Shootings, Occupation and No Whiskey: Sayed Kashua Needs a Vacation

Time is running out, but the writer finds himself on stage being asked about Holocaust Remembrance Day and Arab TV characters.

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Illustration by Amos Biderman.
Illustration by Amos Biderman.

“Excuse me?” I asked the Arab waiter in the white shirt who greeted me a moment ago, at the entrance to a restaurant. Younis, I think it’s called, but I’m not sure. I’ve never been here; it’s the first time I’ve stopped at the Golani junction.

“Excuse me, will it bother you if I sit at a table and do some work for awhile?” I asked the waiter, and pointed to a shaded table outside, because I wanted to smoke, too.

“Absolutely not,” the waiter replied with a cordial smile. “You can work here for an hour, two hours, as long as you want. Tfadl, please.”

“Excellent,” I smiled, and then asked, “Would you happen to have any alcoholic beverages?”

I was starting to fantasize that I might somehow be able to chill out and focus on writing my column, which I’d promised to send to the paper in less than two hours.

“Alcoholic beverages?” the waiter shot back in a scolding tone, giving me a look that made it plain that he regretted the warm welcome he’d given me. Still, something about me must have projected distress that roused his pity, because instead of kicking me out he smiled again, and said, “We don’t have alcohol, but I will bring you Arab coffee. It’s better than whiskey. All right?”

“All right,” I said. “Thanks a lot.”

I have to calm down, get into focus; time is running out. An hour and a half to finish the column, then I’ll rush off to Tira. If traffic isn’t heavy, it’ll take me an hour and a half at least to get there. I’ve already arranged for the production crew to do location scouting there. I’ll never make it.

“Hey, ‘bro,” the producer asked me this morning on the phone as I drove north from Jerusalem, “where are you taking us? They said on the news that there was shooting in your village.”

“City,” I told him. “Tira is a city. Was anyone killed?”

“I don’t know, ‘bro,” he said, “but is it safe there?”

“Of course,” I told him, then immediately called my brother to find out what happened.

“The usual,” my brother said, in his usual tone of despair. “Two people were shot and wounded, one seriously, the other one lightly.”

“What do you mean, ‘the usual’?!” I almost shouted in helpless rage, as though it was my brother’s fault that acts of violence had become a type of routine in our hometown.

“Seven-thirty in the morning,” my brother said. “Children on the way to school. Are you coming here today?”

“Yes,” I replied. “I’m coming, I’m coming.”

The news on the radio was about the demonstrations in the Arab town of Fureidis following an act of Jewish vandalism there. That was followed by an item about a social-network protest by soldiers in support of a soldier from the Nahal Brigade who was reprimanded for having been photographed as he cocked his rifle, and threatened and cursed a Palestinian boy. Masses of supportive soldiers posted photos of themselves on Facebook, holding up signs reading “We are also with the Nahal soldier.”

Two broadcasters, a man and a woman, secular and religious, came on after the news, and together expressed scorn for what they described as all the noise surrounding hostile acts against the country’s Arab citizens.

“So what?” they said. “Don’t people in Beit Hanina throw stones?” Then they added, in mutual agreement, “So, what really happened?” The soldier only got nervous, cocked his weapon and cursed. “What did he do?” they asked, and then answered: “Nothing.” He did nothing bad.

I preferred quiet to the radio, even though I still had a long drive ahead of me later on: to a college in the north that had invited me to receive an award within the framework of its annual conference about the media. “An award for promoting the Arab-Jewish dialogue,” or something like that, as I recalled.

If I’d known that I would tremble on the stage – and not from excitement – I would have politely declined and not showed up. If I’d known that the ceremony would take place at such a busy time for me, I would have found a way to avoid it. But there was no choice now, so in the midst of an overload of work on a television series that had to be shot before I go abroad – I ended up standing on the stage, shaking, thinking about locations, actors, Tira and a new TV series that I love although I am scared to death of what it will look like on the screen.

I thanked the staff of the college for the award, uttered some short, unclear sentences and tried only to get away as fast as I could.

But a Jewish student in the audience wanted to ask about Holocaust Remembrance Day. Specifically, what I thought about the fact that while the siren was being sounded, Arab students – whom no one had asked to stand – sat around and laughed. Plus, an Arab student with a look on his face that expressed contempt and arrogance felt the need to say that the character of Amjad in my TV series “Arab Labor” is over-the-top and insulting to Arabs.

“What in the blazes am I doing here?” I asked myself, and then I realized I had no strength for all this. By heaven, I have no strength left, not now.

“You have to take a vacation,” my wife texted me, “at least from the newspaper.” She’s right – if I go on like this I’ll fall apart before our trip abroad. Oy, the trip! So much work to do beforehand and we still haven’t done a thing – about renting out our apartment and selling the car, not to mention dealing with various bills, schools and so on. Nothing.

“You’re right,” I texted my wife back. “I will just do this column and take a long break.”

“Great,” she wrote – even though I know she’s begun to worry about my well-being lately – and then added, “Hang in there.”

“Hello,” said the voice on the phone calling from a Jerusalem area-code phone number. I’d answered the call urgently for fear it might be from the children’s school. “We would like to interview you on the whole racism thing, the ‘price tag’ phenomenon and all the …”

“No,” I said. “I’m sorry, but I can’t today.”

“Do you maybe know someone who …?”

“An Arab?”

“Yes.”

“No.”

I took another sip of the second cup of coffee the waiter had brought me and asked for yet another. Then I looked at my watch, to discover that I was late. But still I smiled, thinking that in three months it will all be over.

The column is going on a short vacation.

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