Sayed Kashua – A journalist with a weekly column in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, an author with three critically acclaimed novels, and a creator of a television series, ‘Arab Labor’ watched by 20% of the Israeli population. But all this, as a Palestinian living in Jerusalem? For Sayed Kashua, as he asserted, “Humour can be helpful.” Through a sardonic but nonetheless effective approach, Kashua has garnered worldwide acclaim for satirizing his experience as a Palestinian living in Jerusalem. As Prof. Bishara noted, there have not been a lot of times where we can “laugh politically about the Middle East.”
But how does a Palestinian living in Jerusalem garner a renowned reputation within all three realms of ‘Israeli’ popular culture – Haaretz, Israeli prime time TV, and as part of ‘minor literature’ (a Palestinian writing in Hebrew.) For Kashua, it is his avant-garde take on ‘reacting’ (as he calls it) to Arab stereotypes by playing on them that enables him to draw Israeli viewers in. In doing so, Kashua explores the many tribulations and struggles that Palestinians face ‘navigating between the two worlds,’ in particular unraveling their complex identity.
In his TV series, ‘Arab Labor,’ Kashua chooses an Arab family with the intent to humanize Arabs. One such example of these comical sequences is,
By playing on these issues that are of concern to both Israelis and Palestinians (here, checkpoints,) as well as mixing the use of Hebrew and Arabic through a satirical and comical manner, Kashua is brilliantly catering to both sides of a multifaceted audience and further, through an underlying degree of sarcasm, criticizing the Israeli state authorities. Here, many parallels can be drawn with the videos produced by Kharabeesh cartoons. The 3 episode series, Le Journal du ZABA, is a parody that focuses primarily on the ousted Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. By using a satirical approach, humour, like in Kashua’s ‘Arab Labor,’ is able to grasp a wider audience and present a politically relevant issue in a light manner while at the same time with an undertone of criticism.
Amongst his many columns, one example is, ‘The drama of the gifted child,’
Kashua is once again exploring the many complications with identity and citizenship that Palestinians inside Israel or in Jerusalem endure but keeping in mind that these are published in an Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, he does so in his renowned satirical manner.
Having read his novel ‘Dancing Arabs,’ the underlying satire is once again in no way lacking. By playing on the use of labels, ‘Arab’ and ‘Jew’ and making bold statements like ‘I wanted to be a Jew’ or ‘Arabs will always be Arabs,’ Kashua is clearly accentuating the mainstream stereotypes that pervade the lives of these Palestinians. In this regard, as he also insists that he is only using Hebrew as a tool to tell his story and is of no political intention, Kashua thus takes many stabs at the Jewish Israeli community as well as presents many criticisms of the Palestinians themselves.
In the end, as he asserted, “I have never managed to understand Israelis or Arabs. I think the reason I write is that I’m trying to understand.” And thus, Kashua sees himself not as any specified ‘label’ per se, but instead simply as a ‘citizen criticizing the state as a citizen.’ With this, he revolutionizes the realms of popular culture – television, journalism and minor literature. It was a great opportunity to hear him speak at Tufts last week!