Sayed Kashua doesn’t want to write in Hebrew for ‘Haaretz’ anymore

Israel/Palestine
on 49 Comments

A question I often ask Palestinians in Israel/Palestine is: What if you just want to get ahead with your own life, is that possible? We know the political situation is horrible; but it has been horrible for many decades; so is it possible to say, I am not going go to get swept up in this problem, but try and get what I can out of Israeli society?

The other night I got an answer when the Israeli Palestinian writer Sayed Kashua spoke at NYU. Kashua is a giant success. He was the writer of Arab Labor, a popular TV sitcom often compared to All in the Family; he is a novelist and a columnist for Haaretz; now teaching at the University of Illinois, he was profiled last year in the New Yorker.

But the writer who spoke at NYU last Thursday is openly undergoing an identity crisis heightened by the experience of freedom in Champaign, Illinois, for the last 18 months. Kashua says that he was a “hostage” who lived in “fear” when he was in Israel; all his efforts to fit in and change Israeli society by making jokes to Jewish Israelis did nothing to change the balance of power; he feels he took the “wrong paths” in language and work. He said he had been trying to quit his Haaretz column for over a year, and did so again just last week; he would prefer to be writing for an Illinois newspaper; he does not know why he writes in Hebrew, the language of the “enemy” or the “oppressor.”

Kashua is now unsure if he will return to his beloved Jerusalem. He has lost hope in the Israeli future.

Sayed Kashua speaking at NYU last Thursday January 10

Sayed Kashua speaking at NYU last Thursday January 10

The writer has been widely profiled, but I do not believe he has ever expressed his personal crisis in such anguished terms as he did the other night in downtown New York. But listen to him.

On his personal crisis:

The only reason I’m there [Illinois] is the political situation, the racism and the despair I think that I couldn’t handle any more back in the summer of 2014. And it was frustrating. I think that I’m still suffering some kind of traumatic situation. I didn’t recover yet from that traumatic period… I had a very strong feeling that I took the wrong paths in my life. And all the decisions… writing for TV, and choosing the wrong language, and living in the wrong place—I very much hope that I will gain some powers and recover…

I miss Jerusalem so much. I don’t know about home, I really don’t know about home because now Champaign is home…. So now I miss Champaign… I miss Jerusalem, I miss Tira [my village] very much. I’m still there, stuck there I think. Believe it or not, but I’m not worried that much about Trump. Maybe I should be. But the first news that I read when I wake up in the morning are the news from Jerusalem, from Palestine-slash-Israel

On his belief in assimilation in Israel:

The main character in Arab Labor was a journalist, who… just did his best to assimilate, to fit in to the Ashkenazi Jewish society in Jerusalem. Of course he was rejected every single episode… When it comes to nationality, he doesn’t have this dignity at all, and he was in no way this proud Palestinian nationalist at all. He just wanted to be a citizen and he just wanted to fit in. So to be honest, that’s the way I do think generally speaking about the Palestinian citizens inside Israel. That since 48, if we talk generally, they are trying to fit in and be equal citizens in the state of Israel– and again and again they are rejected and not welcome as citizens.

On his misgivings about using Hebrew to tell his stories:

To choose the Hebrew language was a big problem. Hebrew is the language of the state of Israel. If you want to be a lawyer, if you want to be a teacher, if you want to be a criminal you have to speak Hebrew…

In a strange way, if you want to address the Arabs inside Israel, it’s better to use Hebrew. There are no real publishing houses and no real bookstores or marketing for books, so if you want to address or criticize Arab society inside Israel, the best way to do it is doing it in Hebrew, but Hebrew is the language of the enemy. So how do you criticize the society with the language of the enemy–or the language of the other? I’m not sure– enemy is a little too much, maybe, but at least of the oppressor.

Of course Hebrew is not just a language, it’s the modern Hebrew, the Hebrew of establishing the new Jew, the new Hebrew with this Ashkenazi accent, the new Hebrew that is supposed to be controlling and ruling the land of Israel. As Amos Oz, a wonderful writer, and a good supporter of my work, I guess, he would say that Hebrew is the biggest achievement of Zionism. That makes it even much more problematic. It’s not a language, it’s their language, it’s the language of Israel, the language of occupation and it’s the language of discrimination….

On wanting to quit Haaretz:

I have been trying to quit writing for Haaretz since I moved, to be honest. Including a week ago. I filed my column and again I called my editor and said, That’s it. I don’t feel any–. I don’t know what I am doing here. I am writing about Urbana Champaign and the Uber driver in Urbana Champaign. If it was a local newspaper in Champaign, I would do that.

Things are happening [back in Israel/Palestine], I do relate to them, but not the same way I do if I am living there. The feeling of freedom is so strange to me. It’s not that I feel so free…. Sometimes I wonder how the fact that I choose to write in Hebrew– am I censoring myself only because of the choice of the use of the Hebrew or not? I have no idea. So that is tough… Everything I write is still connected [to Israel/Palestine].

