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January 31, 2015 / 11 Shevat, 5775
 
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Title: Dancing Arabs

Title: Dancing Arabs
Author: Sayed Kashua
Publisher: First published in Hebrew by Modan Pub. House, Tel Aviv; U.S. edition in English by Grove Press, New York, N.Y.

 

Without expressing anti-Semitism or even anti-Zionism, this literary jewel of a debut novel
from an Arab-Israeli expresses what it means to be a hyphenated citizen in Israel today.

Kashua’s protagonist is a brilliant young Palestinian whose grandfather died in 1948 fighting the Zionists and whose father was jailed for blowing up a school cafeteria. But he becomes
the first Arab in his village to win a scholarship to study at an Israeli school with Jews. There he discovers that he looks even more Israeli than the Jews, and a frequent compliment is, “You don’t look like an Arab at all.”

When he was just in fourth grade his Hebrew teacher brought in an ajnabi to the classroom – a
blonde, tall Westerner – who introduced the children into the “Seeds of Peace” program, which brings Arab children into the schools and homes of Jewish Israelis, and vice-versa, to inculcate relationships – and sometimes friendships – among children of the two communities.

During the 9th grade our hero wins a contest by answering a puzzle, and his accomplishments
eventually leads to the opportunity to attend a boarding school for intellectually gifted children
run by an Israeli university. There he is viewed as more Israeli than the Jewish Israelis.

The story takes many twists and turns, with some surprises, and makes an interesting,
delightful summertime read.

The original in Hebrew, from Modan Press, preceded this paperback edition in English, which
was a best seller in Israel two years ago. Now the author has become celebrated on four continents, and besides English the book has also been translated into Italian, German, French and Dutch. Kashua writes as a journalist for the Kol Ha’ir and Ha’ir weekly newspapers in Israel about his life as a Palestinian-Israeli family man residing in Jerusalem.

Along with the reviewer’s copy of Dancing Arabs came an autobiographical sketch of Sayed
Kashua that showed the story told in the book to be loosely based upon the real-life story of the author. Even ardent Zionists cannot help but sympathize with the problems of being an
Arab-Israeli in today’s Israel. Yet Kashua, who is a loyal citizen and earns his living as a journalist working for Hebrew newspapers, doesn’t allow his resentfulness (including scrutinous airport body searches when returning from trips abroad that most Israelis don’t have to suffer) to overwhelm him. One doesn’t find hate or venom in his writing.

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