Two Books on the Complexities of being an Israeli Arab
SECOND PERSON SINGULAR
by Sayed Kashua (translated by Mitch Ginsburg)
Grove Press, 2012
by Yosef Gotlieb
The Olive Group, 2011
These two novels expose the reader to the lives of Israeli Arabs who have “made it” in some way in Israeli society. Many readers will recognize Sayed Kashua; he’s a Haaretz columnist known for his tongue-in-cheek critiques of Israeli discrimination against Arabs and the author of the hilarious, incisive television sitcom, Arab Labor. Gotlieb is a geographer who specializes in international development and global change; he is a faculty member at the David Yellin College of Education in Jerusalem. Kashua and Gotlieb’s characters encounter the day-to-day oppression that is suffered by every Arab living in the Jewish state (in many cases, they’ve internalized this oppression and try to become more “Jewish”).
These books also give readers an opening into other day-to-day realities of middle-class Arab men: the main characters worry about the faithfulness of their wives or girlfriends, search for the best way to make a living, and face moral dilemmas over their own relationships with Jews and fellow Arabs who don’t enjoy the same elite privileges. As they struggle to avoid both Jewish and Arab terror and to open themselves to deeper relationships, these stereotype-busting protagonists force us to reconsider the painful social situation in which Israeli Arabs find themselves as they grapple with issues of personal fulfillment, economic opportunity, and loyalty to both their Palestinian heritage and their adopted country.
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