The translator of David Grossman’s award-winning novel announced Wednesday that she would be donating half of her Man Booker International Prize money to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, which operates in the West Bank.
Jessica Cohen translated Grossman’s “A Horse Walks into a Bar,” which became the first Israeli work ever awarded the prestigious prize. The pair will share the £50,000 ($64,000) winnings.
Set in a Netanya comedy club, the story focuses on an embittered comedian falling apart on stage. Grossman beat out another renowned Israeli author, Amos Oz, who was nominated for his book “Judas.”
Cohen was born in England, raised in Israel and lives in Denver, and has translated Grossman as well as Etgar Keret, Rutu Modan, Dorit Rabinyan and others.
In her acceptance speech at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, Cohen did not shy away from sharing her views on current affairs coming out of Israel. “I’m not going to waste my breath hoping for change to come from the current Israeli administration, but I do hope that Israeli and Palestinian people can rekindle whatever shred of humanism and empathy they still have,” she said.
Cohen then announced that she would be donating half of her prize money to the left-wing NGO. “Its not easy to tell unflattering and uncomfortable truths, and it’s certainly not easy to hear them, but it is essential, not only in literature but in life, and I hope that organizations like B’Tselem can continue to do so,” she said.
B’Tselem uses Palestinian photographers and videographers to document the conduct of Israeli soldiers and settlers in the West Bank. In March, one of the group’s volunteers, Imad Abu Shamsiyeh, filmed IDF soldier Sgt. Elor Azaria shooting a disarmed, injured Palestinian in the head after he carried out a stabbing attack in Hebron. That footage sparked a nationwide debate over excessive force and IDF values.
For his part, Grossman has long supported the group. In a 2012 letter endorsing B’Tselem’s campaign to provide additional cameras to Palestinians in the West Bank, the author referred to the organization’s work as a “real source of pride.”
The group’s executive director Hagai El-Ad thanked the translator and congratulated the pair on the award in a Thursday Facebook post. He reiterated Cohen’s message on exposing “uncomfortable truths,” adding, “With your help, and with the help of many others, we will continue to do just that.”
The Man Booker Prize is sponsored by the Man Group, an active investment management firm that also sponsors the prestigious Man Booker Prize for Fiction. The international version of the award, which Grossman and Cohen won, is open to books published in any language that have been translated into English.