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Khirbet Cover

AUTHOR BIO (from Ibis Editions)

S. YIZHAR was the pen name of Yizhar Smilansky, born in Rehovot, Palestine in 1916. A longtime member of Knesset for the Mapai (Labor) party, he is perhaps most famous as the author of Khirbet Khizeh and the 1,156-page magnum opus, Days of Tziklag, about the 1948 war. After winning the Israel Prize in 1959, he taught education at the Hebrew University for many years and lapsed into literary silence until 1992, when he published the first of a trilogy of autobiographical novels, Preliminaries. His work has been translated in to 22 languages. He died in 2006 at the age of 89.

"Variously described as a voice of conscience or national traitor, florid stylist or literary genius, the Israeli writer Yizhar Smilansky, known by his penname of S Yizhar, always evoked strong emotions in his native land." Lawrence Joffe, from his obituary of S. Yizhar in The Guardian, August 24, 2006.


Khirbet Khirzeh is the story of an Israeli army unit in the process of removing civilians from Palestinian villages in 1948. This classic novella has long been considered an important part of Hebrew literature. It has also given rise it to controversy because it questions the expulsion of people from villages in Palestine. First published in 1949, Khirbet Khizeh was translated by Nicholas de Lange and Yaacob Dweck and first published in English by Ibis Editions in 2008.


  1. Khirbet Khirzeh beings with the line, "True, it all happened a long time ago, but it has haunted me ever since." Are you haunted by any events in your life? Are your memories part of any major historical event?

  2. How do you feel about how the Israeli soldier, who is the main character of this book, views the actions in which he takes part? How does he feel? Does his attitude change over the course of the book?

  3. Yizhar Smilansky served in Israeli intelligence in the 1948 war but, instead of writing a memoir about the experience, he wrote this story of an army unit and specifically about one soldier's sense of what happened in that war. What are the advantages of telling this story through the eyes of a common soldier? 

  4. An individual's experience of historical events can be different from the versions of the same events as they are remembered by others involved, by historians and by the general public. Do any of your memories differ from the "official version" of events? Has your attitude about these historical experiences changed over the years?

  5. The book is known as a classic of Hebrew literature. Do you think this English translation, with the afterword by David Shulman, gives the reader a sense of the original? What struck you as most interesting about the language of Khirbet Khizeh?

  6. S. Yizhar uses many details obviously taken from real experience and observation. When you think back on your own participation in historical events, do any physical details about the places where the events occurred stand out for you? Is focusing on physical details the best way to remember important events, or are thinking about what people said or having a broad overview more effective way to remember?

  7. How does Khirbet Khizeh relate to events currently in the news? Does the story relate to other stories and events in the six decades since the book was first published?

This reading group guide is provided by Small Press Distribution to Engage as You Age as part of the "I Remember Project" to support reading groups for seniors in Marin Country. SPD's "I Remember Project" is generously supported by the Marin Community Foundation.

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