Lover of the Country
ON THE morrow of the Six-day War, Amos Kenan came to my editorial office. He was in a state of shock. As a reserve soldier, he had just witnessed the emptying of three villages in the Latrun area. Men and women, old people and children, had been driven out in the burning June sun on a foot march in the direction of Ramallah, dozens of kilometers away. It reminded him of sights from the Holocaust.
I told him to sit down there and then and write an eye-witness account. I rushed to the Knesset (of which I was then a member) and delivered the report to the Prime Minister, Levy Eshkol, and to several ministers, including Menachem Begin and Victor Shem-Tov. But it was too late – the villages had already been razed to the ground. In their place, the
(On the other hand, another eye-witness account, about the destruction of the town of
Kenan’s report is a human and literary document. It says much about its author, who died this week. Amos Kenan was a moral person.
THE COUNTRY was the center of his mental universe. It was the focus of his world-view, his life-work and his actions. I don’t hesitate to say: he was the lover of this country.
In his youth, he belonged for a time to the “Canaanite” group and adopted some of their ideas. But he drew from them the opposite conclusions from those of their founder, the poet Yonatan Ratosh, who denied the very notion of Arab nationhood, as well as the existence of the Palestinian Arab people. Kenan, like me, was convinced that the future of
(A personal remark: when a person eulogizes somebody, he always mentions himself, and this often raises eyebrows. I think that this cannot be avoided: the eulogizer speaks about the eulogized as he knew him, and so the personality of the eulogized is reflected in the mirror of the eulogizer. So please forgive me, if you can.)
I first met him during the 1948 war, on one of my short leaves. At a friend’s place, I bumped into the young soldier (he was fully four years younger than I), who was also on leave.
He was born in the country and had been a member of the left-wing Hashomer Hatzair (“The Youth Guard”) movement, whose idealistic-moral ideology certainly helped to shape his character. Like many leftist youngsters at the time, he joined the Lehi (Stern Group) underground, which then had a pro-Soviet orientation. With the founding of the state, all Lehi members were drafted into the new Israeli army.
Before that he took part in the atrocious Irgun and Lehi action in Deir Yassin. He had a problem dealing with this - and he always asserted that the massacre was not intended, or that it did not take place at all. He maintained that the commander was killed and that the control over the fighters was lost. He himself was wounded at the beginning of the action, he asserted, and did not see what happened. I was not wholly convinced.
We discovered that we had similar ideas about the future of the newly founded state. We both believed that we had created not only a new state, but also a new nation – the Hebrew nation, which is not just another part of the Jewish Diaspora, but a new entity altogether, with a new culture and a new character. Since this nation was born in the country, it does not belong to Europe or
On this basis we objected to the 1956 war, in which
service of two tainted colonialist regimes, the French and the British. While the war was still going on, a group came together and decided to outline another path for the state. We called ourselves “Semitic Action”, and apart from Kenan and myself, our number included the former Lehi leader Nathan Yellin-Mor, Boaz Evron and other good people. Within a year we published a document entitled “The Hebrew Manifesto”, with more than a hundred points, which proposed a revolutionary new approach to almost all the state’s problems. Its main points: We are a new nation born in this country. Next to the State of
Since at that time all the Palestinian territories were under occupation - Jordanian in the West Bank and Egyptian in the Gaza Strip, we wanted Israel to supply the Palestinians with money, arms and a radio station, to help them to rise up and liberate themselves.
Immediately after the 1967 Six-Day War, the same group set up an organization called “Federation Israel-Palestine”, in which Kenan also played a role. We advocated the immediate founding of the State of
In 1974, when I was the first “Zionist” Israeli to establish secret contacts with the PLO leadership, I tried, in accord with them, to set up a public body in
This call led to the creation of the “Israeli Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace”, whose founding manifesto was signed by a hundred personalities, including General Matti Peled, Eliyahu Eliashar (the president of the Sephardic community), Lova Eliav, David Shaham, Alex Massis, Amnon Zichroni and Colonel Meir Pa’il.)
At that time, Ariel
THE POLITICAL aspect, important as it was, was only one of Kenan’s many parts. He was a satirist, writer, poet, painter, sculptor, gardener, chef and who knows what else, a real renaissance person. But all these parts had one common denominator: the country.
On the roof of his home he cultivated dozens of local herbs and spices which he used in his cooking, of which he was inordinately proud. As a writer and a poet, he made an important contribution to the birth of the new Hebrew language: a local, Sabra language, simple, precise, far from the language of the Mishna and the language of the celebrated writer S.I. Agnon, which even young writers like Moshe Shamir were aping. Kenan wrote his essays, books and plays in vernacular but perfect Hebrew.
His star began to rise with his humorous column in Haaretz, “Uzi and Co.” He was able to express the deepest truths in a trenchant satire of a few lines. Some of these are Hebrew classics.
In July 1952, the religious minister of transportation, David-Zvi Pinkas, published regulations that practically prohibited the use of cars on the Shabbat. Many of us joined forces to battle this religious coercion and demonstrated in the center of Tel Aviv. But Amos went further: he laid a bomb at the door to Pinkas’ apartment. He was caught red-handed, indicted, stubbornly refused to talk and finally acquitted for “lack of evidence”.
When the chief of the Tel Aviv police personally went to interrogate him in prison and offered to talk with him “man to man”, Kenan countered calmly “the weather today is fine”.
As a result of this affair, Kenan was compelled to leave Haaretz , and I welcomed him with open arms to Haolam Hazeh. He contributed to our magazine some of the finest writings we published, some of them almost prophetic.
On his request we sent him to
When I came to
After that Amos and I went to a huge demonstration against the war in
KENAN WAS a man of quarrel and strife, who was quick to lose his temper and become aggressive. He had a tendency to hurt those who loved him. “There is only one way not to quarrel with you,” I once told him, “and that is to cut off all relations and not to speak with you.”
The last time we quarreled was when Gush Shalom called for a boycott on the products of the settlements. Kenan refused to join, ostensibly because we included the Golan settlements. “I don’t want to give up the Golan wine,” he said half in jest. But he hated the settlements, not only because they were built to obstruct peace with the Palestinians, but also because they symbolized in his eyes the general uglification of the country. He told me once that when looking out of the window of an aircraft he had suddenly realized that “the State of
In her semi-biographical book about her husband, which appeared not long ago in Hebrew, Nurit Gertz talks about his difficult childhood, when his father was in a mental institution. I suspect that throughout his life, he suffered from a hidden fear that he might inherit the disease. That may explain his bouts of alcoholism. Fortunately for him, he had an extraordinary mother, Mrs Levin, a short, vigorous and resolute woman who raised Amos and his two younger brothers practically on her own.
The only times I saw his face soften was when he was looking at Nurit or their two daughters, Shlomtzion and Rona. I could forgive him all the offensive and abusive attacks, because his creative talent was so much more important.
HE ALREADY disappeared from the landscape some years ago, when he fell victim to Alzheimer’s disease. Actually, he faded away together with the culture he had helped to create.
The Hebrew culture which was born in the early 40s died in the 60s. The heavy losses of our generation in the 1948 war and the mass immigration that flooded the state in its first few years meant the death of this unique culture and its replacement by the banal Israeli culture as it is now.
Amos Kenan’s death marks the exit of one of that Hebrew culture’s last remaining exponents.
At Kenan’s funeral, not a single representative of official
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs