The writer

Israel is a country bereft of star-struck masses waiting in line to get a selfia celebrity. This is because it is a country where all are equal, and all have an opinion which explains why there are nearly nine million Prime Ministers. With all being equal, for anyone’s obituary to be published on the front pages and shove aside the latest apocalyptical threat from Iran, takes someone very special indeed. The late and great A. B Yehoshua who passed away in June 2022, was that very special man. At the funeral, Israel’s President Isaac Herzog eulogised him as “one of Israel’s greatest authors in all generations, who gifted us his unforgettable works, which will continue to accompany us for generations.” Prime Minister Naftali Bennet commented that Yehoshua took part in shaping the culture of Israel. He was right. Yehoshua, a Sabre through and through, was thought to be so rooted in the Land of Israel that the joke was he was “practically a Canaanite.” The playwright and author’s books, are found in thousands of Israeli homes and read by old and young alike. 

Born in 1936 to third-generation immigrants living in Jerusalem, Yehoshua did what many Jewish children then did. He witnessed the birth, struggle and growth of the country, attended Hebrew high school, (ironically failing in composition) joined the Zionist scouts movement, served in the army and went on to study at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. 

Although his advance through society was normative, it was his writing which made him exceptional. Firstly he was prolific. He penned 12 novels, three books, four plays and several essays. His works have been translated and published in 28 countries and have been adapted for film, television, theatre, and even opera. 

Unlike other famous Israeli authors, Yehoshua’s world was not that of the European Yiddish-speaking ghetto. It was a world rooted in Arabic, Greek and Ladino because Yehoshua was Sephardi. His belief in peace with Arabs was born out of his North African culture and his father’s love of Arabic. Arabs were frequent guests of his father’s who was a translator for the colonial powers in British Mandate Palestine, and later for the Israeli government. It was growing up in this environment of neighbourly relations which inspired him to write with passion and hope for a two-state solution with the modern Palestinians. His hope was shattered when Palestinian terrorism wrecked havoc in Israel. With the bubble now burst, Yehoshua broke with his former opinions. 

His other favourite topics were Judaism and Zionism. Regarding these, his opinions never changed. His fearless writings made him both friends and enemies. He repeatedly stated that Jews living outside the State of Israel were only “partial Jews.” These Jews in the diaspora who “spent all their time studying Jewish Law are less Jewish than Jews in Israel, because it is in Israel where the likes of taxes, defence and all elements of daily life are determined by Jews.” It was hard for people to be ambivalent about an author with such strong opinions. But like him or loathe him, whoever read his books never  forget his dark wit, a black humour born out of realism, love for his country and shattering political disappointment. Astute to the core, Yehoshua knew that in Israel, writers have a prophetic standing and are considered more important than physicians. Using this position, when asked if he would like to have been Prime Minister during the Oslo peace process, he famously stated: “Of course. I would give back the territories. Israel could put up a statue to me and I could go back to my writing.” A.B Yehoshua will be sorely missed but Thank Heaven his writings live on.