Amos Oz’s book, “In the Land of Israel” is a portrait of his birthplace and home, the land of Israel in the 1980s. This book is, essentially, an author’s attempt to come to grips with the reality of his society that has undergone drastic changes during his lifetime.
The book’s conversations take place across Israel’s geography and many walks of life as Oz travels the countryside, notebook in hand, to capture the voices of his homeland. He records the voices of the inhabitants on all things concerning Israel — past, present and future; as well as everything from religion and politics to economics and traditional history. His answers are of multiple variations, and he manages to mix his own opinions into the text.
His tale uncovers the hidden realities of the country that are not reported in the general media or average textbook. Amidst flourishing conversation, Oz builds a picture of the landscape as he moves through interviews. He presents a portrait of Israel that is diverse and divided. Oz himself struggles with the state of his people: their conflicts among one another and especially with the Arab population, which many Jews see as made to work their labors, and the legacy of the Holocaust and its impact on the state of Israel. The book opens powerfully with the realities of life in Israel. Many seem to think something great is coming as they wait in the harsh realities of their history.
Years earlier, Zionism was fervent with Jews returning from another Diaspora, yet the state they came back to found them rife in warfare and societal strife as Oz’s further travels through the land come to show.
Later, Oz represents the voices of the more discordant opposition to his own from people in Bet Shemesh. The people recognize Oz with pencil and pad in hand from his articles and words on the television. They immediately begin a chorus of opinions followed by gestures of hospitality hoping to be recorded in truth and firmly declaring that they will say as they please whether he records them honest or not.
In fact, these characters are staunch supporters of Menachem Begin. One poignant Begin quote deals with the internal struggle involving many Jews seeking safety in the new state of Israel; he said, “The Temple was destroyed because of groundless hatred and will be rebuilt because of groundless love.” It is precisely this kind of attitude that continues to define many Israelis. As a prominent voice in the media, Oz has his own vision presented in his book.
Oz sees the battle within Israel, in the Middle East and globally as a struggle between humanism and nationalism. Oz sides strongly with humanism, believing in an individual spiritualism whereby nations divide into independent civilizations as in early histories, mixing as in a free market among themselves. He resents Zionism and the fervor for nationhood that brings nations into war with one another. Although Hitler’s memory is powerful, it also caused the backlash of Jewish nationalism that enflamed the Arab world. Oz hopes that time will heal tensions and nations can dissolve into sociable society of self-sufficient industry. Oz’s dream for the future involves peace among religions. It may be too idealistic, but it is real to Oz.
One man remarks that after living to see Hitler and living in Europe afterwards, coming home to Israel was a paradise. Elsewhere he felt lonely, but here, despite political fighting, the people were together — they shared the land, the work, the struggles and sufferings, the warfare.
To the old man who had seen so much, togetherness was a paradise, and Oz respected it as he joked with “Gramps.” Clearly Oz is a dreamer and wishes to see his home come together with Arabs and the World that they would share greater things than suffering. Oz wants to better the world with a peaceful togetherness.
The voices throughout the book continue to build into a chorus of longings, victories, humdrum and daily life activity.
When one man overhears a young man talking about the politics of the Bible, he scolds him. Invoking the Prophets, he asks what they cared for politics, remarking the Bible is not politics but an “interhuman” book. This idea of the Book perhaps catches the ear of Oz who sympathizes with a humanistic Jewish faith.
By giving a voice to the People of Israel perhaps Oz is trying to vent the frustrations of the land that is real.
Hitler gives legitimacy to their pain and the idea of a Messiah gives them defeated justification while every voice woven in-between these two wailing walls adds his piece to the nation’s narrative. “In the Land of Israel” is a fascinating portrayal of a nation in a unique narration style that paints a picture of a collective voice as heard by Oz. The multiplicity of extreme voices is what gives Oz his appeal as a storyteller, and the fluidity with which he harmonizes the poles of conversation is impressive.
The mixed voices rise loudly above his scenic portrayals of the simplistic in Israel’s life — from the soft breeze to the shopkeeper sweeping. Oz lays his voices among the deserts and hills, reflecting a modern face upon one of the historically most prominent regions in the world.