December 31, 2018

Israelis mourn writer and peace advocate Amos Oz

Israelis mourn writer and peace advocate Amos Oz

Amos Oz

Hundreds mourned revered Israeli writer and peace advocate Amos Oz on Monday at a funeral ceremony where the country’s president hailed him as the nation’s storyteller not afraid to be called a “traitor.”

Amos Oz

Crowds lined up at a small theatre in central Tel Aviv, where Oz’s closed casket lay on the stage ahead of eulogies from speakers including Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.

In a sign of the widespread appreciation and respect for Oz in Israel, his funeral was broadcast live on television, unusual for a writer.

Family members, politicians and average Israelis touched by Oz’s works slowly filed past the black coffin ahead of the ceremony that followed the writer’s death on Friday from cancer at the age of 79.

Oz’s burial was to take place later at the Hulda kibbutz in central Israel.

A teary Rivlin recalled their childhood friendship in Jerusalem, where they were neighbours growing up.

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“Because your writing was personal and universal, you managed to tell our story far beyond our small Israel,” he said in his eulogy.

Rivlin said Oz had the “ability to see things deeply from the inside, but always a bit from the outside”.

“You weren’t afraid to be called a traitor,” Rivlin said, referring to far-right Israelis who criticised his peace activism.

“On the contrary, you considered that an honorary title.”

Oded Kotler, an actor who starred in a cinematic adaption of one of Oz’s early works, read out a letter of condolences from Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas to the author’s family, drawing applause from the audience.

– ‘A real Zionist’ –
Oz was a celebrated novelist whose stirring memoir “A Tale of Love and Darkness” became a worldwide bestseller that was adapted into a film by Hollywood actress Natalie Portman.

His death led to an outpouring of tributes within Israel and from abroad.

While his writing is widely acclaimed, he was perhaps equally known as one of the earliest and most forceful critics of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory captured in the Six-Day War of 1967.

In recent years, Oz spoke out against the policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, shunning official Israeli functions abroad in protest at what he called the “growing extremism” of his government.

Netanyahu, currently visiting Brazil, paid brief tribute to Oz on Friday, calling him “one of our literary giants”.

“We will always remember his contribution to Hebrew literature and the Hebrew language,” he said.

Culture Minister Miri Regev, who has sparked anger from artists over her bid to have a law passed that would cut subsidies to cultural institutions deemed disloyal, attended the ceremony and received light boos when she was mentioned.

Two of Oz’s grandsons spoke of their grandfather, saying he left a legacy of fighting against racism and violence.

Yona Kranz, 74, from the central city of Givatayim, vividly remembered the first time he saw Oz decades ago, when the author visited his kibbutz to talk about his first book.

Kranz said he came to say farewell to Oz because he “epitomised a myth of an Israel that might have existed and might have not, but I loved that myth”.

“If there is such a thing as a real Zionist, I think he was one,” Kranz said.

Oz received numerous awards for his work, including the Israel Prize for Literature in 1998 and Germany’s Goethe Prize in 2005, but the Nobel Prize in Literature eluded him despite widespread speculation he would win the prestigious accolade.

His novel “Judas”, published in Hebrew in 2014, was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize following its English translation.

Like many Israelis, Oz served several stints in the military, including in a Sinai tank unit during the Six-Day War of 1967 and during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.

In 1978, Oz co-founded Peace Now, Israel’s premier anti-settlement peace movement.

But while he was a consistent advocate of the creation of a Palestinian state, Oz also took a hard line against those sworn to Israel’s destruction and condemned every variety of religious fanaticism.