Archive for April, 2009
I’d really like to have a beer with Sayed Kashua. So do a lot of people in Israel, trust me. Kashua is the guy we could show to our friends, here and abroad, and say “Look, my best buddy is an Arab. See? We get along great, we even get drunk together. So I’m not a racist when I say ‘Some of my best friends are Arabs’. He really is an Arab!”
The truth is, a lot of people like me grew up in Israel, and never really mingled with Arabs. I grew up in Haifa, the “City of co-existence”. But I only saw them when I went down the hill to buy a shawarma. They lived in their neighborhoods, and I lived in mine. They went to their schools, and I went to mine. In some places it’s like that with blacks in America. I was a freshman in high school in Binghamton, NY, in 1987. Can’t remember seeing many blacks up there.
I served in the navy, so I didn’t meet Palestinians at checkpoints, roadblocks or while enforcing curfews. Even when I was shot at by Arabs (Lebanese, in this case), I couldn’t see them, they were so far away (unlike Ehud Barak, I never saw the “whites in their eyes”). All in all, I led an Arab-free existence in a country predominately concerned with them.
The closest experience I had with Arabs was when I opened up a cafe. Like students, Arabs are willing to be exploited in the restaurant industry for ridiculously low wages. I took part in this fiasco. Maybe that’s one reason why I failed. Karma, you might say… Anyway, I got along with the Arabs who worked in my kitchen. But just barely. We had nothing whatsoever in common. Seriously, what can you have in common with a cook who’s late for work because he got held up at a checkpoint? Sometimes the lack of communication got me angry, which led to thoughts I can only call, with much shame, “racist”. And I’ve voted left every election…
Later on I got to work for a (very) short period with a few Palestinians at radio RAM FM. But most of my interaction with them was via phone to Ramallah.
But Kashua? He’s an intellectual, and an amazing writer. He’s educated, his Hebrew is flawless. Better than mine. And he makes us laugh. He’s kind of like the Israeli Dave Barry, but with a twist – he’s Arab. He talks about his drinking, flirting with other women, daily life problems, happy moments with his Israeli friends. Yet, in every column, he manages to remind us about his origins, sometimes in a more subtle manner than others. He’ll make us laugh, and then, when our guard is down, he’ll remind us that he’s a second rate citizen. And we’ll feel guilty. For a minute. That’s the problem with us here. Guilt doesn’t last too long. In most cases, only until the next page.
Kashua has been writing for the Ha’aretz weekend magazine a few years now, and has recently been pushed up to the front, right behind veteran columnist Doron Rosenblum. Doesn’t get any better than that. Except, of course, if he overtakes Rosenblum one day.
I wonder, sometimes, why Haaretz did that. Sure, he’s a great writer, but does he deserve to be up there? Is he there because he’s Arab? Is it some kind of affirmative action? If so, isn’t that actually working against the cause? Is he a fig leaf? And why would a paper like Haaretz need a fig leaf in the first place, when they publish the likes of Gideon Levy and Amira Hass? Funny, but Gideon Levy used to have that same spot in the magazine. Then they moved him way back to the end, and then they transferred him from the magazine to the Week in Review supplement. He was just too painful to read, I guess. And when you think about it, in a way, Levy is a lot more Palestinian than Kashua will ever be.
You see, Kashua is in the bizarre position where we might actually feel comfortable with discrimanating against Arabs. He can make us say: “Look, look at Sayed. He made it to the top. So can you. Just try harder…”
I still want to have a beer with him, though…
Here’s a link to one of his fine columns: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1065554.html
And a piece the NYTimes did about him:
Don’t worry, I won’t be telling any Ars jokes, or show you that clip about how to identify an Ars in the wild and all that crap. (oh well, here it is…. come on, it’s funny!)
