Israeli Literature Critical Essays


(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Israeli Literature

The creation of the modern Israeli state in 1948 marked the beginning of a new era in Hebrew literature. While Hebrew writers had long been active in the eastern Mediterranean region that was formerly known as Palestine, the establishment of Israel as the culmination of the Zionist movement proved decisive in reaffirming the vital language and culture of Hebrew-speakers. Locked in conflict with surrounding Arab nations, the state of Israel has struggled to define itself through its literature. Combining the concerns of Middle Eastern and European Jews—the latter having suffered near total destruction during the Nazi Holocaust—Israeli literature represents the unique expression of a nation and a people seeking to express a new collective identity. Critics have generally divided Israeli literature of the twentieth century into three periods. Works of the first period are labeled "Palmach" literature, a term derived from the Israelimilitary. The Palmach authors, who are sometimes calledthe generation of 1948, flourished in the late 1940s andthe 1950s. Their works of drama, poetry, and fictionreflect a social realist aesthetic, and frequently express themes related to Israelis as a group: political issues, the war of independence, the Israeli army, the kibbutz, or collective farm settlement, and the assimilation of immigrants to the region. By the 1960s and 1970s the so-called New Wave of Israeli literature had began. While national concerns were still prominent, an individual and universal emphasis characterizes the literature of this period. While addressing subjects of vital interest to Israelis, writers of the New Wave endeavored to reproduce the interior lives of individuals and offered a historical contextualization of Israeli life and its past origins in their works, reflecting a move to universal themes. In the 1970s, the voices of women were heard increasingly among Israeli writers, and Israeli poetry and drama developed considerably. The state of Israeli literature in the 1980s and 1990s generally reflects modern attitudes of innovation and experimentalism and has demonstrated a need to more fully confront the subject of Arab-Jewish relations in Israel. Since 1948 Israel has in large part been defined by the brutality of this ancient ethnic conflict. By the close of the century, however, expressions of diversity and dissent are more often heard as the nation struggles to define the meaning and values of its evolving democracy.