Israel Says Farewell to Its Most Famous Author

Amos Oz was controversial for his left-wing politics, but was undoubtedly Israel’s top literary figure

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Last Friday was a day of mourning for most Israelis, as they bid farewell to the Jewish state's most famous author, Amos Oz, who passed away at the age of 79.

Born Amos Klausner in Jerusalem in 1939, Oz later became internationally-recognized, his books being translated into no fewer than 45 languages.

Soon after his mother's suicide when he was just 12-years-old, Oz moved to Kibbutz Hulda and changed his family name. His first books were based on his experiences there. He later studied literature and philosophy at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Over the course of his career, Oz wrote an astounding number of novels, short stories, essays and children's books, garnering numerous awards, and even being nominated several times for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

But his politics put Oz on the outs with many Israelis. As a co-founder of the leftist "Peace Now" organization, Oz was a staunch proponent of the two-state solution and a vocal critic of the Jewish settlements in the biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria. At the same time, Oz routinely stressed that he was not a pacifist. As an IDF reservist, he fought in the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War. Decades later, he took to the international stage to champion Israel's right to defend itself militarily during the 2014 Gaza war.

Oz belonged to what is known here as the "Zionist left," those who endlessly criticize Israel, but who also do not back down from defending her right to exist and find her place in this volatile region.

This made Oz controversial in Israel, where polls regularly show that a majority of the population is right-wing and conservative when it comes to issues regarding control of the Holy Land. Oz was a harsh critic of the people's choice of leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, but that didn't stop the prime minister from lavishing praise on the author at his passing.

"Amos Oz was one of the State of Israel's greatest writers. He contributed to the renewal of Hebrew literature, through which he expressed with talent and emotion important aspects of the Israeli experience," said Netanyahu in a statement released to the public. "Despite the fact we did not always see eye to eye, I deeply appreciated his contribution to the Hebrew language and literature. His words and his writing will continue to accompany us for many years to come. May his memory be a blessing."

Taking to Twitter after hearing of his friend's death, Israel President Reuven Rivlin called Oz a "literary giant" and a "spiritual titan" whose passing marked a dark day for all Israel.

Oz's coffin was on display in Tel Aviv on Monday morning to give the public a last chance to pay their respects before he was taken to Kibbutz Hulda and laid to rest.


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