“People are saying ‘Why now? Why did she suddenly remember? And why after he’s dead?’ If he were alive they would be asking ‘Why now, when he’s still alive?’ The only thing that the trolls won’t do is come the attacker and say to him, ‘Why to a 5-year-old child? Why curse?’ That for some reason doesn’t come up. The attacker can live his entire life in dignity, but when the victim starts to tell the story she’s asked why she’s talking. For some reason, soul searching and restraint are demanded only from the injured party. Keep quiet for another 20 years.”
In those words children’s author Galia Oz responded to criticism in the wake of the publication of her book, “Something Disguised as Love” (in Hebrew), in which she writes about the abuse she was subjected to by her father, writer Amos Oz, who died two years ago. The Hebrew book was released Sunday in by Kinneret Zmora Dvir publishers. Speaking on the Kan Tarbut radio station on Tuesday, Oz discussed the book and its reception. “The complaint [against Amos Oz] alone is not interesting. I thought that if I’m speaking out I have to write a book that will reorganize my thinking about this situation, what I call in the book ‘this situation,’ which is an entire, hermetic, closed world, with transparent walls,” explained Oz to the interviewer, Goel Pinto. “Presumably you’re not in prison, presumably you’re a free person, but actually you’re a captive, you’re a captive of constant abuse, constant trampling of your dignity, of your freedom. Physical trampling of course.
“I thought about how to word it in a way that would perhaps provide some kind of life preserver to other people who are living in this transparent cage and don’t always understand or succeed in connecting all the dots in order to understand why they’re miserable. From the moment I was able to do that, I wrote.”
In the autobiography, she writes that “In my childhood, my father beat me, swore and humiliated me” and that “the harassment and abuse continued until the day he died.”
Oz, the middle daughter of Amos Oz’s three children, was asked whether her father was a liar. “On the face of it, yes,” she replied. “I’m not a researcher in the field of psychology and not an expert on anything. But when I was able to observe him calmly, I think that he was incapable of seeing himself as that. On the contrary, he identified himself exclusively with the good, with the good and the truth. Sometimes people who succeed in identifying themselves in such a narcissistic way, let’s say, with complete truth and absolute morality, are capable of doing terrible things without really internalizing that.”
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In the book Oz writes about her father’s collaborators, at home and outside, about a dynamic of erasure and amending reality. In the interview she explained: “I deviated from the protocol the moment I started to speak, to realize what I was experiencing and to talk about it. The book deals with me and is about me, but is also about this protocol, the rules, the internal law that one doesn’t talk and if you talk, you’ll pay a price. You’ll be ostracized or boycotted even if they won’t call it that. They will do what has to be done in a way that won’t be seen, so you’ll keep quiet.” Later she also explained what in the book she refers to as “manipulation designed to undermine a person by means of constant doubt of his testimony, his judgment, his sense of reality, even his sanity.”
“This part of the book refers to the final years, seven or eight years, when I actually started to talk about what happened in my childhood and about things that happened over the years that were a sublimation of the oppression. That the oppression developed into something more refined somehow than what it was in my childhood,” she explained. “The moment I started to speak, to him and to my mother, a war began against me, and the war includes a constant attack on your memory, to the point of hints that there’s something wrong with you, you’re not sane, not normal. ‘There’s something wrong with you too,’ ‘But look at yourself, there’s something wrong with you too.’
“When you ask what’s wrong with you, you’ll never get an answer. In English it’s called gaslighting. It destabilizes you completely, vaguely and by implication. They say ‘She’s problematic,’ they’ll hint ‘We know what her problem is,” but when you want to understand what’s happening you’ll never get an answer. That’s part of the psychological harassment that I experienced in the last years of his life. The truth must be blocked.”
Afterwards Oz was asked about a violent situation that she describes in the book, a quarrel between her parents that took place before her eyes and escalated into serious violence against her mother. “I was already an adult, about 20 or twenty-something,” she explained.
“Even when other people are around and they aren’t victims of direct violence, they’re also victims. The need to keep quiet requires energy, it bends you over and it’s hard to stand erect (…). I’m ashamed that it happened. That I was a witness and I didn’t call the police. I grew up in a world in which the standards and the language were very violent and oppressive. The onlookers pay a very high emotional price. We became accustomed to immediately erasing any description of the harsh violence or terror against us in real time. Of course I was ashamed, but I was afraid myself.”
She was asked why she was the target of those attacks, and replied: “There isn’t really any reason for it, and in the book I also discuss that. I understand the mechanism quite well from people who had experiences similar to mine. You ask me why? I can’t answer that. There’s a secret in this thing. Why is there random violence at all in the world? Why do little children hit one another? Why is someone bullied? You ask what I did to deserve it? I reject that question out of hand. Children don’t deserve it, a child never deserves it...You mustn’t say to a child ‘What did you do?’ The attempt to examine this direction is another way of silencing the victim.”
Pinto remarked that her father wrote in a letter that she cited in the book: “You loved me more than little girls should love their father.” Oz was furious: “When you accuse a person that as a child he had an abnormal emotion, you’re saying you were a dark, perverted, abnormal girl. Is there any factual reinforcement for that claim against me? There isn’t and there can’t be. It’s a verbal way of saying you should be ashamed. What should I be ashamed of? It’s not clear.”
Oz was asked about her father’s legacy and his books, and how they should be treated from now on. She asked that they not be boycotted, explaining: “Personally I don’t boycott art. Tolstoy was a terrible family man, so was Dickens. I think that you can see a person in a complex way. There’s no need to go on a crusade. You can tell the truth without boycotting.”