By Jamal Kanj
In the last week’s column, I wrote on the banned love story from the Israeli high school reading list. The Israeli education ministry claimed that young Jewish students might not comprehend “the significance of miscegenation” for “maintaining the national-ethnic identity of the [Jewish] people.”
Oddly enough, the Israeli argument to maintain the Jewish “ethnic identity” from dilution finds similar root in long gone or irrelevant racist movements spanning from Nazi Germany to the Ku Klux Klan in America. From my own life experience, and in the small circle of friends I had in California, I enjoyed the company of several mixed couples. Out of those, I had known at least three Jewish and Arab intermarriages.
The first involved a Palestinian, the second a Lebanese woman and the third was a Saudi man.
In the early 80s, my best friend met a young Jewish girl who lived next door. It was during the peak of our student activism confronting Zionist Jewish students at the university campus on a daily basis. Yet, my best friend saw his new girlfriend only as a human being who happened to be Jewish. Fortunately, she did the same.
In the late 80s, I met a Lebanese woman while doing community outreach during the first Palestinian Intifada. She was married to a Jewish man. Not surprisingly, their love transcended the Zionist’s parochial race. We became best of friends and two years later our first sons were born. We still cherish our memory our two babies pictured lying side by side on our bed when they we were only weeks old.
During the same period, I met a friend from Saudi Arabia who was raising his children with his ex-Jewish wife. While divorced, they both were dedicated to their half Arab half Jewish American children.
In the three cases, they all were blessed with well acculturated and naturally more tolerant children who weren’t any less Jewish or any less Arabs. They did not threaten the “identity of the Jewish people,” but rejected the premise of separation advocated by the Zionist ideology. Zionism is an 18th century European chauvinistic movement that exploited historical injustice against Jews to justify inflicting the same against non-Jewish Palestinians.
Back to Israel’s intimidating novel, a little over a year ago I was asked by American Jewish best-selling author Michelle Cohen Corasanti to co-write a love story between a Jew and a Palestinian who came from diametrically opposed backgrounds. Michelle was the author of The Almond Tree, a book that was published in 19 languages. I wrote a review of it on the pages of this newspaper almost three years ago.
In preparation for her book, Michelle lived in Palestinian villages inside Israel and mastered the Arabic language. The experience gave the writer the insight to write about Palestinian life and social customs. Hence, the ability to genuinely depict the life and struggle of Palestinians who remained in what became Israel in 1948. In a rarely seen authentic display, she showed a people who held tight to their Arab Palestinian identity despite Zionist attempts to erase their national memory.
After initial reluctance, I was in the midst of writing my own novel. Here we are today having completed two novels. I wrote from the point of view of the Palestinian protagonists, while Michelle used her background and personal experiences to step into the American Jewish character. Rich in history, the stories are about breaking down stereotypes and discovering the human inside Jews and Palestinians.
The novels will present an antithesis character to the omnipresent Zionist painted image of the dehumanised Palestinian; a hero the reader can truly root for and identify with. Thus, introducing the most “dangerous” Palestinian, Israel doesn’t want the world to meet.
* Mr Kanj (www.jamalkanj.com) writes regular newspaper column and publishes on several websites on Arab world issues. He is the author of “Children of Catastrophe,” Journey from a Palestinian Refugee Camp to America. A version of this article was first published by the Gulf Daily News newspaper.