On Hebrew as a form of self-protection:

The use of Hebrew for me, or writing the satirical columns for Haaretz or of course writing for Israeli TV, was a way to protect myself, using humor. Knowing very well that there is no way to make lectures against occupation and discrimination on prime time TV. You have to sell. And to sell you have to use humor…

Many Israelis would like to call it Jewish humor. I completely disagree with that. Maybe minority way of humor. But to protect yourself with humor.

I used to believe and I still believe that the only way to figure out the solution, to share the land equally and to end the occupation, is to address the Israelis and tell the Israelis a different story. I always thought it was very important, yes, to influence the majority, the people with the power. Because in a way our lives are in their hands. So it was some kind of self-protection. I always use the sentence of, “Please don’t shoot me, I can tell you a joke.” But it’s not only that. It doesn’t end there with please don’t shoot me, I want to tell you a joke. It’s more: “I will tell you a joke, and maybe it will make you laugh, and then I tell you another joke and maybe we can laugh together and you will listen to me, then maybe I can tell you a little bit of a sad story.”

Kashua then read a very sad story indeed: a column about his beloved grandmother, whose husband was killed during the Nakba in 1948, and Kashua’s desire to justify and understand his choices by talking to her.

More on his misgivings:

According to Pew, an American research association, around 50 percent of Jewish Israelis do believe that Palestinians should be transferred; 80 percent think we should be discriminated against and we don’t deserve to be equal citizens. That’s one of the problems. You don’t have a way to escape. So that’s it. Am I going to criticize Israeli society as if it was my society? Am I allowed to do that? I can criticize racism in order to create? Because that was my belief: that one day we will be equal citizens and we can share the land and all the citizens could live wherever they want in the state of Israel, I don’t know the borders of the state. That is the very basis of democracy, really the very basis, that all citizens are equal; and all people are equal—

And they failed even to do that…. And I felt so ashamed of trying to do something with my writing and my TV show. So as I say I am still trying to recover.

On his loss of hope:

In order to use humor, to use satire, you have the basic feeling of instability in life and of course you need a lot of hope. And I think I always had this hope, based on knowing the people, knowing [my producer and director and neighbors]… the kids in the bilingual school that my kids used to go to.
One of the sad things was to see here the classes of my kids in the bilingual school in Jerusalem on fire, because extreme rightwing Israelis decided that Arabs and Jews are not supposed to study together so they burned the school.
I miss that so much and that’s what always gave me a reason to believe or hope that we can live together. I think that I stopped doing that … even before the war in Gaza. This feeling that I couldn’t lie to my kids anymore. I couldn’t tell my kids that they could one day be equal in Israel….

He thinks now he was a hostage to Jewish Israeli society:

So it’s painful and it’s also not fair, because back then– being a Palestinian citizen of Israel, I belong to this discriminated minority that has no power at all, not economic power or any kind of power in the general society. Because this fear was part of my life and this fear that I was kept as a hostage was part of my life. It wasn’t like I wasn’t working for wonderful places like Haaretz [and the television production company]. But fear was always there, and I think it was always much more difficult to criticize Israel as an Arab, and not as a Jewish Israeli… Even writing about occupation as apartheid– that’s what happens in Haaretz– it’s still part of that internal Jewish discussion within the family.

But when the Arab is criticizing that– “Oh he just wants to destroy the state of Israel.”

Which was never true, quite frankly. Because I really want to make that place a better place for my kids and for Jonathan, he was my neighbor in the same building and his kids used to go to the same school with my kids. And I really cared about his future, Jewish kids, and my kids.

On his despair:

It makes criticizing and humor a little bit sad, realizing that power respects only power. And realizing that it’s only the language of violence that can be understood. That is so frustrating for a person who believes in the power of culture and the power of words and the power of making changes, even small changes, again with art.

But unfortunately that is a big shock, and huge despair, to realize that unfortunately it is worth nothing.

Two other points. Kashua was critical of Palestinian society, for its intolerance of free speech. But he said that Israel is now manifesting the same intolerance, and– more important– Palestinian urbanity is destroyed by Israel. There are no Palestinian cities; Palestinian urban growth is extremely circumscribed. This leaves the traditional village structure the only structure in Palestinian society and forecloses the possibility of a thriving urban Palestinian literary/intellectual culture in Israel.

Last week it was the Pew study showing that 80 percent of Israeli Jews think discrimination is hunky-dory. A few days before it was the news that the Israeli left has come up with a plan to wall off and segregate the Palestinians of Jerusalem to protect the Jewish state. And here you have a fine Palestinian writer saying he doesn’t want to write in Hebrew anymore. What will it take Americans to understand that Zionism doesn’t work in this day and age?

49 Responses

  1. chocopie
    March 15, 2016, 7:40 pm

    Thank you. What a fascinating man, with so many interesting insights into Israeli society. I can understand his confusion and dismay. I hope he and his family will be happy living here in Illinois, though I’m sure the transition is not easy.

  2. Herchel
    March 15, 2016, 7:56 pm

    What a harrowing tale of his persecution working as an Arab at a large news outlet in the Jewish state. If only the Zio-supremasists treated him as well as all the Jewish writers employed by large news outlets in Arab countries. (For the benefit of the largely feebleminded readership: that isn’t meant literally – Arabs don’t permit Jews to work at newspapers.)

