Khirbet Khizeh

S. Yizhar

translated from the Hebrew
Ibis Editions 2008 [1949]
A book review by Danny Yee © 2009
A Jewish soldier tells the story of a single day in 1948 in which his unit attacks the Palestinian village of Khirbet Khizeh and deports its inhabitants. Through this narrator's largely autobiographical eyes, Yizhar brings to life the landscapes and people of the village, as seen by an intruder, the boredom and camaraderie and casual intimacy of infantry life, and his growing unease at what he is called on to do. The bright, vivid setting contrasts with the terrible normality of the eviction and the internal, personal realisation of the narrator.

A brief afterward by David Shulman highlights the modern relevance of Khirbet Khizeh, linking it to his own efforts to help protect the village of Twaneh from terrorism by Jewish settlers. But Yizhar's probing of the morality of dispossession will speak more powerfully to most readers.

"Words rang in my ears. I did not know where from. I passed among them all, among those weeping aloud, among those silently grinding their teeth, those feeling sorry for themselves and for what they were leaving behind, those who railed at their destiny and those who quietly submitted to it, those ashamed of themselves and their disgrace, those already making plans to sort themselves out somehow, those weeping for the fields that would be desolate, and those silenced by exhaustion, eaten away by hunger and fear. I wanted to discover if among all these people there was a single Jeremiah mourning and burning, forging a mouth of fury in his heart, crying out in stifled tones to the old God in Heaven, atop the trucks of exile ..."

Shulman also discusses Yizhar's language — Biblical, demotic, and influential in the evolution of Hebrew — and the history of Khirbet Khizeh. It has only now been translated into English, but it was written and published immediately after the events it depicts and is a recognised classic in Israel, part of the canon of Hebrew literature.

In any event, Khirbet Khizeh has the power to bind and compel even in translation. It could be read and appreciated even by those without an interest in the Palestine-Israel conflict.

July 2009

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%T Khirbet Khizeh
%A Yizhar, S.
%M Hebrew
%F Lange, Nicholas de
%F Dweck, Yaacob
%I Ibis Editions
%D 2008 [1949]
%O paperback
%G ISBN-13 9789659012596
%P 131pp