political i n flue n ce?

This is the hardest question of all because there is no way of actually measuring the influence of a book, a novel or a book of poetry on the reader. We will never know. Perhaps the reader himself cannot say to what an extent his or her reading shaped his or her political views. I hope it has a certain impact but I will never know. Even if it's scientifically proved to me that my work has no influence at all, I will still do it. That's the only thing I can do. That is true for both my literary work and my political work. I cannot measure it or provide any evidence that this influence exists. There are no people who approach me and say, "Oh, Mr. Oz, I just read your book and I am born again. My eyes are open to see the light." It does not very often happen that way. But I think that maybe literary work and political work eventually somehow helps people to get rid of certain simplifications and stereotypes.

I would like to ask you also about your opi n io n about the Gaza withdrawal. The Gaza withdrawal took place surprisi n gly easy. Everyo n e is looki n g at the West Ba n k n ow. What do you expect? Also a withdrawal?

Israelische Siedlungen in Gaza geräumt

A bulldozer destroys a house in the Jewish settlement of Morag in the southern Gaza Strip on Monday.

This questions depends very much on the Palestinian response. If the Palestinians respond to the Israeli unilateral withdrawal from Gaza with more violence and more terrorism there will be no withdrawal from the West Bank. If, on the other hand, there will be a parallel peace gesture or peace movement on the side of the Palestinians, there is a good chance that eventually there will be an agreement over the West Bank as well. There is no question of the Israelis unilaterally and without a Palestinian reciprocity simply deciding to move out of the West Bank.

Do you thi n k Ariel Sharo n 's reversal i n regards of the withdrawal is trustworthy? You know, if it comes to politicians my question is not: "Is it trustworthy?" but "Is it genuine?" He has proven as far as Gaza is concerned that he is willing to risk his political career. This is serious, this is not playing games. This is not public relations. Now what happens in the depth of his psyche and his mind and in his conscience, I do not know. I have never met him personally. I don't know how deep and genuine the change is. But the result is very significant.

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