Literary Community Can Create a Better Israel for Jews and Arabs

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The late Yoram Kaniuk in 2011 after being awarded the Sapir Prize for his book “1948." One day, the winning book may be a Hebrew translation from the original Arabic.Credit: By Maya Sela

I have been looking for the crack in the wall that encloses us for quite some time. I visit places far and near in our beloved land. I climb mountain peaks, descend to the wadis and walk in the valleys. The crack must appear somewhere. And indeed, this past week it happened. The historic discovery occurred via a tool of the modern age – email!

On Thursday, I received an email from the head of the cultural division at the state lottery, Dolin Melnick, in which she informed me with restrained tones that the lottery’s board of directors had decided to change the rules for the Sapir Prize. Henceforth, she wrote, authors who write in an original language other than Hebrew but whose work is translated into Hebrew, and whose lives are centered around Israel, will be allowed to submit their work for the Sapir Prize.

The process was remarkably short. About a month ago, I sent an email to Melnick in which I asked that the lottery board find a way to allow Arab authors to participate in the Sapir Prize. She promised to raise the matter at a meeting. And, lo, the issue was raised and approved.

I think I’ll send another email this week, asking them to change the national anthem so that it suits Arab citizens, too.

I gather that the board members understood the enormous significance of their decision. But the most significant thing about the process lies in the fact that it was done as if it were the most natural thing. And that’s true, for there is nothing more natural than agreeing to provide every citizen with an opportunity to shape the spiritual face of society. What is unnatural here is that in the Israeli reality, such a natural decision is heresy in the closed, ethnic thinking that flourishes in these parts.

At the heart of the decision is the recognition that a new Israeli experience is developing, one whose literary expressions are not the monopoly of Jews. It reflects self-confidence in the Hebrew literary establishment. For only he who trusts himself can be capable of opening up to other peoples, as the gates of the other people were open for generations to Hebrew creativity.

It should be noted that lottery executives are not only failing to fall in line with the directives of cultural commissar Naftali Bennett. They are also daring to allow the creations of goyim that are originally not in Hebrew to compete for the most important prize in Israeli literature.

I promise you the day will come, and anyone who did not notice the makings of history this week will be surprised how he missed the sign. This important decision was made during a time in which the long arm of the state is investing enormous efforts in trying to black out every good part of our country – especially in culture, which is the neon light that shines above the entrance.

The second thing keeping me busy – besides seeking the crack in the wall – was to find the missing link which, if you squeeze it, lets you raise up the entire chain. After protracted thought, I discovered that the missing link here is called “moral authority” – a body whose voice will reverberate in all matters on the agenda. For we have no moral authority that rolls up its sleeves and presents the truth in the face of the madness that is transpiring around us.

This authority won’t arrive from Mars. It must grow here, and the ultimate candidates are the writers, poets and artists from among the two peoples.

The Sapir Prize made the first step, quietly but with great authority. The question of how the Bennetts, Regevs or Netanyahus would respond did not concern these people. They thought it was the right step, and they did what was right.

I call on intellectuals, Jews and Arabs alike: Dear friends, you are the display window of Israeli society. The store manager, who turned out the lights of the neighbors’ store, is now fully immersed in the darkness of his store.

So please, stop acting as if nothing happened. Get up and ask for support from those who are watching you from the outside. Say, for example: Save us from the occupation.

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