'Lose-lose situation for Israel'
An Interview with Amos Oz - excerpts
30 July 2014 -- Israel's ground offensive against Gaza is excessive albeit justified, Israeli writer Amos Oz tells DW. But he also criticizes Hamas' strategy, in which both Israeli and Palestinian victims boost the organization's standing in Gaza.
Amoz Oz: I would like to begin the interview in a very unusual 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.
Of course now we are already in the middle in the interview. I take it that you support the present Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip?
No, I only support limited military response and not unlimited military response.
Where do you draw the line?
Destroy the tunnels wherever they come from, and try to hit strictly Hamas targets and no other targets.
There seems to be a problem here. The tunnels are an elaborate system and difficult to find. The entries are hidden in public and private buildings, so you would have to do house-to-house searches - which implies a civilian toll. The same applies to destroying rocket launchers in civilian areas…
Well, I am afraid that there can be no way in the world to avoid civilian casualties among the Palestinians as long as the neighbor puts his child on the lap while shooting into your nursery.
Is the analogy of the child on the lap really appropriate? Gaza is densely populated and Hamas positions are inevitably in civilian areas…
Yes - and this is Hamas' strategy. This is why for Israel it is a lose-lose-situation. The more Israeli casualties, the better it is for Hamas. The more Palestinian civilian casualties, the better it is for Hamas.
Would you consider the present ground offensive to be limited or unlimited?
I think in some points it is excessive. I don't have detailed information on what is actually happening on the ground, but to judge from some of the hits that the Israeli army caused in Gaza, I think at least in some points the military action is excessive - justified, but excessive.
What could a short-term agreement look like?
The present hostilities will only stop, unfortunately, when one of the parties or both of them are exhausted. This morning I read very carefully the charter of Hamas. It says that the Prophet commands every Muslim to kill every Jew everywhere in the world. It quotes the Protocols of the Elders of Zion [anti-Semitic diatribe - the ed.] and says that the Jews controlled the world through the League of Nations and through the United Nations, that the Jews caused the two world wars and that the entire world is controlled by Jewish money. So I hardly see a prospect for a compromise between Israel and Hamas. I have been a man of compromise all my life. But even a man of compromise cannot approach Hamas and say: 'Maybe we meet halfway and Israel only exists on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.'
Hamas is presently demanding that the blockade of the Gaza Strip be lifted…
... I think plenty of international, Arab and Israeli resources should be pumped into the Gaza Strip in return for effective demilitarization. This is a proposal that Israel ought to make immediately.
Would that not send the signal that rocket attacks are a feasible means of exerting pressure?
If the return is an effective demilitarization of the Gaza Strip, I am sure at least 80 percent of the Israeli Jews will endorse such a deal - even in the present militant mood.
Are you among the 85 percent of Israelis who want the offensive to continue until the strategic goals of destroying the tunnels and rockets are reached?
The only alternative to continuing the Israeli military operation is simply to follow Jesus Christ and turn the other cheek. I never agreed with Jesus Christ about the need to turn the other cheek to an enemy. Unlike European pacifists I never believed the ultimate evil in the world is war. In my view the ultimate evil in the world is aggression, and the only way to repel aggression is unfortunately by force. That is where the difference lies between a European pacifist and an Israeli peacenik like myself. And if I may add a little anecdote: A relative of mine who survived the Nazi Holocaust in Theresienstadt always reminded her children and her grandchildren that her life was saved in 1945 not by peace demonstrators with placards and flowers but by Soviet soldiers and submachine guns.
What effect do the constant hostilities have on people?
A very bad effect. It increases the hatred, the bitterness, the suspicion, the mistrust. But this is the case with every war. It is a common sentimentalist assumption to hope that somehow the enemies will start understanding each other and liking each other and eventually they will reconcile and make peace. Throughout history things always work the other way round. Enemies with their hearts full of bitterness and hatred sign a peace contract with clenched teeth and revengeful feelings. Then, in the course of time, eventually there may come a gradual emotional de-escalation.
How secure can Israelis feel?
How secure can Jewish people feel on this planet? I think not about the last 20 or 50 years but about the last 2,000 years. But I will tell you what my hope and prayer for the future of Israel is. I would like to see Israel removed once and for all from the front pages of all the newspapers in the world and instead conquer, occupy and build settlements in the literary, arts, music and architecture supplements. This is my dream for the future.
Amos Oz, born as Amos Klausner, is a renowned Israeli novelist, journalist and professor of literature. His works have been translated into 42 languages, including Arabic. Oz, who was born in Jerusalem, is an advocate of the two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.