    • eljay
      March 15, 2016, 9:15 pm

      || Herchel: What a harrowing tale of his persecution working as an Arab at a large news outlet in the Jewish state. If only the Zio-supremasists treated him as well as all the Jewish writers employed by large news outlets in Arab countries. … ||

      It’s amusing how you Zio-supremacists consistently defend the “moral beacon” and “light unto the nations” state of Israel by comparing it to “Arab countries” you despise.

      Z-S: John’s the best guy in the world!
      Person: Ummm…actually, John’s a rapist.
      Z-S: Oh, yeah? Well at least he’s not a serial killer!

      • Mayhem
        March 18, 2016, 7:34 pm

        @eljay, if as you say Israel should be eliminated and replaced with some kind of fantasy model that swims around in your head, it is perfectly sensible to look at the practical alternatives. Whatever you might be imagining has no credibility. To replace Israel with yet another undemocratic, despotic Arab controlled state will do nothing to enhance the stability of the Middle East, a region racked already by Islamic inspired violence and terror.

      • eljay
        March 18, 2016, 9:13 pm

        || Mayhem: @eljay, if as you say Israel should be eliminated … ||

        If as I say…except that I don’t say. What I repeatedly have said, however, is that I advocate a two-state solution consisting of two secular and democratic states – Israel and [whatever the other state is to be called] – of and for all of their respective citizens, immigrants, expats and refugees, equally.

        But I understand that in your fevered, Zio-supremacist mind you deliriously and rrationally conflate the elimination of oppressive, colonialist, expansionist and religion-supremacist “Jewish State” – an unjust and immoral construct – with the elimination of Israel.

        I wish you – and all of your similarly-afflicted, hateful and immoral co-collectivists – a speedy recovery.

      • Mayhem
        March 19, 2016, 7:21 pm

        I advocate a two-state solution consisting of two secular and democratic state

        Just as I said a ‘fantasy model’, completely useless under the current reality. @eljay, you have no credibility.

      • eljay
        March 19, 2016, 9:10 pm

        || Mayhem: … @eljay, you have no credibility. ||

        Says the Zio-supremacist hypocrite. Funny stuff. Did Steve lend you that “zinger” or did you come up with it all on your own? :-P

    • echinococcus
      March 15, 2016, 11:50 pm

      Hershel, shameless liar and Antisemite: it’s Zionist entity citizens who don’t get employment in some Arab countries, not “Jews”. Jewish citizens of Arab countries or even some Western ones have no problems.

    • talknic
      March 16, 2016, 3:14 am

      @ Herchel

      Poor feeble minded Herchel has yet to work out that as a feeble minded propagandist for Israel’s on going crimes against the Palestinians, no one really cares what feeble minded drivel s/he writes

  3. a blah chick
    March 15, 2016, 8:51 pm

    A few days ago Israel Harel had an opinion piece up at Haaretz addressing the Pew study. I found the last paragraph most revealing.

    “The racists in Israel are a negligible minority. Most of those who support expelling their enemies reached this conclusion out of fear and impotence – not because of racism…”

    Think about what Harel is saying here, that the Jews of Israel, who control the military, the government, the economy, the media and the sports teams and the nukes feel “fear and impotence.” Gee, I thought that when the Jewish state came into being the Jews would never feel fear again.

    Harel may not know it but he has affirmed the utter failure of Zionism.

    • Kay24
      March 15, 2016, 10:06 pm

      The Jewish people of Israel will always feel fear and never know security. It is up to themselves and not the rest of the world, to end the occupation and stop stealing lands. As long as there is an occupation, there will always be anger and violence against the nation and the people. It is an obvious human reaction.

      It seems they make every damn excuse in the book to reject any chance of getting along with it’s neighbors, and have peaceful solutions. It is hard to understand with the bragging that they are notorious for, that they are unable to get it. People don’t get mad at you for no reason.
      Israel certainly gives it’s neighbors plenty of them. The world is sick of the whining that they are constantly under attacks, and that the world is out to get them, yet Israel does NOTHING to change it’s ways.

      • Steve Grover
        March 16, 2016, 1:31 pm

        The Jewish people of Israel will always feel fear and never know security.

        I think they are safe there. Have you seen the recent murder statistics in Chicago? People are fearful hear because the weather is getting warmer. Just ask the acting Superintendent of Chicago Police Department.

      • eljay
        March 16, 2016, 2:07 pm

        || Steve Grover: The Jewish people of Israel will always feel fear and never know security. … ||

        Yeah, it’s really weird. For almost 70 years and counting, Zio-supremacists have been giving it their all – including terrorism, ethnic cleansing, theft, occupation, colonization, destruction, torture, murder, intransigence, belligerence and supremacism – and yet people exist who refuse to embrace the wonders of Zio-supremacism and the religion-supremacist “Jewish State” project.

      • Steve Grover
        March 16, 2016, 2:45 pm

        Oops Eljay you caught me with my quotation marks down. Just keep your eyes off my circumsion.

