Sayed Kashua/ How to Be an Arab

Don't drink coffee with cardamom; Arabs have stopped doing that. To be like the locals, go for macchiato.

Sayed Kashua
Sayed Kashua
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Sayed Kashua
Sayed Kashua

"Police using new secret mistarvim (undercover) unit inside Israel," the headline in the paper screamed - and made me laugh out loud. This may be news for Jewish readers, but for Arabs it's old hat. Every Arab knows that there are mistarvim - undercover agents from the security forces who are trained to "be Arabs" - in his neighborhood; every Arab kid can point them out easily. However regrettable, Israel Police's mistarvim are the only ones in the Arab villages who look like Arabs. So serious is the unit's situation that the very word "mistarev" has become local slang.

"What kind of shoes are those?" the Arab youngster will say, mocking his friend who bought shoes from last year's collection. "What are you, a mistarev?"

In contrast to the Arabs, the mistarevim don't just make do with shoes from last year; indeed, their handlers go for fashions with an expiry date in the 1980s. In the words of the old Arab proverb, "Show me what you wear, and I'll tell you what unit you're from."

In the hope that the top cops and those in charge of the mistarvim read Haaretz every morning, I will take advantage of this platform to offer a few tips to the new recruit, which will at least help him stand out less. Here goes.

FYI: The hottest thing in Kalansua these days is the latest album by Radiohead. Young people of your age certainly grew up on Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Dire Straits and most of all the Rolling Stones. You are the only one who listens to Umm Kulthum in your van. Don't drink coffee with cardamom; Arabs have long since stopped doing that. To be like the locals, go for macchiato; in the morning, drink a short espresso. Never ask for decaf. Do not eat hummus, felafel, shawarma or kebab. Restaurants that offer these foods are meant exclusively for Israelis and tourists. Stay away from labaneh. Arabs don't really eat it: It was created to suit the palate of the average Israeli. Every Arab knows that there are a lot of calories in olive oil, so make do with half a teaspoonful when you order your health salad.

Become a member of the Cinematheque, which is usually located on the pedestrian mall in the center of the village. Under no circumstances call it a casbah. Visit the neighborhood library at least once a week. Go to the theater once a month. If you really want to fit in, you have to attend a lecture once every two months. I personally prefer talks on psychoanalysis.

Do not speak Arabic in an Arabic accent. Do not say "wallah" when there is no need to. Do not swear in Arabic. For your info, Arabs curse each other in Yiddish only. But still, be aware that only you confuse the letters het and khaf. Never use the word hamula (clan); that will betray you as a Jew immediately. Similarly, avoid the term "family-honor killing"; instead say "romance killing." Don't try to swim - we don't know how. Try not to drive in reverse, because the chances are that a small child is playing behind your car. By the way, you are the only ones who dangle CDs from the mirror. Get rid of the prayer beads, too.

Don't talk about TV programs. Most Arabs don't have a television set. The minority who do are interested mainly in the documentary channels, though they sometimes watch "The Office" or "House." Stop honking. Don't park your Subaru illegally. Don't cut in line in the post office, the health clinic or the bank. Remember, Jaljulya is not Kfar Sava. I know it's hard, but try to be polite.

The above were tips for adaptation, which can be easily carried out in order to slip seamlessly into the population. Now, dear mistarev, I will give you tips that are a bit more complicated, mainly because of the education you received and the atmosphere you grew up in at home: I know it's difficult, but try not to be a racist. Do your best not to sound like a xenophobe. Do not hate Arabs; most Arabs do not hate themselves. Do not hate Jews; Arabs are not anti-Semites. You are at liberty, of course, when passions grow militant, to condemn Zionism or government policy. If your mission involves moderate clerics, you will sound credible if you imitate your history teacher. Our moderate clerics sound like your seculars. If you encounter bearded extremists, you will easily blend in if you quote a fairly moderate right-wing Jewish MK. Of course, instead of "Jew" say "Muslim," and instead of "God," "Allah." Be aware that we learned most of our ideology through you.

Finally, under no circumstances cede Jerusalem, but do call it "Al-Quds." To you we may look poor, imbecilic, criminal and primitive, but remember: In contrast to you, we don't hate strangers and we are not a chosen people.

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