The Jewish State Has No More Room for 'Good Arabs'

There were once so-called good Arabs, and they are no more. Israel finished off the genre. Norman Issa, a man of the theater who dared boycott settlers, is finding out.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Actor Norman Issa, now feeling the wrath of nationalistic Israel.
Actor Norman Issa, now feeling the wrath of nationalistic Israel.Credit: Gali Eytan
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Norman Issa did almost everything possible to be a good Arab. He was born a Christian (not a Muslim, like all the terrorists; Israelis love Christian Arabs); studied at the Beit Zvi School for the Performing Arts; married Gidona, a Jew; cooked a dumpling and added pomegranates for the refreshment on “Master Chef VIP;” acted on stage in Hebrew; played Amjad, a good Arab, of course, on the TV series “Arab Labor,” which was written by another good Arab, Sayed Kashua, whom Israelis so love to love.

If only we had a few more such Normans and Sayeds, then we certainly would already have had peace. That is how we like them, the Arabs, when they make us laugh in Hebrew. Hummus, chips, salad and comedy series on Channel 2.

There were once good Arabs, and they are no more. Israel finished off the genre. If there is an Israeli patriot, then Issa is the man. If there was an Arab who could serve as a model for living in coexistence, then he is the character. Trying to preserve his honor and identity, balancing on a thin line. In interviews he told me how he loves the land and also its residents; what more could we ask for?

“There is nothing worth going to war over as far as I’m concerned,” said this charming man in an interview with Haaretz Magazine two years ago. He may vote for Hadash, but he has never been Mohammad Bakri. Not Lucy Aharish either, of course. He once said he feels “not here and not there.” When soldiers hugged him at the checkpoints and wanted to take their pictures with him, he felt uncomfortable.

The seventh contestant eliminated from “Master Chef” did not hesitate to say this. Issa was born with the occupation, in June 1967, and tried to close one eye facing it. His father was expelled from the Galilee village Biram and not allowed to return despite all the promises – and Issa tried to forgive the country for that too.

Now it is over. Norman’s path has been blocked. The end of the good Arabs who are not total collaborators. Issa dared to follow his conscience and asked the theater where he performs to be excused from appearing before settlers in the Jordan Valley in a play with the symbolic name “Boomerang.” And his request came flying right back at him, that’s for sure: Nationalistic Israel knocked him down. In the dying spasms of the good Arab, he pleaded on Tuesday: “You cannot expect that I, as an Israeli Arab, will go against my conscience and appear in places that are subject to dispute.”

“Places that are subject to dispute,” Issa called the clearest province of apartheid and ethnic cleansing in the territories – the Jordan Valley, with its exploitative and abusive settlers dressed up as members of innocent kibbutzim and moshavim. In the Jordan Valley they expel shepherds and destroy their villages, deny them electricity and water, and imprison them behind hills of dirt. There in the Jordan Valley stand facing each another the green settlements and the arid villages. There the apartheid is pure, visible to everyone. That is where Issa did not want to perform. These people, who live in this reality and are to a great extent responsible for its creation, he is not able to entertain.

Issa is worthy of praise for that. It is not his right, it is his obligation. In a country that was confident of the justice of its cause, the prime minister would have invited him and lauded him for his civic and moral awareness.

Now the Cossacks of culture are threatening the apple of Issa’s eye: The Elmina Theater in Jaffa. A multicultural theater for children and young people, which he runs with his wife. The minister is already “examining” the allocation; such is life in the mafia. The rest is clear: Issa is finished. The man who said there is no war worth fighting will be forced to wage a losing battle.

No more “Master Chef,” no more Channel 2 series, no more performances in the Arab theater. The regime and its collaborators have already shown him what it means to boycott settlers.

This is the end of the story that’s known in advance: We are a Jewish state, there is no room here, not for Issa and not for Kashua. They should have known it from the start.

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