Prominent Arab-Israeli author Sayed Kashua spoke Tuesday evening at the Alumni Center as part of an event titled the “Foreign Mother Tongue: Living and Writing as a Palestinian in Israel.”
Though the event was not officially sponsored by the University, several University units and organizations, including the University’s Judaic Studies department, Helen Zell Writers’ Program, the Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies department, the Near Eastern Studies department and Comparative Literature department hosted the lecture.
Shachar Pinsker, a professor of Hebrew Literature and Culture, moderated the event.
Kashua discussed how he recently left his home in Israel following the conflict there this summer. He wrote about his decision to leave in a column in the Guardian titled “Why I Have to Leave Israel.”
“Last summer was catastrophic,” Kashua said, “For the first time in my life, I’m not sure I had a lot of reasons to be optimistic.”
As a Palestinian living in Israel, Kashua said he has felt conflicted over his Israeli identity and citizenship.
“I am a citizen [of Israel], because I have no other citizenship,” Kashua said, “I am a citizen because I care about the future, and I am a citizen because I used to believe, and maybe still believe in some naïve way that we can live together and exist together equally — Christians, Jews and Muslims.”
Kashua is also the writer for and creator of an Israeli television show called “Arab Labor.” The show centers on an Arab family living in Israel and their encounters assimilating into Israeli society.
He mentioned the importance of using comedy and humorous stereotypes in the show to humanize the characters. Kashua said this is especially important when portraying the Arab minority characters on the show.
“I do believe in minority humor,” Kashua said. “There is nothing funny about being a majority.”
Kashua is also an acclaimed novelist. He has published three books, one of which won the Berstein Prize, an Israeli literary award for authors younger than 50.
Kashua is unique as a Palestinian author because he writes in Hebrew, though his works have been translated into English. After age 14 he was educated in a school for gifted students in Jerusalem that only had books written in Hebrew.
Kashua said language has always been an integral part of his background and identity.
“I wanted to tell, in Hebrew, about my father who sat in jail for long years, with no trial, for his political ideas,” Kashua wrote in the Guardian. “I wanted to tell the Israelis a story, the Palestinian story.”
J Street Umich, a student organization dedicated to achieving a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, encouraged their members to attend and held a discussion after the event.
LSA junior Arielle Schoenburg, co-chair of J Street, said this issue is important to her as an American Jew who wants to see Israel as a democratic Jewish state.
“I think it is super important to continue talking about this issue, especially in light of what happened last semester,” Schoenburg said, referring to the boycott, divest and sanction movement on campus.
Kashua closed by saying he remains frustrated by the situation in Israel and the actions of the Israeli government, but believes that the best way forward would begin with an apology.
“I always thought, start from ‘I’m sorry’ and we can fix it,” he said.