        “The Jewish people of Israel will always feel fear and never know security.” I was quoting Kay24

      • Mooser
        March 16, 2016, 3:42 pm

        “Oops Eljay you caught me with my quotation marks down. Just keep your eyes off my circumsion.”

        That’s a little square car that only goes in circles.

        So you’re working to reduce the Jewish-jealousy factor, too, “Steve”? Good on’ya, dude!

      • eljay
        March 16, 2016, 6:22 pm

        || Steve Grover: … keep your eyes off my circumsion. ||

        I see that you’re proud of even your smallest “zinger”. (And I really don’t want to hear about how it swells with pride… )

      • Kay24
        March 16, 2016, 9:08 pm

        Grover, if they are indeed safe there, why the hell does their leader keep telling the world that they have to keep fighting off terrorists, afraid of rockets that hardly hit their target, and consistently killing unarmed civilians because they are “defending” themselves?
        If they are safe and sound like you say, then there is no reason to occupy and steal now, does it?

      • Kay24
        March 16, 2016, 9:30 pm

        Grover, it is also lame to compare the people of Chicago to that apartheid nation, that occupies and sends it’s uniformed thugs to kidnap children, kill children while playing soccer, and collectively punish people they keep stealing land from. Are you bright enough to see the difference?

  4. Krauss
    March 16, 2016, 8:51 am

    Thanks for the report. Don’t forget that 97%(!) of Jewish Israelis are against intermarriage.

    This is why all the talk about “if only Labor gets to power, things will work out alright” is BS.

    • Laurent Weppe
      March 16, 2016, 11:30 am

      Don’t forget that 97%(!) of Jewish Israelis are against intermarriage.

      I wonder how many of these 97% are like American Evangelicals: Chanting “Amen” when they hear bigoted speeches not because they approve, but because “they [don’t] yet realize that they [aren’t] the only ones in that congregation [who disapprove of] this war, and so feel alone and powerless and intimidated, and fearfully submitted, shout “Amen” along with everyone else, enabling the illusion of unanimity”

  5. Ira Glunts
    March 16, 2016, 8:59 am

    Phil, many thanks for the report.

    I had the pleasure of meeting Kashua about 5 years ago. He was the guest of the Syracuse University Jewish Studies Department. I found him to be a very engaging personality.

    Kashua is a truly talented novelist that deserves a wider audience. His show “Arab Labor” is probably much deeper and more clever than most people assume. In my opinion, comparisons to “All In the Family” do not do it justice. I think most of it sails over the heads of the majority of Israeli Jews who are too racist to see many of the ironies and injustices depicted.

    Speaking of ironies: Kashua teaches at the same campus which hired and dismissed Steven Salaita. Kashua, who had (and I assume still holds) an appointment from the Department of Jewish Studies at UIUC was on campus during the height of the Salaita student and faculty protests.

    As part of the Jewish Studies Department Kashua taught Hebrew to Jewish students, most of whom probably view his predicament living in Jerusalem as moving but also as unfortunately necessary collateral of the ongoing Zionist project.

    I really am positively disposed to Kashua. But how hard is it to cease writing in Hebrew for Ha’aretz? Possibly there is something involved in this that I do not understand. At any rate, I wish him all the success in the world in cutting his ties to the Hebrew daily if that is what he desires.

  6. hophmi
    March 16, 2016, 11:27 am

    And the December 2015 Pew survey found that 89% of Palestinians living in the territories supporting making Sharia Law, which by definition privileges Muslims, the official law, and the 93% of Muslims in the Middle East believe that homosexuality is morally wrong.

    Fortunately, Israel has the best minority protections in the Middle East.

    link to pewforum.org

    • eljay
      March 16, 2016, 12:38 pm

      || hophmi: And the December 2015 Pew survey found that 89% of Palestinians living in the territories supporting making Sharia Law, which by definition privileges Muslims … ||

      I condemn this. And you probably do, too.

      || … 93% of Muslims in the Middle East believe that homosexuality is morally wrong. ||

      I condemn this as well. And you probably do, too.

      I also condemn Jewish supremacism in/and a religion-supremacist “Jewish State” in as much as possible of Palestine. And you…don’t.

      Hypocrite.

    • a blah chick
      March 16, 2016, 7:14 pm

      hopmi, you do know there’s sharia law in Israel, right?

      So, if sharia law is fine with the Zionists why do you care?

  7. Shmuel
    March 16, 2016, 12:50 pm

    A few years ago, a Palestinian writer/commenter at Mondoweiss, Simone Daud, wrote:

    Now I am a citizen of the self defined state of the Jewish people. I am an Israeli intelectual. I have engaged that society, and come from a family that has been engaged in that society for generations. I grew up in the Jewish state, consuming Hebrew literature and Jewish religious writings. It is ridiculous to promote the perspective that I do not own and share Jewish culture and heritage. I own it as much as you do, despite the fact that Israel treats me as a second class citizen because I am not registered as a Jew in their population registry.

    link to mondoweiss.net

    In another piece, Simone Daud also referred to the “colonisation of the coloniser”.

