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PAGE 18A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, MAY 11, 2012 Life, art collide in work of Israeli Arab novelist Kashua By Sandee Brawarsky New York Jewish Week When I ask Sayed Kashua about the roots of his humor, he says that he isn't sure, but that it probably has something to do with his discovery, as an Israeli Arab attending a Jewish high school, that humor could protect him. "It was a way to fit in and to survive," he says. He left his vil- lage of Tira in central Israel to attend a boarding school, Israel Arts and Science Academy, on scholarship. During the first year, as he recalls in an interview, he was crying that he wanted to go home. But one of his teachers noticed his humor before he did. "It was mostly political humor, com- menting on daily life. I have a strong feeling that in Tira, I wasn't funny at all." Kashua, who now lives in Jerusalem, later studied philosophy and sociology at Hebrew University. He writes a popular weekly column for the Israeli daily Haaretz and is the creator and writer of the hit television sitcom "Avoda Aravit," or."Arab Labor." IIe's unusual as an Israeli-Arab writing in Hebrew, but that's the language in which he stud- ied literature. His third and latest novel, "Second Person Singular" (Grove Press), full of wit, pathos and surprising" turns, underlines the com- plexities of life in Israel for minorities. "The lawyer," as the main character is known through- out "Second Person Singular," is ambitious and successful-- the top Israeli-Arab criminal defense lawyer in Jerusalem. He lives with his wife and young children in a custom- designed duplex, sends his daughter to a Jewish-Arab school, drives a black Met- cedes, and runs his practice from offices on King George Street in West Jerusalem, even though his clientele is based in east Jerusalem and the West Bank. He understands that the east Jerusalemites have more esteem for a lawyer whose of- rices are in a Jewish neighbor- hood, and his earnings prove that to be true. Trying to bolster his liter- ary education, the lawyer buys at least a book a week in a Jerusalem book store, usu- ally the book reviewed in that week's Haaretz, ,and reads it. At the shop, he enjoys brows- ing through the classics and wants to read the great works that others seem to know about, but buying them would, reveal his inadequacies, orso he thinks. When he gives in to his curiosity, he has the books gift- wrapped and enjoys tearing off the paper when he gets home. When the novel opens, the lawyer is just opening his eyes in the early morning and he's certain that he'll be tired all day. "He imagined sleep cycles like the wave of the sea and himself as a surfer upon them, gliding toward shore and then suddenly, violently, being tossed in the water, wak- ing up with a terror he didn't understand." That mix of ease and unease runs through his life. The novel unfolds through two intertwined stories, linked by a note that falls out of a used copy of"The Kreutzer Sonata" that he takes home. The themes of Tolstoy's novella of love, mar- riage and jealous rage echo in the lawyer's tale. The second story, told in the first person, involves an Israeli- Arab social worker-turned artist, also living in Jerusalem and, like the lawyer, from an Arab village. His story is one of loneliness and reinvention, also offering an uncommon view of Israeli society. Kashua narrates powerfully, with careful attention to detail. As he explains, he knows both of these characters very well. "When I write," he says, "I imagine myself as the charac- ter. I move with him, slowly. For me, writing a novel is a long journey. It leads to a place I never imagined." Writing for "Arab Labor"--- the first program on Israeli television to feature characters speakingArabic on prime time, now in its third season--is a very different process, with set rules. "I feel like a completely different person when I'm writing a novel," he says. He wrote much of"Second Person Singular" in a studio on King George Street, renting space from the feminist peace group, Bat Shalom. Kashua's two previous nov- els, "Dancing Arabs" and "Let It Be Morning," were translated into eight languages, including Arabic. And he hopes that this one too will be published in Arabic, although he under- stands that it's problematic for an Arab publisher to publish an Israeli-citizen who writes in Hebrew. Kashua is soft-spoken and jokes easily. His wife is also from Tira, although they didn't know each other growing up and only met when they began Hebrew University when they were 19--he noticed her get- ting off the bus in Jerusalem. He and his family now live in Ramat Denya in West Jerusa- lem and send their children to a bilingUalArab-Jewish school. Kashua, whose grandfather was killed in 1948, still has a home in Tira, where his parents and siblings live, and the family