The Spine

Sayed Kashua's Wisdom


A few years ago I read a novel by Sayed Kashua, a young Israeli Arab writer whom I meant to look up when I was next time in the country. I didn't. But it is not because the novel, Dancing Arabs, slipped out of my mind. In fact, it comes back to me again and again. It is about identity and the limitless possibilities and torments of different identities. If you want a clichè-shattering depiction of the Arab situation in Israel, read this novel: deep character studies, intriguing situations, truly beautiful writing.

(As a parenthetical, two young Israeli friends mine have also done a lively and sympathetic documentary of other Arabs who live in the Jewish State. The friends are Oren Harman (whom you've read several times on scientific matters in TNR (here, here and here) and Yanay Ofran. (See some of the clips of their documentaries here.)

In any case, back to Kashua who has just published in Ha'aretz a review--titled "Losing Jerusalem"--of a book by Hillel Cohen, The Market Square is Empty: The Rise and Fall of Arab Jerusalem, 1967-2007. "The market square" is a heavily laden allusion to the second anthem of Israel, Naomi Shemer's "Jerusalem of Gold," (like "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" or "God Bless America" are to the "Star Spangled Banner) about which there is a fascinating scholarly study in the summer issue of Israel Studies. It's by Dalia Gavriely-Nuri and is called--forgive the fashionable academic nomenclature--"The Social Construction of 'Jerusalem of Gold' as Israel's Unofficial National Anthem."

I guess I wandered off from Kashua a second time. It is not out of disrespect. Kashua's article is the most sophisticated piece of writing I've read about the predicament of the Jerusalem Arabs. What the Israelis did to them. What they did to themselves. The book--again, remember, I haven't read it; I've only read Kashua's review--apparently is not one of wishful thinking or of condemnation. It's true: the Palestinians are at fault; the Israelis are at fault. But the analysis is not about blame. Kashua writes with a lyric voice, a beautiful lyric voice like an ancient Middle Eastern melody. Still, it is about facts, accumulated facts and, in the end, an astonishing one.

There are political consequences. Read Kashua's essay, and you'll see.

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