Go in Peace, Dear Sayed

My friend and Haaretz columnist Sayed Kashua has left me behind in the circle of sanity here. Despite the hateful discourse, I will still try to be a bridge to togetherness.

Mira Awad
Mira Awad
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Mira Awad
Mira Awad

Sayed Kashua, you are my friend and the friend of all the sane people who are still left in this crazy place. Now you’ve left us and we’ve lost a member of our quorum whose ranks we always had trouble filling, in any case.

Perhaps I feel betrayed – the same way Palestinian intellectuals felt betrayed when Mahmoud Darwish left his beloved homeland and decided to remain abroad. Perhaps I feel the same intellectual affront and personal betrayal experienced by the generation of my father, Samih al-Qasim, and of Tawfiq Ziad, who thought the poet should have stayed and fought and insisted, made a difference, and suffered like everyone else.

Now I’ve been left behind, without enough people in the circle of sanity. Despite all the opportunities to leave, I’ve decided to stay and continue to try, because even though, like you, I’ve often felt that it’s all over, I’m still afraid to admit it.

But I know for certain that Darwish would not have been the Darwish he became if he had stayed in this small, ungrateful land: Between the rock and hard place of two uninspired peoples that embrace you – and then smother you, then spit you out.

So you know what, Sayed? Go in peace, my dear. I wish you much success. It was always clear to me that you’d succeed, in Arabic, in Hebrew, in English, anywhere in the world. Over there, you will also be ahead of your time and a bearer of tidings.

And we, Levantines that we are, will probably love you more from afar. That’s how it is when someone arrives here from a foreign land, smelling of airports and duty-free shops, whether it’s because we feel inferior or because, indeed, no prophet is accepted in his own land.

Just forgive me for being a little jealous, because I would also like to forget the names of the news commentators and drink nontoxic tea in the morning, but I wish you well with all my heart: Go do great things and be the best Sayed Kashua you can be, without the constraints of society, religion, nationality and politics; without the need to prove anything to anyone.

Who knows? Maybe we’ll meet again somewhere in the world, on some funny or pathetic panel, where we’ll discuss the complexity of identity or being creative in a conflict. Or perhaps not, because by then you won’t have any identity complexes and won’t be creating in a conflict.

Oh, I envy you. But I’m still happy for you.

I’m angry, though – not at you, God forbid – but at this place, which knows how to spit out the good ones, those who act as bridges between people.

But why shouldn’t they leave? After all, being a bridge is hard work; your back breaks from the weight, and no one ever says thank you. On the contrary, the bridge is the first thing that’s attacked in war.

But what does the bridge want? For people to be able to visit the other side, to make a picnic on the opposite bank and get to see the view from there.

Perhaps what this country deserves is for all its bridges to stop bridging; perhaps then it will understand that it has no way to traverse all the depths.

Lord knows I’ve sometimes found myself in the most bizarre situations. Only recently, a campaign I launched to counter incitement and hateful discourse – a campaign aimed at trying to balance the miserable picture with words of solidarity and moderation; a campaign that sought to express the pain over the violence directed at anyone who still believes in a path of togetherness – once again turned me into the punching bag of disparaging rightists and accusing leftists. One side calls me a fifth columnist and enemy of Israel, while the other calls me a Jew-lover and crowns me the queen of normalization.

How is it that when I demonstrate concern for those on both sides, it incenses the people on both sides? There seems to be an extreme demand to enlist in the cause of one side or the other.

The truth is that I have joined one side: the side of the moderates of both sides, as opposed to the impassioned fanatics. I made this choice long ago, and I am sticking to it with whatever strength I have left (though I’m concerned as to how long it will last).

Of course the campaign I was involved in was immediately exploited by all kinds of interested parties. I was sent an article that appeared on a pro-Israel website, which described, in French, the Palestinian singer who supports Israel. And the unexpressed idea of “What hatred of Arabs are you talking about?” screamed from between the lines.

Naturally, there wasn’t a word written about the hate messages I’ve gotten as a result of the campaign; why give the “French anti-Semites” any more ammunition?

But between us, what’s funny about these situations is that here in Israel, the fascists who seek to silence the “enemies of Israel” – all the Gideon Levys, Sayed Kashuas and Mira Awads, and their ilk – with the claim that they are ungrateful wretches spitting into the well from which they drank, as the saying goes, and thus destroying Israel’s image, don’t even realize that they themselves are doing this.

Absurdly, it’s not rapper Yoav "Shadow" Eliasi or Economy Minister Naftali Bennett that Israel points to when it wants to show the world how lovely it is here, but those “enemies of Israel.” And believe me, that hurts, because I really don’t feel like being part of this place’s propaganda.

In Arabic there’s a phrase, “Put the dots on the letters,” so that what’s written should be clear. While in Hebrew there are no dots on the letters, there are vowels, and I am happy to vowelize so that I can be clear: I bear no hatred toward this place. But I do have a very hard time with it. And, yes, there’s a difference.

Sayed, we’re proud of you; make us proud! Oh goodness, what am I saying? You see, I’ve also gotten sucked into this discourse.

Forget about making us proud, man, that’s an unnecessary burden. Just live your life, raise your kids – and please, keep on writing! That’s the most important thing.

Mira Awad is a musician.

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