visits there often; he says that there's no place that his kids like more than Tira. "In a very sad, not-clear way, I truly love Jerusalem very much. But it's very scary. The future is not obvious for a minority. Jerusale m of today is very different from 21 years agowhen I arrived to boarding school. It's avery conservative city. When coming from the village, it was the city of the senses--my first cigarette, my first love." About his children, he says that he hopes they will find their own friends."I hope that I didn't do a lot of damage in the way that my wife and I chose a bilingual school. We live in a Jewish neighborhood. I hope that they will not be confused. I'm always trying to give them a-ticket, like music, if they choose to run away. I hope that they will be happy ... happy doctors who play the piano." He says that over Passover vacation, he returned to Tira and spoke with his siblings about how their parents raised them "so that we should stay. They put that into us, that there's no place foryou but this place. Don't go away, stay here. I'm not sure how I'm going to feel if my kids want to leave." He's sometimes criticized by other Arabs for not always showing Arab people in the best light and for not only writ- . ing aboutArab suffering--and- by [sraeliswho'd like to see him explain their point of view. "I'm trying really to be faith- ful to reality as I see it." These days he's in friendly contactwith Israeliwriterslike Meir Shalev, AmosOz,A.B. Ye- hoshua and David Grossman. While .they often choose to take on the role of conscience, speaking out, he Says that he's trying to escape that, although it's nearly impossible. "I'm just a writer, a story- teller," he says. 'tI really just want to write." Sandee Brawarsky is the book critic at The New York Jewish Week, from which this article was reprinted by permission. Bluffing " - From page 1A erate Iran's nuclear program and engulf the region in war. Are Barak and Netanyahu merely posturing, or are they really intent on waging war? Two weeks ago, Barak marked Israeli Independence Day with a speech dismiss- ing the likelihood that Iran will succumb to diplomatic pressure to end its suspected nuclear weapons program. He said that while the likely success of an Israeli military . strike was not "marvelous, ' it was preferable to allowing Iran to press forward. A week earlier, Netanyahu had made a searing Holocaust Remembrance Day speech in .which he likened Iran fo Nazi Germany and stressed his commitment to Israel's self-defense. Such posturing is not novel: Israel, like other parties to longstanding conflicts, for years has used brinksmanship to ward off actual warfare. Statements from its military ending with the threat "we will know how to respond" are routine. The target of such pro- nouncements is not only Iran but also the international community, said Steve Rosen, a former foreign policy direc- tor for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee who maintains close ties with some of Netanyahu's top advisers. Weslern leaders are likelier to act to isolate Dan when they are faced with the real prospect Of Israel going it alone, he said. "It's no secret thatAmerican and European interest starts with Israel doing something," Rosen said. Eitan Barak, a Hebrew Uni- versity expert on international relations (and no relation to the defense minister), des:n'bed the tactic as one of brinksmanship. "There is a possibility that Barak is saying in a closed forum, 'The military option is not on the table, but let's say it in public in order to keep this position of brinksmanship,' " the professor said. The problem might be that the "closed forum" now encompasses only Barak and Netanyahu, he said. "If this is a diplomatic game, the game should be stopped when you discuss this with people like the Mossad .arid the Shabak," Eitan Barak said, using the Israeli acronym for the Shin Bet internal security service. "But it could be that Netanyahu and Barak decided it's such an important issue, they should make themselves really warlike even in the Cabinet, so that there will be no doubt in eyes of foreigners and diplomats that they are ready to launch a military attacl." On April 27, the day after Barak spoke, Yuval Diskin, the former head of the Shin Bet, said he believed that Barak and Netanyahu are serious in contemplating an attack on Iran--and that they are driving Israel into a strike that likely would have severe consequences. "They create a sense that if the State of Israel does not act there will be a nuclear Iran," Diskin said. "That part of the sentence, let's say there's an Help Wanted Advertising Sales Full or Part Time Call Jeff at 407-834-8787 element of truth to it--but the second part of the sentence, they tell the public, the 'idiot' public, if Israel acts there won't be an Iranian nuclear bomb. And that's'the part of the sentence that is wrong. After