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Amos Oz: "Activism is a Way of Life"

Amos Oz is one of Israel's most famous authors and peace activists. In an interview with DW-WORLD, he spoke about German-Israeli relations, the Arab-Israeli peace process and his recent projects.

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The start of Israeli-German ties decades ago was a shock to Oz

DW-WORLD: Germany and Israel have had diplomatic relations now for 40 years. What did it mean for you when the Knesset voted to establish this relationship?

Amos Oz: It was a shock. And even before that, I got a shock when the Knesset approved the reparations agreement with Germany. I was about 12 years old at the time and I was strongly against it. I thought it was humiliating for Israel to accept reparations from the Federal Republic of Germany. In 1965, when diplomatic relations were established, I was no longer against it. My political perspective had changed. But emotionally, of course, it was a shock. When the first ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany presented his credentials to the president of Israel and insisted on speaking German not English, it was more or less the first time in many, many years that the German language was transmitted over the Israeli radio. That was not a simple emotion at that time.

Was it the right step at the wrong time or the wrong step generally?

It was the right step and it was the right time but it was a complex and difficult step unlike any establishment of any diplomatic relations ever. When the day comes for the Israelis and the Palestinians to exchange ambassadors, and such a day will come, it will be easier than the day of the establishment of the diplomatic relations between Israel and the Germany -- emotionally easier. By which I am not saying it was wrong or too late or too early. I just recall how difficult it was.

Do you think Germany and Israel will ever have a normal relationship like they do with other countries?

I don't think they want normal relations. What we have right now is much deeper than just normal relations. Normal relation means commerce, business and good manners. Israel and Germany for many years now have a very intense relationship. There is a very intense conversation going on between German literature, Israeli literature, between German public opinion and Israeli public opinion, between various German ideologies and Israeli ideologies. No, I don't ever dream of normalization. What we have now is much better than normal relations.

Buchcover Eine Geschichte von Liebe und Finsternis von Amos Oz

A bestseller in Germany

The Knesset on Thursday will make another decision on the Gaza Strip withdrawal plan. What do you expect?

I cannot predict how they will vote but the process is inevitable even if there is a temporary hindrance or delay. It is irrevocable because both Palestinians and Israelis know in their heart of hearts that at the end of the day, we have to divide the house into two apartments and live like neighbors. Even people who regard this solution as unjust know this is coming. So what the Knesset will resolve on Thursday will be very important but it won't change the tide of history.

Should Germany and Europe keep their distance from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or are they somehow responsible and should be involved?

I think Germany in particular and Europe in general have indeed a certain responsibility for the suffering of both sides - both sides of the Israeli-Arab conflict have been, in different times and in different ways, victims of Europe: the Arabs through colonialism, imperialism and exploitation; the Jewish people through persecution, discrimination and ultimately through genocide on an unprecedented scale. This puts a heavy responsibility on the shoulders of Europe but not a responsibility to condemn or to criticize alone but a responsibility to help both sides. At this point in time, European sympathy, emotional support and help for both sides could be crucial.

Why is your most recent novel, "A Tale of Love and Darkness," a political book?

I think every book in the world is political on a certain level, as long as the word political does not mean a political manifesto or a political declaration. It has a political dimension, a historical dimension because my life, the life of my family, the life of my people is soaked with politics and with history. I could almost say that people in the Middle East suffer from an overdose of politics and history.

Amos Oz hilft bei der Olivenernte in Palästina

Dialogue between civilians

What does it mean for you that your latest book in particular is so successful in Germany?

It means that the dialogue between the Jewish people and Germany is as intense now as it had been, let's say, in the 1920s. It’s a different dialogue. It will never be as naive or innocent as the German-Jewish dialogue in the 1920s, but it is intense and deep and meaningful for both sides, and I am very happy about it.

What is your next book project?

I don't know if their can be any other "A Tale of Love and Darkness," but I have just recently finished writing a short fairytale which can be read on many levels, all the way from an adventure book for young adults to a symbol and fable for readers of all ages.

Do you have any plans for a new political project?

I have been involved for the last 40 years in the efforts to generate compromise between Israelis and Palestinians. And, of course, I plan to continue for as long as it takes. This is not a project -- this is an addiction and a way of life.

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