First of all, I certainly hope all of you know what an Ars is…. But for those who don’t (probably residing over the pond), I found this hilarious definition in Wikipedia:
“Ars (Arabic: عرص, Hebrew: ערס), or Arsim (plural) is a mildly tongue-in-cheek, derogatory/self-deprecating Hebrew slang term describing the Israeli stereotype of a person of bad manners, flashy jewelry, and overall rudeness, associated with “low class” Sephardi or Mizrahi Jews, usually of Moroccan background. A female Ars is usually Arsit, also known as a Freha (פרחה), or sometimes Fakatsa (פקצה), today an abbreviation including the word Freha as well. The Tel Aviv District’s lower-income cities of Bat Yam and Holon are often associated with Arsim. Arsim are the butt of many jokes by Israeli stand-up comedians, such as Naor Zion, Shalom Asayag, Yaakov Cohen and others who themselves hail from small towns with significant Ars influence.
In the Arabic language ars denotes a “young shepherd,” but in Cairo and other Arab cities is generally used to denote a pimp. A long form used sometimes is arsawwat.
Some stereotypical Ars characteristics are: pants worn very low (tayba), bling jewellery, an absence of respect for women, poor Hebrew language usage, excessive use of slang (see chav for a close analogy), and employment of Hebrew phrases such as “lama mi met?” (“why, who died?”) whenever criticized for rude behavior (especially on the road). It is also associated with spitting on the road, smoking, and computer illiteracy or a very occasional computer usage. It is considered by some to denote violence.
Arsim in Israel usually listen to Hiphop music or Mizrahi music (eastern music or Arabic music). In the US, Arsim tend to listen to a late-1990s variety of Tel Aviv Techno, with some of them even becoming promoters and DJs of this type of music in NYC and other large American cities”.
On the whole, not a bad definition. But on one point I beg to differ.
You see, the problem is that Arsim can no longer be associated with ethnic background alone, or even geographical location. In my opinion, Arsism (the ideology of the Ars) is in fact a sort of cultural cancer, silently spreading its tentacles around all of Israeli society. Arsim are no longer only Sephardi, or only from Bat Yam. They’re everywhere. They’re Ashkenazi, they’re Sephardi, they’re Arab. They even live in Tel Aviv. In north Tel Aviv! I mean, like, hello???….. WTF???
They are among us. They’re your neighbours. Heck, one of them could even be reading this post, disguising himself to be cultured and computer savvy, when all he really wants to do is go to a pseudo-greek tavern and listen to Shlomi Saranga belt out a “Yasoo!”, or sit in the bleachers in Teddy stadium, and yell racial slurs against Arabs as sunflower seed shells stick to the edges of his mouth.
Arsism is a frame of mind. It no longer has anything to do with your background. In fact, most people prefer to act like an Ars in Israel, because if they don’t, they’re considered weak. And not just any kind of weak. No… we’re talking about Ashkenazi weak, better known as ‘laflaf’. It’s the worst kind of weakness there is. Cuz if you’re a laflaf, you’re not a man. You’re not a hombre. And the thing is, you don’t have to be Ashkenazi to be a laflaf. Because it’s not about how dark your skin is anymore. It all boils down to how you act. And to be frank, most people in Israel act exactly like the Arsim in the Wikipedia definition. They act like that on the road, in the supermarket, in the cinema, at the cafe. And they’re a majority.
There aren’t many of us left. The sane. The polite. The patient.
Nope. We’re a dying breed…
It’s almost as if after 60 years in the region, Israelis have lost those delicate European attributes, and have taken on the more prickly characteristics needed to live in the Mideast. You could call it assimilation, in a way. Maybe, 60 years from now, we and our neighbours will all be Arsim, thus eliminating the need for war. Wait a minute…. No!!! Are you thinking what I’m thinking???
Could Arsism actually be the road to peace???
Exactly one year ago today, Israeli police raided the radio station RAM FM in Jerusalem. The raid signalled the beginning of the end, and the station eventually closed down in August. I had the privilege to work at the station for a few months just before it went off the air. It was a great project, and it ended due to gross mismanagement of the station, and most probably political pressure. We’ll never know.
All I know is, that every one of us who worked there wishes someone, somewhere would pick up the gauntlet…