    Hebrew is (one of) Sayed Kashua’s language(s) — as a language-creator/owner and not merely a user/imitator — and of course he teaches at a department of Jewish studies. Who better?

    Sayed Kashua is the avant-garde of Palestinian pre-post-colonialism ;-)

    • Ira Glunts
      March 16, 2016, 8:44 pm

      “Hebrew is (one of) Sayed Kashua’s language(s) — as a language-creator/owner and not merely a user/imitator — and of course he teaches at a department of Jewish studies. Who better? -”

      Shmuel, is there any irony here? See my comment above, second to the last paragraph. It should have read collateral “damage” instead of just collateral.

      • Shmuel
        March 17, 2016, 3:36 am

        Ira,

        The irony is the best part, on many different levels. Because mainstream Judaism has harnessed itself to Israel, Kashua is not only an Israeli writer, but a “Jewish” writer. His books feature prominently at my local Jewish bookshop (between Kafka and Kertész?). Because Jewish life has become so superficial — putting all of its eggs in the nationalism basket — Kashua knows more about virtually every aspect of Judaism (including Israel!) than the vast majority of Jews.

        He has not only appropriated the language and culture of the coloniser; he is colonising the “golah” (diaspora), while, at the same time, being more of a real exile (“goleh“) than any of his students will ever be.

      • Shmuel
        March 17, 2016, 4:25 am

        On a related note, there are a number of Mizrahi Israeli writers who are challenging Ashkenazi hegemony (in Israel) — on the banks of the Spree!

      • rugal_b
        March 17, 2016, 5:03 am

        “On a related note, there are a number of Mizrahi Israeli writers who are challenging Ashkenazi hegemony (in Israel)” – Shmuel

        That’s right Shmuel, it is highly encouraging to see fellow Middle Eastern Jews realizing they too are merely cogs in the Zionist machine, which goal was always to establish a white supremacist government in Israel, in the same manner it was done in Australia, NZ, Canada and US.

        However, you must know that the Mizrahim opposition to Zionism (White Jewish Supremacism) is not something new. Many exhibited gross regret in leaving their motherland for Israel, soon after the state was established and the emerging social order was recognized. Also, most of the Mizrahim only moved to Israel after being forced through unpleasant circumstances within their home countries, which historians have identified as being directly masterminded by white Zionists themselves. Today, most millennial Mizrahim, along with their Ethiopian and Sephardic comrades with higher education are overwhelmingly pro-Palestine and anti-Zionist which is not surprising at all considering the racism they go through every day of their lives in Israel.

        I look forward to the day for the Mizrahim, Sephardic and Ethiopian Israeli Jews to make amends and reconcile with their respective peoples in their homelands and the white Zionists be exposed as the scheming snakes that they are. They are the source of this conflict, together with their white allies in Europe and America, and we should be crystal clear on this if we are serious about bringing these cowards to justice.

  8. Sally Parker
    March 16, 2016, 1:37 pm

    Write for us Sayed Kashua. We want to hear what you have to say. Are there any fan-subs of “Arab Labor”?

  9. Stephen Shenfield
    March 16, 2016, 6:18 pm

    Kashua is right on target when he refers to “minority humor.” Traditional Jewish humor is quite alien to the Israeli mentality, while Palestinians under Zionist rule naturally develop a type of humor that is very similar to traditional Jewish humor, even to the extent of adopting certain anecdotes virtually verbatim.

    For example, in the preface to his book “Chief Complaint: A Country Doctor’s Tales of Life in Galilee” Hatim Kanaaneh tells a “Palestinian joke” about a Palestinian asked to write on the topic of “elephants” who comes up with an essay entitled “The Elephant and the Question of Palestine.” He adds: “I am told this is a variant of a European Jewish joke. The irony is bitter: we are the new Jews in Europe’s Zionist colonial project.” Indeed, many old-Jews must be as familiar as I am with the Jewish variant of this joke, in which a Jewish student submits an essay entitled “The Elephant and the Jewish Question.”

    This highlights the SELF-betrayal involved when “old Jews” support the pseudo-Jewish Zionist state — the state of the “new-Jews” as Kashua says — instead of showing solidarity with their “fellow old-Jews”, i.e., the Palestinians.

  10. Yitzgood
    March 17, 2016, 3:05 am

    Did anyone notice the reference to “the new Hebrew with this Ashkenazi accent”? The Israeili accent is well-known for being Sefardic. And the Ashkenazi accent, by the way, preserves distinctions that were obviously in the language originally. Why should patach and kametz have the same sound–and taf and saf? The Mizrachi accent preserves the distinction between alef and ayin. (Some Israelis whose accent is just Israeli pronounce their ayins, some don’t.) The Israeli accent is not exactly Mizrachi, but it certainly isn’t Ashkenazi.

    • Shmuel
      March 17, 2016, 8:13 am

      Did anyone notice the reference to “the new Hebrew with this Ashkenazi accent”? The Israeili accent is well-known for being Sefardic.

      Yitzgood,

      The dominant modern Hebrew accent is decidedly Ashkenazi in the sense that the sounds are pronounced in a European, rather than Middle Eastern fashion (r, kh, ʻ, ḥ, q, etc.).

