Haim Gouri, Poetic Voice of a Rising Israel, Is Dead at 94

Haim Gouri wrote of the awful sacrifice of war, and of memory and camaraderie.

A celebrated and often critical voice of Israel’s founding generation and its conscience, he also wrote of the wrenching inner dilemmas, complexities and contradictions of the Zionist enterprise that tormented him.

Mr. Gouri, who was also a journalist, author and documentary filmmaker, died before dawn on Wednesday at his house in Jerusalem. He was 94. The youngest of his three daughters, Hamutal, said, “His body was drained.”

Mr. Gouri was often described as the last of Israel’s national poets. One of his early poems, “I Am a Civil War,” encapsulated the search for ambiguous justice with the line, “And there, those in the right fire on the others in the right.”

Rendered economically in five words in Hebrew, it was “the most essential line I have ever written in my life,” Mr. Gouri said in an interview last year.

He grew up in a socialist Zionist family, spending his childhood in the 1920s and ′30s in Tel Aviv, the first Hebrew city in what was then British-ruled Palestine. As a young man he joined the Palmach, the elite strike force of the Hagana underground, which fought in the 1940s to establish the state of Israel.

Some of his most beloved poems commemorated the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation, during which he fought in the Negev desert.

Those include “Hareut,” Hebrew for friendship or comradeship, and “Bab al-Wad,” a haunting memorial to those who fell in battle trying to open the road to Jerusalem. Set to music, the poems have become hallowed anthems for Israeli Jews, secular hymns to fellowship and the emerging identity, language and culture of a young but divided country.

“Through your pen we learned entire chapters of the history of the state of Israel,” Reuven Rivlin, the president of Israel, said on Thursday in a eulogy as Mr. Gouri‘s coffin lay in state in the patio of the Jerusalem Theater.

The theater stands a block from Mr. Gouri’s home of more than 50 years, a modest, book-lined apartment on the third floor of a walk-up building in a leafy, genteel neighborhood of his accepted city.

“For you,” Mr. Rivlin added, “the Hebrew Israeli life was always a wonder not to be taken for granted, a lesson to be learned.”

The Hagana sent Mr. Gouri to Hungary in 1947 to assist Holocaust survivors in displaced-persons camps reach Palestine, an experience that deeply affected him.

As a filmmaker, Mr. Gouri was best known for his work on a trilogy of documentaries, notably “The 81st Blow,” a film about the Holocaust that was nominated for an Academy Award in 1974. The two others, made in the 1980s, were “The Last Sea,” about Jewish immigration to Palestine, and “Flames in the Ashes,” about Jewish resistance during World War II.

As a journalist he covered, in 1961, the trial of Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi war criminal who oversaw the lethal logistics of the Holocaust. He had been captured by Israeli agents in Argentina the year before.

For many Israelis, the trial was the first time they heard the shocking deposition of Holocaust survivors. Mr. Gouri said it was only during the trial that he understood what had happened to the Jews.

After fighting as a reservist in Jerusalem in the 1967 war, caught up in the euphoria of victory, Mr. Gouri joined the Land of Israel Movement, a political organization of intellectuals from across the Israeli political spectrum who advocated holding on to all the newly crushed territories. Mr. Gouri later changed his mind and left the movement.

In more recent years, he became progressively critical of the right-wing government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and of what he saw as rising nationalism and religious extremism in some sectors of Israeli society.

Mr. Gouri seemed anguished by the lack of any resolution between Palestinians and Jews in the competition over the land, as if the 1948 and 1967 wars had never ended.

When people asked Mr. Gouri how he was, his daughter Hamutal related, he would reply, “I fare as well as my people.”

Mr. Gouri fought a final battle in the fall of 2016, collecting with other former commandos of the Palmach for weekly protests in a forest clearing at Bab al-Wad, known in Hebrew as Shaar Hagai. On the road to Jerusalem, it is where the Palmach fought some of its toughest campaigns.

Their objective was to overturn a government decision to dedicate the site in memory of Rehavam Zeevi, a former Israeli general turned right-wing politician, and to preserve the tradition of their fallen comrades.

Mr. Zeevi, who was assassinated in 2001 by Palestinian militants, had fought with the Palmach but not on the road to Jerusalem. He had been accused of having dealings with criminals and, posthumously, of sexual assault. The government eventually acceded to the group’s demands.

Mr. Gouri was born Haim Gurfinkel in Tel Aviv on Oct. 9, 1923. His parents, Israel and Gila Gurfinkel, had come on a ship from the Black Sea city of Odessa in 1919. The family Hebraized their surname to Gouri at some point. His father, who belonged to Mapai, a precursor of the Israeli Labor Party, was a member of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, from 1949 until 1965, the year he died.

As a young teenager, Haim Gouri moved to Kibbutz Beit Alfa, in northern Israel, to live out his pioneering socialist ideals. He studied at the Kadoorie Agricultural High School at the same time as Yitzhak Rabin, who would become prime minister. Mr. Gouri later studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Sorbonne.

In 1952 he married Aliza Becker, who was from Jerusalem. They had first met in 1948 at a hospital when Mr. Gouri was visiting a wounded commander. Ms. Becker, then 18, was an officer there tending to casualties.

Mr. Gouri began his journalistic career writing for left-wing party newspapers before moving on to Davar, a now-defunct Hebrew daily. Besides his daughter Hamutal, he is suffered by his wife; two other daughters, Yael and Noa; and six grandchildren.

Mr. Gouri also wrote poems about love and childhood and, in his later years, his fatality. His last book of Hebrew poems, published in 2015, was titled, “Though I Wished for More of More.”

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