In the aftermath of a decision in late December by the Education Ministry to limit the use in Israeli high schools of “Borderlife,” a novel by Dorit Rabinyan about a romantic relationship between a Palestinian man and an Israeli Jewish woman, the Time Out Tel Aviv weekly produced a video clip featuring Jews and Arabs kissing. A producer from the weekly wrote to me, calling the ministry’s decision “strange” and asking if I wanted to appear in the video.
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Right after I turned her down, when I thought about the video it filled me with anger. Unlike all of my friends, when the decision to exclude “Borderlife” from the mandatory curriculum was announced, I didn’t find it shocking. From my knowledge of Arab society and Jewish society, I can say that the step reflects the reality in which we live rather well. It even relates to that expression that I so hate, coexistence, which implies living side-by-side, but not together.
I am amazed at the shock then expressed among those who view the term coexistence as something to be highly esteemed. What’s the surprise? A survey published by Haaretz over Rosh Hashanah revealed that more than 70 percent of Israeli Jews polled said they would be against a son of theirs marrying an Arab woman. Among Arab society, the situation is no better and the battle is still being waged over romantic ties between Christians and Muslims. There is a long road ahead before such ties with Jews are seen as permissible.
The Time Out video was ultimately posted on the Internet, and on YouTube alone it had attracted nearly 350,000 views by Wednesday afternoon, as well as favorable coverage in the international press.
But the huge fuss created over an Arab woman kissing a Jewish man, or vice versa, actually reflects the major disconnect between the two populations. It puts mixed couples in the spotlight, actually placing the emphasis on the difference in the participants’ national backgrounds. But as a counterbalance, it further minimizes the importance of joint existence and turns the phenomenon of mixed couples into something that is unnatural.
From my standpoint, as an Arab woman, falling in love with a Jewish man is a reasonable situation because we both live in the same place and are interested in similar things (although that’s not to say that such a relationship would be simple under the current circumstances). Contrary to what is shown in the video, a relationship between a Jewish man and an Arab woman doesn’t need to be a political statement. No man has to go out with me to stick it to the political right wing.
One last point on which I would differ with the film’s creators involves the video’s captions in Hebrew, Arabic and English. The Arabic is of poor quality, indicating that the Arab community is not the target audience the creators have in mind. The Arabic of the video is pluralistic decoration of sorts, but ultimately the film is trying to speak to those in the superficial Tel Aviv bubble who think that progressiveness can be summed up in one sentence and in a transnational erotic act.
Putting it mildly, that’s insulting.