an Israeli attack on Iran, there may well be a dramatic accelerati(m of the Iranian nuclear program." Diskin, speaking to a town hall-type meeting in Kfar Saba, the central Israeli town where he lives, continued: "I do not have.confidence in the current leadership of the State of Israel that could bring us into a war with Iran or into a regional war." Diskin's attack was the bluntest so far on Barak and Netanyahu, but he is notalone. Meir Dagan, the former chief of the Mossad, Israel's intelligence service, last year delivered similar warnings, and the current military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, recently said he believed the Iranian leadership was ratio- nal and that the country did not pose an existential threat to Israel. Rosen noted that many of the critics now speaking were either disgruntled or may entertain political ambitions. "AIot of them feel snubbed," he said. "There's a cadre of security professionals who feel that their views were not ad- equately taken into account." Dagan wanted to stay on as Mossad chief an6 Diskin had ambitions of replacing him. Ehud Olmert, a former prime ministerwho over lastweekend joined the chorus criticizing Netanyahu, is a longtime rival of Netanyahu's who is facing a corruption trial in Israel that could bury his comeback prospects. David Makovsky, a top ana- lyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said itwas notunusual for the military es- tablishment to exercise greater caution than the political estab- lishment, noting such tensions surfaced in 1981, before Israel took out the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq. "This will be decided by the political echelon, and the secu- rity establishment will weigh in, but they won't necessarily be decisive," Makvsky said. None of the officials criticiz- ing Barak and Netanyahu has broken with the Israeli con- sensus that an Iranian bomb is something to be prevented and not accommodated or "contained." The issue concerning the Israeli defense establishment, according to a number of Israeli experts, is whether Barak and Netanyahu have lost site of the utility of threats to-strike Ira.n--to rally the international community toward stopping Iran from acquiring the bomb. "The threat Of an attack remains a tactical measure which has achieved results," said Shlomo Aronson, a po- litical scientist who was the Schusterman visiting profes- sor of Israel studies at the University of Arizona from 2007 to 2009. "It should not be pursued in practical terms." Aronson said that until now, the tactic has helped focus the international community, led by the Obama administration, on isolating Dan through sanctions and diplomatic pressure. The concern now per- meating the Israeli defense establishment is that Barak and Netanyahu are no longer bluffing, said Avraham Sela, a research fellow of J:he Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace who served as an intelligence of- ricer under Barak when he was military chief of staff in the 1990s. He noted that in the '70s his former commander and Netan- yahuwere both members of the General Commando Squad, and had preserved from that training the tendency to play one's cards close to one's vest. Barak "remains that com- mando officer, which means I don't know to what extent he is calculating And to what extent he is willing to take the risk for such an operation--in the best case a temporary achievement thatwill maybe give Israel some timeandwhich couldeventually instigate Iran even more to get this weapon, even if they haven't until now sought it," Sela said. Sela noted that during his term as chief of staff, during the 1991 Gulf War, Barak had to credibly threaten to strike Iraqi targets in order to get the U.S.-ied alliance to take out Iraqi batteries launching mis- siles. The George. H.W. Bush administration feared that an Israeli strike would shatter the coalition of western and Arab states ithad cobbled together. Barak said recently that Israel would suffer no more .than 500 deaths in the event ofawar following apreemptive strike on Iran. Gabriel Sheffer, a profes- sor of political science at the Hebrew University who also served under Barak in the military, said the predic- tion was greeted with much skepticism and derision by the Israeli media and defense- establishment. "It is pretty Sure that the people who will be killed, that the number will be much greater," he said. "I think that this was part of his attempt to persuade everybody Israel should attack Iran." Makovksy said Barak and Netanyahu must convey seri- ousness of intent in order to have the West pay attention. "Israel is the only country being threatened with its existence, so it has to take it seriously because they're not a superpower and their win- dow for action closes early," he said. "They want to get America's attention, but it does not mean they're necessarily trigger-happy."