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Bernstein Prize jury arguments for awarding

The Hilltop
April 20, 2014

This is the text from the jury of the Bernstein Prize 2013, explaining why they
have awarded the prize to The Hilltop:
Assaf Gavron has written one of the most important and interesting books of
recent years. The Hilltop is Gavrons fifth novel and his most major. In his unique
way, Gavron has placed himself in the heart of the canonic Hebrew literature by
creating a wide-ranging novel, which seeks to confront the fundamental
questions of the State of Israel. His work deals in a deeply literary manner with
the human face of these questions. In other words, this is a novel of great ideas.
He uses a contemporary form ironic, segmented, clip-like, seemingly flat and
postmodern to play the traditional role of the Israeli observer. But make no
mistake: the current form of this traditional approach is a bold literary move. It
allows literature to tell our story and in doing so lets us understand it,
contemplate it, and even question it.
The situation, the one in which we are living, and about which we complain, is
in a way the protagonist of the novel, and this situation is conveyed through the
story of two orphan brothers who find themselves in an illegal settlement on a
hilltop in the West Bank, Maale Chermesh C. The plot itself is meticulously
constructed and is the fruit of the authors exceptional control of the art of
storytelling. The prologue (The Fields) is truly a tour-de-force of plot structuring.
The story gets under the skins of the many varied characters, and manages to
explain them to us, thereby explaining something in ourselves. At the same time
he has created an impressively tight plot, which has various genre sources, and
together they construct a tight framework that reveals several worlds, without
losing the narrative core. Gavrons technical skill is clear, and it serves a more
interesting and varied storytelling perception than it seems at first glance, or
when reading only parts of the book.
The novel therefore cannot be dismantled into parts, and this in itself is a kind of
statement that also relates to the question of language. The novels language is
complex, self-conscious and quite ironic. It is somewhat similar to the way that
the hilltop and its residents are ultimately depicted from the outside. Gavrons
language forcibly refuses to be tempted by the poetry of the Hebrew language
with its link to the Bible. Possibly this is a political observation. Hebrew, when

you strip it from Messianismt hat is from religious yearningis quite a flat
language. The use Gavron makes of this Hebrew, especially in the first part, could
suggest that the author does not write prettily, but the later parts of the book
and the ironic use of rich and virtuosic language clarify that we are dealing with
what is left of the language. Not incidentally the Hebrew sounds at times almost
like English, in the rhythm and succinctness of the sentences. If there is
something sad in the linguistic plot, then this is one of the deepest and most
interesting points of the book; it relates to the true relations between Hebrew and
Israeliness, and its religious-messianic core.
The Hilltop examines reality with literary tools, and the story-centered thinking
explains the historical reality. The mechanism that Gavron discovers and
describes is fascinating. The irony is central and touches all the characters and all
the aspects of the story those on the hilltop, those protesting against it, those
who live at its foot and those who ignore its existence. The various aspects of the
story are not at all those we know from day-to-day politics. They deal with the
fundamental questions of living in such a place, with its complicated and nuanced
relations with the Arab inhabitants, and with its link to the Jewish people and
their important community in America. For this reason America has such a major
role in the novel. Both brothers spend long defining periods there, one of them
even takes part in the financial collapseand in fact runs away to the hilltop
where his born-again religious brother lives. The support of American Jews for
the settlement and their one-dimensional perception of its reality, are part of the
narrative. There is something Tolstoyan in this interpretation, in the way it puts
the situation at the center. For its part, the situation imbues the characters
human weaknesses with historical dimensions, as if the brothers KupperNehushtan were aristocrats in the time of the Graff.
To sum up, The Hilltop is a bold and capable attempt to confront the tradition of
the novel. Gavron succeeds exceptionally well by writing a novel, which is a
contemporary and profound development of the form, and not only in terms of
Hebrew literature. In judging the book on these terms, we find a tremendous
struggle with the pioneer-period novels and with the cultural and literary
tradition that places the kibbutz and the settlement at the center. The connection
between the historic ideals of the Labor party and the settlement enterprise, and
the understanding of the links between motivation, action and form, are
ultimately an artistic and cultural achievement, because the novel is not

simplistic and does not lead to simplistic conclusions. True, this is an observation
of the hilltop from the plain, meaning from Tel Aviv, but Tel Aviv is also reflected
in the hilltop, and neither would find in the novel what it might think to find in
For these reasons we have decided to award Assaf Gavron with the Bernstein
Prof. Niza Ben-Dov
Prof. Hillel Weiss
Dr. Uri Cohen

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