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Amos Elon, 82

Writer Amos Elon was an influential interpreter of Jewish life.
Writer Amos Elon was an influential interpreter of Jewish life. (Photo By Michael Argov, Tel-aviv. - Photo By Michael Argov, Tel-aviv.)
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In an interview with the London Guardian, Mr. Elon once recalled being confronted on Israeli television by "some reactionary" who demanded to know, "Are you one of those self-haters?"

"No, I don't hate myself," he replied. "I just hate Jews like you."

Amos Dan Elon was born July 4, 1926, in Vienna. His father, a businessman, left Austria alone for the British mandate of Palestine in 1928. Aware of the Nazi threat but also seeking adventure, he moved his family to Palestine within a few years. Because the younger Mr. Elon arrived in Palestine at such an early age, he said he never considered himself an "ideological Israeli."

"I did not grow up here out of choice," he said in a 2004 interview with Haaretz. "But I did grow up here. Here is where I kissed a girl for the first time. And what is a homeland if not the place where you kiss a girl for the first time?"

The family settled on what Mr. Elon called "a sand dune in Tel Aviv" and continued to speak German in their home. Mr. Elon wrote mostly in Hebrew and English, but he returned to his native language for his book "Journey Through a Haunted Land," a portrait of East and West Germans struggling in the mid-1960s to reckon with the memory of World War II.

After service in the Haganah, the Jewish paramilitary organization and precursor to the modern Israeli army, Mr. Elon graduated from Hebrew University in Jerusalem and won a scholarship to attend Cambridge University in England. Haaretz gave Mr. Elon his first reporting job in 1951. It was as a foreign correspondent in Washington that Mr. Elon met his American wife, the former Beth Drexler. She survives, along with a daughter, Danae Elon of New York; a sister; and two grandsons.

Mr. Elon's books included biographies of Theodor Herzl, the father of Zionism, and Mayer Amschel Rothschild, the patriarch of the Rothschild banking dynasty, and studies on the cultural tensions in the Middle East.

Shortly after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, he and Sana Hassan, the wife of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's spokesman, began a series of conversations later compiled in the book "Between Enemies: A Compassionate Dialogue Between an Israeli and an Arab." Sadat reportedly was infuriated by the project, but three years later he became the first Arab leader to visit the Jewish state.

In the last 20 years of his life, Mr. Elon contributed to the New York Review of Books and wrote about the Israel-Palestine conflict with steadily increasing pessimism. In 2004, he gave up his apartment in Jerusalem and moved to Tuscany.

In an interview with Haaretz at the time, he spoke of Israel: "It's in my blood to this day. . . . But my feeling was that I couldn't say anything here [in Israel]. Everything had already been said. And there's no true dialogue. . . . It's impossible to live here without feeling some unease. . . . And it has truly been getting worse all these years."

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