June 12, 2007

Sayed Kashua, Dancing Arabs

Reading Sayed Kashua's Dancing Arabs (Hebrew: ערבים רוקדים, French: Les arabes dansent aussi) is a journey into the life of an Israeli Arab who faces the contradictions which come with this status and the humiliations of being a second-class citizen.

As a child, he lives in the Arab village of Tira. He was terribly unruly until an accident brought him back on a more studious path. School is a nightmare, even for a good pupil: the children are frequently beaten for meaningless reasons.
His family lives on the sidelines and it is a surprise when he proves to be brightest kid of the village. He is subsequently admitted to a school in Jerusalem where only one other student is Arab.

The children are not beaten in the Jewish school but other sources of suffering arise.
High-school students make fun of him and harrass him in the bus, the soldiers make him get off the bus and wait while it get in and out of the airport's security zone.

He decides that no one will ever be able to tell him and a jew apart, that he will always have a book in Hebrew to read when the soldiers inspect the bus.

This is not the end of the story. If the humiliation can be avoided, the identity conflict cannot. Can he go out with a Jewish girl?

The book is an amazing source of anecdotes. Kashua's father says the Palestinians should blow up Al Aqsa in retaliation for the Muslim countries not helping them. The first time Jews came into their house, his mother cleaned and cooked for a week; she was mad at her guests when it turned out all they brought was a box of chocolates.

To me, this book is a great way of getting acquainted with the psyche of Israeli citizens who are Arab - we're talking of a fifth of the population - and their situation as citizens who are just-a-little-bit-less equal than the others in the Israeli democracy.

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