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Amos Oz to Israel’s critics: what would you do?

Israeli Author Amos Oz believes in peace — and in Israel's current war.
Israeli Author Amos Oz believes in peace — and in Israel's current war.
Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

As controversial as Israel's military offensive in Gaza is internationally, there's something close to absolute consensus in Israel: a poll by the Israel Democracy Institute found that 95 percent of Jewish Israelis say Operation Protective Edge is justified. That's higher even than the number of Americans who supported the Afghanistan War in the direct aftermath of 9/11.

This interview Deutsche Well conducted with Amos Oz, Israel's most famous novelist and one of its most prominent peaceniks, helps explain why. The interview begins with Oz taking over:

Amoz Oz: I would like to begin the interview in a very unusal way: by presenting one or two questions to your readers and listeners. May I do that?

Deutsche Welle: Go ahead!

Question 1: What would you do if your neighbor across the street sits down on the balcony, puts his little boy on his lap and starts shooting machine gun fire into your nursery?

Question 2: What would you do if your neighbor across the street digs a tunnel from his nursery to your nursery in order to blow up your home or in order to kidnap your family?

With these two questions I pass the interview to you.

Oz complicates his position from there. He goes on to call Israel's military strategy "justified, but excessive," and argue that Israel's next move should be to approach Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and "accept the terms — which the whole world knows — for a two-state-solution and coexistence between Israel and the West Bank: Two capitals in Jerusalem, a mutually agreed territorial modification, removal of most of the Jewish settlements from the West Bank." If the people of Gaza see the people of the West Bank living in freedom and prosperity, he continues, they will "sooner or later do to Hamas what the people of Romania did to Ceausescu." He also argues that Israel's blockade of Gaza should be ended immediately.

Even so, he says repeatedly that Israel's current operation in Gaza is justified. And the way he manages the interview — which is, notably, in an international publication — shows he's puzzled that the rest of the world doesn't see that.

The gulf between how even self-described "peacenik" Israelis see this conflict and how much of the world sees it is significant — and is possibly making Israel feel less safe and, consequentially, making their military strategy more aggressive. As Jeffrey Goldberg comments, "for Israelis who are immune, unlike Amos Oz, to the criticism of outsiders, the world's inability, or unwillingness, to understand the Hamas threat in the way that Oz (and most everyone else in Israel) understands it suggests that there is nothing Israel can do, short of national suicide, to stop the condemnation of their country. Which, of course, frees Israel, in their minds, to take whatever action it deems necessary to take."

The interview ends with a question about Oz's health that is revealing as to how life feels for ordinary Israelis right now. "Personally I am not very well," Oz says. "I am just back from hospital after three surgeries and I am slowly recovering at home between one air raid siren and the next. During the air raid sirens we go to the shelter and wait there for a few moments and then try to continue our lives until the next alarm."

The full interview with Oz is here. Vox's guide to the Israel-Palestine conflict is here.

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