      • echinococcus
        March 17, 2016, 4:15 pm

        Let me describe it as Hebrew sounded approximately the way a Sefardí (i.e. Spanish –not “Middle Eastern fashion”) or Italian (if you agree) would transliterate it, but read by a Lithuanian or Bielorussian or such Eskenazi.

  11. Stephen Shenfield
    March 17, 2016, 5:35 am

    Yitzgood: I remember from my childhood that before we were “Israelified” we had a different, softer pronunciation of Hebrew, e.g. Shabbos rather than Shabat. It affected some vowels as well as the consonants you mention. This is what first alerted me to the fact that something new was being introduced into Judaism. You clearly assume that this is what Kashua is talking about, but I very much doubt it. The pre-Zionist Hebrew dialect of the Ashkenazi diaspora is unlikely to have been part of his personal experience. I suppose he is referring to remnants of that dialect that remained in the speech of Israeli Jews of Ashkenazi family background — things like not pronouncing ayin, as you say.

    • Marnie
      March 17, 2016, 6:37 am

      I recently met a man who hates his skin (it is brown), his language (Arabic) and his religion (Christian) and desperately wants to become a Jew. I’ve never met anyone filled with such self-loathing. We were talking together and some Ashkenazi Jews decided our business was their business so they started to talk with him. He was charming and beautiful, but before 5 minutes had passed, one of these racist a$$holes asked him in the hated modern Hebrew if he was Muslim. They apparently got their quota of trying to shame someone for the day and moved on. He wants the friendship of ashkenazi Jews because he believes his life will be better. I’m positive it will make it worse. They will never see him as the beautiful, kind man that he is, they will always make him feel inferior and not part of the club. I’ve been depressed about this man and reading this about Sayed Kashua is making my heart ache even more. Modern Hebrew is the language of the occupation and the oppressor, but I can’t tell my friend that, he’s trying too hard to be one of the chosen people.

  12. Danaa
    March 18, 2016, 3:56 pm

    I am late to reading this piece, and will be late in commenting; still, better late than never, yes?

    As a former Hebrew speaker I am especially touched by Kashua’s complex relationship with the language of his oppressors. I say ‘former speaker’ because I have consciously and deliberately set upon not speaking the language I grew up with for many years now. No, I didn’t quite forget it, nor do I seek to denigrate it. What happened though is that as I moved away from the Israeli gestalt, its language started to feel foreign to me. As one feels with a language one learns later in life. I am not sure whether the two processes – growing apart from the collective, and growing estranged from its language – were independent or fed on each other in some sub-conscious way. I just know that one day, a decade or so from the time I left, Hebrew stopped feeling organic – and I lost the music of the words.

    Unlike Kashua, part of my own estrangement was the direct result of having discovered another language – English – one in which I felt I could find a more natural expression. The thought occurred me tha perhaps, we each have a natural language of sorts, one which may not always be the one we are born into or are raised with.

    Still, though my journey – linguistically and politically – is quite different from Kashua’s, I find great resonance in his story. For I have come to believe in the supremacy of language over the personal emotional world. Do we feel something if the language we have at our disposal has no word for that emotion? perhaps we dismiss such inexpressible emotions as something foreign, peculiar or just too vague to get hold of. I have been wondering about such things for quite a while now, searching my memory banks, taking note of others’ expressions, musing idly as I listen to music – which may be just another language to wrap reality into, or escape from its everydayness.

    Kashua was always political and In Hebrew, he expressed the vagaries of israeli political existence, through the funny, to which hebrew lends itself well. Almost too well. I, OTOH, woke up to the political dimension of life in English, and therefore have only its vocabulary to discourse on this level. In Hebrew I was politically asleep – as many if not most young people are. Nothing different about that between Israelis and other humans – the young are too busy to meddle in the messy business of collectives everywhere; or, to put it more accurately, they would rather not unless external events force them too, as when revolutions occur.

    Nowadays, I realize that to be israeli – Arab, jew or otherwise, is to be political. The politics of the “situation” is always there, separating people from one another into camps, even if they just met as strangers. For an israeli, the personal is truly political these days, and I am not sure if it was always so, because when I was young confrontations with alternative world views were few and far between. We complained about our own society, but still we were politically dormant. So I think that perhaps, for the Arab israeli person of letters, such a state of blissful drowsiness was not the option it was for us, who grew up cozily wrapped in the bubble of illustrious – and shared – manifest destiny.

    Anyways, figuring this train has left the station, I hope it’s OK to wax poetic to an probably empty room.

    My very best to Sayed Kashua, whose “Arab Labor” I discovered one day, all on my own, on an isolated ranch somewhere in middle America. Quite by chance, thanks to linkTV.

    • Shmuel
      March 18, 2016, 4:51 pm

      Thanks for your thoughts, Danaa. I get them so much it hurts. I was very political in Israel, so the political language is absolutely mine, but it stings and burns. It helps that I deal with many different layers of Hebrew every day, from the Bible to Kashua and everything in between.

      Last time I was in Israel, someone was sympathising with Kashua’s not really feeling at home anywhere but Israel but not being able to live there, and I couldn’t help but blurt out, “me too”.

