Since your first book, "Ten Thousand Lovers," came out, you've become pretty well-known in Canada. What is your audience elsewhere like?
In the U.S. the novel seems to be attracting interest in the Jewish community. Most of the fan letters I get are from Jews. "Ten Thousand Lovers" is the first book of a trilogy, so by the time the third one comes out in 2005, I hope I'll have had more widespread exposure.
You've lived in Canada for most of your life, yet you seem to have a great understanding of contemporary life in Israel. How much time have you spent there?
I'm an Israeli by birth. I was born on a kibbutz [a communal living farm in Israel], and the first seven years of my life were spent in Israel. I was born in 1955 and the atmosphere in those days was very intense. The people involved in the kibbutz project are still very committed, but in the pioneer environment on the kibbutz there was a passionate atmosphere of nationalism and commitment to the project of Israel, intense excitement about this new project of a homeland. Those first seven years really shaped me. Then I went back to Israel in the 70s to study. I lived in Israel for another five years, getting my bachelor's and master's degrees at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Were you in the army?
No, I had a deferral. When my deferral was up and I was called in, I quickly got married so that I wouldn't have to serve.
Did you not want to serve for political reasons?
There was no refusal movement at the time, so decisions in that area ended up being personal. Decisions not to serve had to do with lack of faith in the government, with not being convinced that the government was making the right military decisions. Without that conviction, I would not have lasted more than two weeks in the army. Today, if I were in that situation, it would be a much more loaded question for me, a more specific statement against occupation.
I know you're very involved in peace activism now. Is that because of your background? Or because the situation in Israel has changed since you grew up?
I don't think the situation has changed--certainly not since the 70s when I was living there--in any way that would cause me to more active. My feelings when I was there in the 70s were exactly what they are now, so my political views haven't changed. But I wasn't active back then. I've become active now for many reasons-for one, my daughter is 17 now, so I have more time to devote to other things.
There is a very obvious and direct connection between my early years on the kibbutz and my political views now. The kibbutz itself was founded on the remains of what was an Arab village by the same name- a very old village called Sasa. The name was found to be quite ancient, so the Israeli authorities decided to keep the name, because it went so far back in history. On one hand, the kibbutz project in Sasa was in itself very problematic from the point of view of displacing Palestinians. But we were taught values there that have remained with me all my life: always seek justice and seek answers and try to understand power situations--who is oppressed and who is oppressing--and to defend the oppressed. This was a Marxist kibbutz so that is the way we were taught to look at things. Many of my fellow activists have a similar background.
Have any Jewish readers been upset by the politics in your books?
That's an interesting question because my expectations were very different from what has actually happened. When the book was published, I thought there might be negative reactions from the Jewish community. The exact opposite has happened. When I think now about the reasons for that, I'd have to say it's probably because I wrote my book with an enormous amount of love and compassion, and not with anger. I don't feel anger. I think that the deeper you go into the conflict, the less you're inclined to feel angry because you see too much suffering and you start understanding the human dimension of the tragedy and how complex it is. I didn't start off writing "Ten Thousand Lovers" with any kind of message in mind, but when I come to it now as a reader, I see it as a plea for a process of questioning.