Sayed Kashua, the 'Wandering Palestinian'

Iris Leal
Iris Leal
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A 2016 Haaretz caricature featuring Sayed Kashua.
Iris Leal
Iris Leal

While taking a digital amble through the New York Review of Books looking for an article I needed, suddenly I came across the familiar face of the author and scriptwriter Sayed Kashua, who for a moment, I thought, looked as surprised as I was.

The magazine interviewed him about an essay he had published the week before in the magazine, called “My Palestinian Diaspora.” As Kashua and I stared at each other, I heard the radio in the kitchen saying that according to “a figure close to the prime minister” there is no diplomatic process with the Palestinians, nor will there be one, so that, perish the thought, they won’t stick any ideas in our heads – and Kashua and I glared at each other.

In both the interview and the essay, he used concepts that Jews know as part of their historical glossary. In addition to referencing the term “Jews of the Diaspora,” he calls himself the “wandering Palestinian” and mentioned his “survivor humor,” not as appropriation but to show the lines of similarity in the fates of both peoples.

Two milestones that were critical in Kashua’s life were also critical in mine. The first was the war in Gaza in 2014, after which Kashua decided to leave Israel with his family for the United States. The second was the last round of bloodletting, in May, Operation Guardian of the Walls. Phone conversations with his brother who lives in Israel, at the very moment when mixed Jewish-Arab cities were burning, was the starting point for his essay and for a discussion of exile and guilt. The feeling that he needs to be in Israel at this difficult time for his people tortures Kashua; his brother comforts him and tells him that he did well to leave.

In a minute we’ll talk about the concept of sumud (steadfastness) in the Palestinian ethos, but here’s another interesting similarity: In a dispute with a friend who had left Israel with her family in (justifiable) anger and disappointment, she lashed out that the greatest success of the Zionist movement is that Israelis feel that living anywhere else is a kind of surrender. Kashua also writes in his essay about the shame that eats away at him since he fled from the place that was to have been his natural home.

His grandmother and his father taught him from a young age that he must not leave his home, his homeland, whatever it be, Palestine or Israel. But sumud, whose significance is continuity, which expresses itself in the connection between the Palestinian fellah and his land, also has an echo in the hold of Jewish settlement on the land, our national vision and its colonialist realization.

The difference between my friend’s exile and Kashua’s is clear, even if they both stem from the same past that can’t be buried and the same dead-end situation. Replacement of the government and the meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett raises more urgently the question of how much time Israel thinks it will be able to oppress the Palestinian aspiration for independence and at what cost, and how long the public, including the center-left, will continue to yawn in boredom when the subject of the occupation comes up.

So now Kashua lives in St. Louis, Missouri and my friend lives in southern Portugal. The exile of every Israeli-Palestinian will lead in the end to abandonment by Israeli Jews.

I have more in common with Kashua than I do with a settler woman from Havat Gilad (and he has more in common with me than he does with a Hamas member). He was part of Israeli culture. His existence here kept alive the illusion that there is a way – until we defeated him. In his exile, his alienation, he wants to say that there is no way. That our common space no longer exists. Kashua’s daughter, whom we met in his columns, is active in a Palestinian students’ association. His eldest son refuses to speak to Zionists and his youngest boy is convinced he’s American.

That’s a disgrace to us and it breaks my heart. The foolishness of the Palestinian leadership and the wretchedness of the Israeli government reminded me of the question posed by a wise Jew, the Holocaust survivor Jean Amery: “How much home does a person need?”

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