      A random thought: Sami Michael’s Hebrew is so much more Arab than Sayed Kashua’s, but I guess that stands to reason, as Kashua’s Hebrew came much more naturally, and Michael was a writer in Arabic before he started writing in Hebrew.

      Another random thought: I can’t read Mahfouz in Arabic, but he reads so naturally (that word again) in Hebrew.

      • Danaa
        March 19, 2016, 12:33 am

        Hello Shmuel. Dare I confess my ignorance and admit I didn’t know Sami Michael, until you recommended one of his books to me (Flight of the Swans). Amazon was out for a while and it took some time before I was able to get it, but alas, by the time it arrived, I was mired in the other side of my brain and could not escape. Still haven’t read it but it is moving slowly but surely to the top of the heap next to my desk (a scary thought because just below it, is Piketty’s book – all 1000 or so pages of it, which I have been pretending to have read but may need to make good on the pretense real soon due to a stupid commitment I made to some people. Only Sami’s book is protecting me from this fateful meeting with the great – and supposedly readale, but – oh so voluminous – Piketty and his many – oh so many- diagrams and graphs).

        I have saved all the Hebrew teachings you gave me over the years here and can confess that your sentences in my near-forgotten language, brought up a few pangs of regret (don’t worry though – I get over such pangs rather swiftly, so no guilt for you…).

        The other day, looking through a box I long had in storage, I found n old old notebook with poems I wrote in Hebrew back in the day. Tried to read them objectively figuring on a chuckle or two, but alas, comprehension escaped me. It was literally like reading someone else’s writing. I could not recognize the person who wrote them anywhere in my memory – or connect to the feelings and perceptions behind the words – so much so that the thought crossed my mind that perhaps I just copied someone else’s work for posterity. Except the pages were marked with my name and lines were crossed out and words rewritten here and there, and yes, there was a hint of that verbosity which felt somehow familiar (a verbosity to which English lends itself so much better, ouch!). Interestingly, I also found the feelings conjured by the words quite foreign, a distance that may be explained by the passage of time, but only partly. For example, way angrier than I recall. What was there to be so mad about, I wonder? or, could it be that hebrew lends itself to fury so well that it conjures that particular emotion, even out of nothing in particular?

        Alas, I know enough Hebrew still to see that those poems were not all that great (so in the box they shall remain). Good thing I ended up going on another path…..

      • Shmuel
        March 19, 2016, 4:15 am

        Danaa,

        Glad to hear you are safe from Piketty for the time being, although I think I owe you an apology. The book I had meant to recommend was Aida, not Flight of the Swans (they were next to each other on the shelf, and I got confused). Sorry. Meanwhile, Michael has come out with a new and wonderful book, called Diamond in the Wilderness (יהלום מן הישימון), should you need protection from any future scary tomes.

        While looking for the English title of יהלום מן הישימון, I discovered why Mahfouz reads so “naturally” in Hebrew and why it came to mind when thinking of Michael’s Arab-Hebrew. The Cairo Trilogy was translated by none other than S. Michael.

        To get back to the subject of this post, I’ve never seen “Arab Labour”, and I don’t think I want to.

      • Danaa
        March 21, 2016, 2:02 am

        Shmuel, thanks for the recommendations. and comments. Alas, Aida is only available in hebrew, which is kind of difficult for me to read. I bought The Flight of the Swans (also in Hebrew) but it’s going to be hard going.

        These days, reading in hebrew for me is a bit like reading English was for the first 2 years after I came to the US. Can be done, but a little laborious.

        Why haven’t his books been translated to English? and is there perhaps an “underground” translation available?

    • Annie Robbins
      March 18, 2016, 6:52 pm

      thanks danaa, i love your musings. and shmuel’s too.

      btw, someone sent me the link to arab labor this morning. i’ve only watched one episode a long time ago so i am looking forward to it.

    • echinococcus
      March 19, 2016, 8:47 am

      Danaa,

      Your observations about the political / emotional significance of the language used were seriously thought-provoking. Thank you.

      I have consciously and deliberately set upon not speaking the language I grew up with for many years now. No, I didn’t quite forget it, nor do I seek to denigrate it. What happened though is that as I moved away from the Israeli gestalt, its language started to feel foreign to me. As one feels with a language one learns later in life. I am not sure whether the two processes – growing apart from the collective, and growing estranged from its language – were independent or fed on each other in some sub-conscious way. I just know that one day, a decade or so from the time I left, Hebrew stopped feeling organic – and I lost the music of the words

      A reaction, one would suggest, not so much to the authorities who implement inhuman measures but to the entire society that condones them. Similar historical situations are documented for entire groups, like mother-tongue Turcophone Greeks and Armenians who gave it up overnight and tried to use some Greek they had learned for 3 years at elementary school, or rudiments of French, etc. I believe there were analogous situations among Jewish Germans, Austrians and Czechs (not Yiddish speakers.)

