Always the Same Arabs

Reactions to Sayed Kashua’s recent column showed that many Israeli Jews insist on an interpretation that is the polar opposite of its explicit meaning.

Dmitry Shumsky
Dmitry Shumsky
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Sayed Kashua. His denunciation of the kidnapping and empathy toward the children, as he calls the teens, are explicit.
Sayed Kashua. His denunciation of the kidnapping and empathy toward the children, as he calls the teens, are explicit.Credit: Illustration by Amos Biderman
Dmitry Shumsky
Dmitry Shumsky

According to the simplistic postmodern discourse theory, there are countless ways, some of them contradictory, to interpret and understand the same text. But even people who subscribe to this theory must assume that there are texts that are exceptions to this rule, whose meaning is unequivocal.

Sayed Kashua’s most recent column (Haaretz, June 20) was one of those unambiguous texts. Addressing Israeli Jews, Kashua writes that they don’t understand how Arabs feel when they see images of [Arab] children who were killed. He implicitly asks a rhetorical question, the answer to which leaves no room for interpretation: Arabs who see images of Arab children who were killed are likely to feel, according to Kashua, intense hatred toward Jews and to demand vengeance.

In the next paragraph, Kashua says he wonders how it would be were the Palestinians capable of invading homes in Israel and wresting from their beds, before their families, army commanders, politicians and soldiers who had shot Palestinians. This too is a rhetorical question, the answer to which that Kashua seeks as plain as the sun in the Middle East: that the vengeful Arabs would carry out terrible war crimes against their victims.

Kashua writes all this for a single purpose: in order to agree, with subdued pain, to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s assertion that the kidnappers of the three Jewish teens are capable of brutal acts, while denouncing the abduction and expressing his disgust at the action. He has only one reservation, which was not sufficient to cancel out the denunciation or the disgust. You, Israeli Jewish occupiers, don’t think you’re any better than we are.

The reactions to his column from Israeli Jews showed that many of them insist on an interpretation that is the polar opposite of its clear and explicit meaning.

Alexander Yakobson, in a response, went so far as to accuse Kashua of lacking courage and honesty when it comes to his people (Haaretz, June 23). He wrote this even though his shame over the abduction and the empathy toward the kidnapped children, as Kashua calls them, thinking with dread of his own children, are obvious.

It’s hard to believe that Yakobson, an expert in ancient Roman history who is familiar with deciphering complex texts, failed to understand the text. The explanation for his reversed interpretation of the column, which is reflected in many Jewish Israeli responses, should apparently be sought elsewhere.

Consider, for example, Netanyahu’s response to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ remarks on the abduction. In Arabic, in words that cannot be misunderstood, Abbas denounced the abduction. This infuriated his opponents, first and foremost in Hamas, whose rage was demonstrated among other things by distributing cartoons of Abbas wearing an Israeli army uniform. As for Netanyahu, first he cynically dismissed Abbas’ sincere, courageous words out of hand, while nearly depicting him as a partner to the abductors.

Presumably, if Kashua’s column were translated into Arabic and published on Hamas-associated websites, the next day a caricature of him dressed in IDF uniform, by Haaretz cartoonist Amos Biderman, would be posted on Islamist networks next to the “Zionist” Abbas.

But this doesn’t confuse Netanyahu, Yakobson and all the other Jewish responders, who are determined to see “the Arabs,” without exception, as bloodthirsty creatures devoid of any humanity at worst or cowardly and self-righteous at best. According to their view, Arabs never really intend to denounce Arab violence – even if they do repeatedly, in a voice that is loud and clear.

It appears, therefore, that for many Israeli Jews it is easy to perpetuate the sweeping demonization of the Palestinian Arab public and difficult to recognize that among “the Arabs” there are also people who condemn, harshly and sincerely, the violent resistance to the occupation.

It’s clear why the continued demonization of the Palestinians and the obtuse deafness to the moderate Palestinian voices that don’t shrink from self-criticism are good for Netanyahu. It’s easier to continue to perpetuate the occupation when the occupied side is described as lacking humanity or at best dishonest.

It’s not clear why the collective degradation of “the Arabs” is so popular with more than a few Israeli “centrists,” who day and night swear their allegiance to the two-state solution and the “end of the occupation.”

Is it possible that some of them lack the courage and honesty to admit they’re not really prepared for a just division of sovereignty between the two nations of this land?

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