Israeli author and expatriate Amos Elon, who died this week in Italy, sparked early debate about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and more recent debate about what it meant for an iconic Israeli author to leave the Jewish state.
The author of “The Israelis: Founders and Sons,” Elon was one of Israel’s first public intellectuals to critique Israel for its treatment of the Palestinian Arabs before, during and following Israel’s 1948 War of Independence — and especially since the 1967 Six Day War.
More recently, Elon sparked debate in Israel when he decided to leave the country for Italy in 2004.
Elon talked about that decision in an interview not long afterward with Ari Shavit of Ha’aretz. Both Tom Segev of Ha’aretz and Ethan Bronner of The New York Times recall that interview in obituaries of Elon.
Segev quotes Elon:
"Nothing has changed here [in Israel] for the past 40 years," he told Ari Shavit in an interview five years ago, expressing his frustration with the country. "The solutions were known already back then. I realized I was saying the same things again and again. I began to bore myself."
Yet he said he always remained attached to his friends, and to the country he had chosen to leave behind. Israel, he told Shavit, was where he first kissed a girl. "And what is your homeland if not the place where you first kissed a girl?" he asked.
In the Haaretz interview, Mr. Elon said he had grown weary and angry at what he considered the growing influence of religion and a heightened focus on military power in Israel, especially after the capture of the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 war.
Asked if he felt alienation, he replied: “Not alienation. Disappointment.”
As to whether he missed the story he had written about so forcefully, Mr. Elon said he took comfort from the Tuscan landscape: “It’s so beautiful that it melts your heart. So in the few years I have left, I want to look at this view most of the days of the year. On the other days, I’ll come to Israel and get mad.”
Elon offered an assessment of Israel under Ehud Olmert in this February 2008 article in The New York Review of Books.
In 2002, he wrote a piece in the Review on "Israelis and Palestinians: What Went Wrong?"