      For I have come to believe in the supremacy of language over the personal emotional world. Do we feel something if the language we have at our disposal has no word for that emotion? perhaps we dismiss such inexpressible emotions as something foreign, peculiar or just too vague to get hold of. I have been wondering about such things for quite a while now …

      “The language you have at your disposal” may have no single word to express something as in some other language, but all are eminently equipped to express anything you are able to formulate in your head –provided full competence. As demonstrated by yourself: you seem more likely to formulate any complex train of thought more precisely and more elegantly than the average person. Also, if English is not among your mother tongues, you are evidence that mastery of a standard language is not at all a question of native vernacular.

  13. Mayhem
    March 18, 2016, 9:18 pm

    Israel is the enemy

    How can Israelis not feel threatened and antagonistic to their Arab minority when those who reap the benefits of living in Israel speak with deeply entrenched hatred?
    How can any Israeli feel safe and trust any Arab today standing in their vicinity?
    It’s like Sayed Kashua who spurns success and widespread acknowledgement for his work in Israeli society because his soul has been poisoned.
    It’s like Omar Bhargouti educating himself at Tel Aviv University and using the opportunity to annihilate his benefactors.
    It’s like those who get hospital treatment courtesy of Israel turning upon their helpers.
    It’s ultimately about violence.
    It’s non-acceptance of the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state.
    It’s called biting the hand that feeds you.

    • Mooser
      March 18, 2016, 9:45 pm

      “It’s called biting the” (Israeli) “hand that feeds you”.(the Palestinian)

      That’s telling them, “Mayhem”! You tell us just how it is, how any decent disinterested objective person would see it! You’ll convince everybody soon. Oh, you’ll convince them of something, all right.

    • eljay
      March 18, 2016, 10:43 pm

      || Mayhem: … It’s non-acceptance of the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. … ||

      Israel has no right to exist as a religion-supremacist “Jewish State”. No state has a right to exist as any kind of supremacist state.

      No state – not even Israel – has a right to exist as an oppressive, colonialist and expansionist state. Or as a belligerent, intransigent and (war) criminal state.

      It’s amazing just how deeply and thoroughly you Zio-supremacists despise justice, accountability and equality.

      || … It’s called biting the hand that feeds you. ||

      The rapist shares a frustration similar to yours. Y’see, he’s got this healthy, well-fed and cared-for bitch chained in his basement who keeps trying to bite, stab or otherwise injure him every time he visits her for a bit of fun. Why can’t people like her just lie back and enjoy the ride!

      Aggressor-victimhood is such a tough gig… :-(

    • Kay24
      March 18, 2016, 11:55 pm

      “It’s called biting the hand that feeds you.” @Mayhem

      An apologist should know all about biting the hand that feeds ’em. We have seen their nutty leader biting Obama’s hand quite often, disrespecting the man who raised aid to the ingrates, and who keeps giving them weapons, for and making their agent Jonathan Pollard bite the hands that employed him, and turn him into a filthy traitor, and let us not forget that unbelievable incident where the USS Liberty was “accidentally ” bombed after Israeli planes jammed their signals, and apparently their experts could not see the huge American flag flying on it.

      Now regarding those Palestinians, they should show more gratitude to those oppressors, who have kept them under occupation for over 60 years, kills them when they decide to bomb them to the stone age, and keep stealing their lands like common thieves. How dare they keep biting the greedy hands of those who treat them like they of no consequence.

      Typical illogical zionist comment.

    • Marnie
      March 21, 2016, 12:14 am

      I love how you sound as though Palestinians owe a debt of gratitude to their oppressors. I’ll make the master/slave analogy because it works here too. Slavery is a horrible, criminal enterprise. But Master X feeds his slaves, gives them a new set of clothes for each season and lets them have Sunday off and even reads the bible to them. What a mensch! Master Z makes his slaves eat out of hog troughs and works them every day of the week and they wear rags. He’s also got a chicken run to the slave quarters where he has his way with every available female from age 10 to 40, and sells his own offspring. What a bastard and may he rot in hell! Well, they’re both bastards and should both rot in hell. Should the slaves have been grateful to their benevolent Master X? I would be, compared to my family stuck with Master Z, but I’d still pray for Master X’s house and all in it to burst into flames every night for what he was doing to me and mine. Can you even get a grip on who is the victim in this scenario?

      What you’re whining about is the same whine the ‘masters’ had when slavery was abolished and the now free men, women and children left the plantations without looking back. “How can they leave us”. “We cared for them like family”. Aaarrrrggghhhh!!!

      It’s called knowing and understanding your enemy, how they think/behave/feel and then using that information to your advantage. It’s called intelligence. Using them before they use/abuse/destroy you. Don’t be so stupid. And it’s not biting the hand dipwad; the zionists will most certainly and righteously cannabilize themselves.

      • Marnie
        March 21, 2016, 12:44 am

        Also, I guess by your biting the hand bit, Sayed Kashua is one hell of an uppity Arab.

        You’re actually going to try to credit the success of any Palestinian to the largesse of the zionist state? That must work for Jews too, right? They’ve only gotten as far as they have in the US and other points west because of the benevalence of their christian/arab hosts, not that they’ve studied them, found their weaknesses and exploited them for their benefit?

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