Feeling guilty, until the next page

I’d really like to have a beer with Sayed Kashua. So do a lot of people in Israel, trust me. Kashua is the guy we could show to our friends, here and abroad, and say “Look, my best buddy is an Arab. See? We get along great, we even get drunk together. So I’m not a racist when I say ‘Some of my best friends are Arabs’. He really is an Arab!” 

sayed20kashua20authorThe truth is, a lot of people like me grew up in Israel, and never really mingled with Arabs. I grew up in Haifa, the “City of co-existence”. But I only saw them when I went down the hill to buy a shawarma. They lived in their neighborhoods, and I lived in mine. They went to their schools, and I went to mine. In some places it’s like that with blacks in America. I was a freshman in high school in Binghamton, NY, in 1987. Can’t remember seeing many blacks up there.

I served in the navy, so I didn’t meet Palestinians at checkpoints, roadblocks or while enforcing curfews. Even when I was shot at by Arabs (Lebanese, in this case), I couldn’t see them, they were so far away (unlike Ehud Barak, I never saw the “whites in their eyes”). All in all, I led an Arab-free existence in a country predominately concerned with them.

 The closest experience I had with Arabs was when I opened up a cafe. Like students, Arabs are willing to be exploited in the restaurant industry for ridiculously low wages. I took part in this fiasco. Maybe that’s one reason why I failed. Karma, you might say… Anyway, I got along with the Arabs who worked in my kitchen. But just barely. We had nothing whatsoever in common. Seriously, what can you have in common with a cook who’s late for work because he got held up at a checkpoint? Sometimes the lack of communication got me angry, which led to thoughts I can only call, with much shame, “racist”. And I’ve voted left every election…

Later on I got to work for a (very) short period with a few Palestinians at radio RAM FM. But most of my interaction with them was via phone to Ramallah.

But Kashua? He’s an intellectual, and an amazing writer. He’s educated, his Hebrew is flawless. Better than mine. And he makes us laugh. He’s kind of like the Israeli Dave Barry, but with a twist – he’s Arab. He talks about his drinking, flirting with other women, daily life problems, happy moments with his Israeli friends. Yet, in every column, he manages to remind us about his origins, sometimes in a more subtle manner than others. He’ll make us laugh, and then, when our guard is down, he’ll remind us that he’s a second rate citizen. And we’ll feel guilty. For a minute. That’s the problem with us here. Guilt doesn’t last too long. In most cases, only until the next page.

 Kashua has been writing for the Ha’aretz weekend magazine a few years now, and has recently been pushed up to the front, right behind veteran columnist Doron Rosenblum. Doesn’t get any better than that. Except, of course, if he overtakes Rosenblum one day.

I wonder, sometimes, why Haaretz did that. Sure, he’s a great writer, but does he deserve to be up there? Is he there because he’s Arab? Is it some kind of affirmative action? If so, isn’t that actually working against the cause? Is he a fig leaf? And why would a paper like Haaretz need a fig leaf in the first place, when they publish the likes of Gideon Levy and Amira Hass? Funny, but Gideon Levy used to have that same spot in the magazine. Then they moved him way back to the end, and then they transferred him from the magazine to the Week in Review supplement. He was just too painful to read, I guess. And when you think about it, in a way, Levy is a lot more Palestinian than Kashua will ever be.

You see, Kashua is in the bizarre position where we might actually feel comfortable with discrimanating against Arabs. He can make us say: “Look, look at Sayed. He made it to the top. So can you. Just try harder…”

I still want to have a beer with him, though…

Here’s a link to one of his fine columns: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1065554.html
And a piece the NYTimes did about him:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/07/world/middleeast/07kashua.html?ref=world

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