Insult and Fury

Amos Oz, translated from the Hebrew by Maurie Goldberg-Bartura

Toward the end of 1982 Mr. Oz visited the town of Bet Shemesh, some ten miles west of Jerusalem, to write the following report:

It was almost twenty years since I had been in Bet Shemesh. I remembered, from my last visit, rows of cheap apartment projects on the slope of a rocky hill. A few stone houses, a few cinderblock houses on concrete pillars, which the architect, who couldn’t stand the slope and wanted to build on level ground, had placed, tall and rootless, like ugly birds whose legs had been trapped in the stony ground.

I remembered water heaters on roofs, clotheslines, dusty, neglected yards, dry weeds, and many empty lots between the buildings. And gloomy workers, no longer young, with stubble on their faces and cigarette butts hanging out of their mouths. And women, stocky and overburdened. Perhaps there were reminders, here and there, of the jerrybuilt transit camp in which Bet Shemesh had its beginning. Now, on an autumn afternoon, I approached Bet Shemesh from the south and couldn’t find it. One enters, instead of Bet Shemesh, a small town, blindingly white, composed of gracefully proportioned houses built in the fashion of the popular contractors Gindy and Ganish. Gardens, flower beds, stone terraces with playgrounds of colorful plastic and metal Jungle Gyms. This is Givat Sharett.

Givat Sharett is neither a suburb nor an extension of Bet Shemesh. It is cut off from Bet Shemesh, on a neighboring hill, a kind of “back-yard Bet Shemesh,” as though the town planners had decided that the original idea had turned out to be irreparably flawed, and they would have to begin again from scratch. Next to every apartment building in Givat Sharett there is a parking lot. And scattered around the apartment buildings are private houses, most of them still under construction, and a billboard, “Ministry of Housing: Project Build-Your-Own-Home.” The houses are built in the vulgar, gaudy style of the Israeli nouveaux riches: split levels and turrets and parapets and rounded bays and little decorative nooks, wooden eaves and marble fronts, frequently pink. Those who have saved and gambled, deposited and invested, in time build themselves houses here. The streets are almost deserted. The gardens display various decorative objects—a rusty plow, a broken clay jar, a wagon hitch, a carved stone column stolen, no doubt, from some archaeological dig. A la Moshe Dayan, as interpreted by the new bourgeoisie.

Later, in the old Bet Shemesh, I will be told: “Oh, Givat Sharett—them—their bodies are here but their souls are in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. They stay here until they can make enough money to move into the city. They don’t live here: they just come back here to sleep.”

But the old Bet Shemesh has changed greatly, too. Many of the meager houses built here in the Fifties by the Amidar Company have added floors, branched out, grown extensions; in some cases the original house has become a storeroom and been …

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