A.B. Yehoshua, Acclaimed Israeli Novelist and Peace Activist, Dies at Age 85
Acclaimed Israeli author, Zionist and peace activist Abraham “Buli” (A.B.) Yehoshua died on Tuesday at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov Hospital). He was 85.
Avi Shushan, a spokesman for the hospital, said the cause of death was cancer.
Known by his first two initials, Yehoshua was born in British-controlled Jerusalem on Dec. 9, 1936, but later lived outside Tel Aviv. His father, Ya’akov Yehoshua — a descendant of the Sephardi community of Thessaloniki, Greece — authored 12 books in Arabic, while his mother, Malka Rosilio Yehoshua, emigrated from Morocco to Israel four years before their son was born.
Yehoshua was “one of the pillars of Israeli literature, a man whose words were read by many. He has left a crowd of readers full of admiration for the person who took a part in shaping the culture of the State of Israel,” said Prime Minister Naftali Bennett
He published 11 novels, three short-story collections, and four plays, and his works have been translated in 28 languages, along with internationally acclaimed film and stage adoptions. His first collection, “The Death of the Old Man,” was published in 1962, and his other works include “The Third Temple,” “The Lover,” “A Late Divorce,” “Mr. Mani,” and “The Extra.”
Yehoshua won several literary awards including the Israel Prize in literature in 1995 and the National Jewish Book Award for fiction for “Mr. Mani” in 1992. In a video profile for his 2017 win of Israel’s Dan David Prize, he said, “laughter and tears are the best vitamins for good writing.”
He served as an IDF paratrooper from 1954 t0 1957 and was called up as a reservist during the Six-Day War of 1967. He studied literature and philosophy at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and worked as a high school teacher. He continued to teach when he moved to Paris to study at the Sorbonne for a master’s degree in French literature. Yehoshua later became a professor teaching comparative literature and Hebrew literature at the University of Haifa.
Along with fellow authors Amoz Oz and David Grossman, Yehoshua called for the creation of an independent Palestinian state as a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. In his essays and public talks, he supported the idea of a Zionist Jewish homeland but believed that Israelis should accommodate the needs of the Palestinians. During his later years, he supported the establishment of a single Israeli state that included the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, where Jews and Arabs would have equal rights.
He was known for his vocal criticism of Jewish settlers in the West Bank and condemned Israeli leaders for allowing the expansion of Jewish settlements in the area. He also insisted that to identify as an authentic Jew, one must live in Israel. He repeatedly stated that all Jews living outside the state of Israel were “partial Jews” and once said, “Jews who leave Israel for America are escaping their responsibility.”
Israeli President Isaac Herzog said that Yehoshua was “one of Israel’s greatest authors in all generations, who gifted us his unforgettable works, which will continue to accompany us for generations. His works, which drew inspiration from our nation’s treasures, reflected us in an accurate, sharp, loving and sometimes painful mirror image. He aroused in us a mosaic of deep emotions.”
Yehoshua will be buried on Wednesday at a kibbutz in northern Israel. He was married to Dr. Rivka Kirsninski, who died in 2016. He is survived by a sister, Pzila Petroshka, 88; a daughter, Sivan Yehoshua; two sons, Gideon Yehoshua and Nahum Yehoshua; and seven grandchildren.