Israeli-Arab writer speaks about personal experience
Israeli-Arab writer Sayed Kashua addressed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and his family’s experiences in Israel in his lecture on Thursday.
Kashua has written three novels, a television show and a movie and is known for his comedy style, which often satirizes cultural and political issues in Israel. An article entitled “Why I Have to Leave Israel” published in The Guardian in July detailed his decision to leave Israel and gave background to the hopelessness with which he views the Israeli-Palestinian situation. His talk was sponsored by the Center for the Humanities, the Comparative Literature department and Hillel.
Kashua, who has spent the past few months in Urbana-Champaign, Ill., as part of the University of Illinois’s Israel Studies Program, was scheduled to take a year-long sabbatical at the university when conflict broke out in July between Hamas and the Israeli government. After watching the relationship between the Israelis and Palestinians for his whole life, he decided that he no longer felt that his Arab family was safe in the predominantly Jewish neighborhood where it lived.
“I don’t really have a feeling of home as a secure thing,” he said.
During his talk in Brown Hall, he discussed his unique childhood experience as an Arab living amongst Jews. When he was 15, he was accepted at the Israel Arts and Science Academy in Jerusalem, where he lived in a majority Jewish community for the first time.
“It was so strange. I was entering a completely new world…My mother, I remember, she wanted me so badly to make a good impression on the Jewish kids in the school, she bought me pink [sheets] with blue whales,” he said
He also talked about the history of Israel’s establishment, particularly during the 1948 Palestine War, as told through his grandmother’s eyes.
“[My grandmother] was a wonderful storyteller; she really was a brilliant woman…and she told me stories about prophets…and also stories about America and about a magic box. But also a major part of her stories were stories about an awful war, and I’m not sure that I realized then what she meant. So she talked a lot about the horrible war and she talked a lot about the day she lost her husband,” he said.
After finishing his prepared remarks, Kashua opened the floor to questions. Questions ranged from inquiries about stories related to his writings to his childhood views on the world outside Israel to his opinions on the state of the Arab world.
Students were generally pleased with Kashua’s lecture. Junior Ruby Ritchin, co-chair of J Street U at WashU, an on-campus group that promotes a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians, found Kashua’s remarks insightful.
“I really enjoyed his talk. I thought he was smart, I thought he was funny, I thought he pushed the envelope and he exposed a narrative tonight that we don’t often hear at this school,” she said.
Nancy Berg, a Washington University professor of Hebrew language and literature and the organizer of the event, said she was pleased with the turnout.
“I think it’s unusual for people to stay this long this late and not leave. I thought it was a great turnout for the last [week] of class and a very mixed audience. People were very receptive to what he was saying. I think he succeeded in telling his grandmother’s stories,” she said.