[lg policy] Palestinian Sees Lesson Translating an Israeli ’s Work
hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sun Mar 7 21:55:33 UTC 2010
March 6, 2010
Palestinian Sees Lesson Translating an Israeli’s Work
By ETHAN BRONNER
JERUSALEM — Six years ago, when violence was the order of the day
here, Elias Khoury’s 20-year-old son, George, was killed in a
Palestinian terrorist attack. The Khourys are Palestinian, so the
murder of George — who was out for a jog and shot from behind by
gunmen in a car — produced an apology. Sorry, the killers said, we
assumed the jogger was a Jew.
Mr. Khoury was not only disconsolate, he was appalled. A prominent
Jerusalem lawyer who often fights Israeli confiscations of land from
Palestinians, he considered violence a toxin corroding his nation’s
So in memory of George, a charismatic law student and musician, Mr.
Khoury did something that shocked many in his community. He paid for
the translation into Arabic of the autobiography of Israel’s most
prominent author and dove, Amos Oz.
The Arabic version of the book, “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” went on
sale late last month in Beirut, Lebanon, where it has received
positive commentary — notably by Abdo Wazen, cultural editor of the
pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat — as well as some angry reaction. The book
is due to be distributed more widely in the region in the coming
In explaining his decision, Mr. Khoury said that literature was an
important bridge and that he had a specific goal in mind with this
book, a point he includes in a preface to the translation.
“This book tells the history of the rebirth of the Jewish people,” he
said as he sat in his law office. “We can learn from it how a people
like the Jewish people emerged from the tragedy of the Holocaust and
were able to reorganize themselves and build their country and become
an independent people. If we can’t learn from that, we will not be
able to do anything for our independence.”
Mr. Khoury is hardly a Zionist. His family’s land near Nazareth, about
750 acres, was seized by Israel “for security purposes,” he said,
shortly after the creation of the state, bankrupting his family.
His father, Daoud, an educated man who fought the confiscation with
every fiber of his being, was barred by the Shin Bet internal security
force from holding even menial jobs for some 20 years. He ultimately
did get work, as an accountant at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.
Shortly thereafter, in 1975, he was killed in a Palestinian terrorist
attack in downtown Jerusalem when a bomb placed in a refrigerator
killed 13 people. Elias Khoury was only feet away at the time.
Having lost his land to Israel and his father and son to Palestinians,
Mr. Khoury is in a rare position to petition both sides to re-examine
themselves. A Palestinian nationalist, fluent in Hebrew and English,
Mr. Khoury said he believed that the Oz autobiography, with its
account of Jewish refugee life here in the 1930s and ’40s, could be a
vehicle to help Palestinians and other Arabs see the Jews in a
The book is widely considered Mr. Oz’s masterpiece and one of the most
important books in contemporary Hebrew. While not explicitly about
coexistence, as some other of his nonfiction works are, it paints a
deeply moving picture of Jewish refugees from Europe trying to find
Mr. Wazen, the Beirut critic, called Mr. Oz’s writings beautiful and
praised the “unique world” created in them, saying this “enemy” was
certainly worth reading.
Sari Nusseibeh, a Palestinian philosopher who wrote his own powerful
autobiography of growing up in Jerusalem in the same era, “Once Upon a
Country,” said in that book’s opening that it was upon reading Mr.
Oz’s volume that he was struck by the parallel existences of Jews and
Palestinian Arabs of the time.
“Weren’t both sides of the conflict totally immersed in their own
tragedies, each one oblivious to, or even antagonistic toward, the
narrative of the other?” he wrote. “Isn’t this inability to imagine
the lives of the ‘other’ at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian
Mr. Khoury believes it is.
“If we don’t understand each other, there will always be suspicion and
gaps that can’t be bridged,” he said.
Mr. Oz, who has come to know the Khoury family — Elias, his wife,
Rima, and their two other children — through this project, said by
telephone that their sponsorship of an Arabic translation of his book
made him very emotional.
“This is the right book to travel into Arabic because it contains a
nonheroic rendering of the birth of Israel and a description of Israel
as a Jewish refugee camp,” he said. “Elias wants to build emotional
bridges between our nations, and to do that you need to let each read
the narrative of the other. Reading literature is like taking you into
the bedroom of the other.”
Mr. Oz noted that in the book his father recalled how, as a youth in
Europe, the walls were covered in graffiti saying “Jews, go to
Palestine.” Then when he got here some years later, the walls carried
the message “Jews, get out of Palestine.”
Mr. Oz added, “I am very eager for Arabs to read this to realize that
Israel, just like Palestine, is a refugee camp.”
Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Beirut, Lebanon.
N.b.: Listing on the lgpolicy-list is merely intended as a service to
and implies neither approval, confirmation nor agreement by the owner
or sponsor of the list as to the veracity of a message's contents.
Members who disagree with a message are encouraged to post a rebuttal.
(H. Schiffman, Moderator)
For more information about the lgpolicy-list, go to
This message came to you by way of the lgpolicy-list mailing list
lgpolicy-list at groups.sas.upenn.edu
To manage your subscription unsubscribe, or arrange digest format: https://groups.sas.upenn.edu/mailman/listinfo/lgpolicy-list
More information about the Lgpolicy-list