The Loss of Hope- Sayed Kashua

Sayed Kashua

Years ago I left my country to study and sea the world. Somehow, I ended up  arriving in NY days before 911.

Maybe it was then that I started to care so much about the middle east. First because of the absurd that was happening in the US. Later because my path would lead me to meet people from these areas.

Years ago I started to read about the Question of Palestine. Then eventually I was there. Breaking all the prejudices I had learned through my path. Some of you here in this list remember when I was in front of the separation wall between Palestine and Israel. How much I cried that day, not fully understanding because by then I had friends in both sides of the wall that in any other world could have been friends.

Here in Brazil my own family gets startled by the fact that I care so much about a place that is so far away. They do not understand I was treated like I was home everywhere there. They took care of me. In both sides, they really took care of me.

I was there when both Vittorio Arrigoni and Juliano Mer were killed.  And I am so thankful to so many people in both sides of the wall that  I decided to write this simple message. It is not because of the profound pain I feel…. The human pain for humanity, it is because of the sadness, the loss of hope, and because I read today what Sayed Kashua had written for the Guardian.

I had read soo much of what he has written through these years. Which is always painful and sarcastic. I had seen a whole documentary  about his life. A Palestinian writer that wrote in Hebrew. But today, I write because his voice went to the depth of my soul.  Sayed Kashua who had already spoken of always being scared was now leaving Israel.

Together with Sayed, I also heard the voices of many Israelis who were not the most left wing people also planning to go away.  I heard the voice of one of the people I most trust in this world feeling tired, scared, disappointed and somehow hopeless.  But who, am I? to say anything? So I will copy and paste… the voice, of the Palestinian who writes in Hebrew… this time, in English. His words say more than mine..

Sayed Kashua

  •  Sunday 20 July 2014

Sayed Kashua: why I have to leave Israel

The Arab-Israeli author moved to Jerusalem as a child and has devoted his life to telling Israelis the Palestinian story. But last week he decided to emigrate with his family to the US


Sayed Kashua in Jerusalem. ‘I wanted to tell the Israelis a story, the Palestinian story. Surely when they read it they will understand.’


Quite soon I am going away from here. In a few days we’ll be leaving Jerusalem, leaving the country. Yesterday we bought little suitcases for the kids. No need to take a lot of clothes, we’ll leave our winter clothes; in any event they won’t be warm enough given the cold of southern Illinois, USA. We’ll just need a few things until we get settled. Perhaps the kids should take some books, two or three in Arabic, and another few in Hebrew, so they don’t forget the languages. But I’m already not sure what I want my kids to remember of this place, so beloved and so cursed.

The original plan was to leave in a month for a year’s sabbatical. But last week I understood that I can’t stay here any longer, and I asked the travel agent to get us out of here as fast as possible, “and please make them one-way tickets”. In a few days we’ll land in Chicago, and I don’t even know where we’ll be for the first month, but we’ll figure it out.

I have three children, a daughter who is already 14 years old, and two sons, aged nine and three. We live in West Jerusalem. We are the only Arab family living in our neighbourhood, to which we moved six years ago. “You can choose two toys,” we said this week in Hebrew to our little boy who stood in his room gazing at boxes of his toys, and he started to cry despite our promises that we will buy him anything he wants when we get there.

I also have to decide what to take. I can choose only two books, I said to myself standing in front of shelves of books in my study. Other than a book of poetry by Mahmoud Darwish and another story collection by Jubran Khalil, all of my books are in Hebrew. Since the age of 14 I have barely read a book in Arabic.

When I was 14 I saw a library for the first time. Twenty-five years ago my maths teacher in the village of Tira, where I was born, came to my parents’ home and told them that next year the Jews would be opening a school for gifted students in Jerusalem. He said to my father that he thought I should apply. “It will be better for him there,” I remember the teacher telling my parents. I got in, and when I was the age of my daughter I left my home to go to a Jewish boarding school in Jerusalem. It was so difficult, almost cruel. I cried when my father hugged me and left me at the entrance of the grand new school, nothing like I had ever seen in Tira.

I once wrote that the first week in Jerusalem was the hardest week of my life. I was different, other; my clothes were different, as was my language. All of the classes were in Hebrew – science, bible, literature. I sat there not understanding one word. When I tried to speak everyone would laugh at me. I so much wanted to run back home, to my family, to the village and friends, to the Arabic language. I cried on the phone to my father that he should come and get me, and he said that only the beginnings are hard, that in a few months I would speak Hebrew better than they do.

I remember the first week, our literature teacher asked us to read The Catcher in the Rye by Salinger. It was the first novel I ever read. It took me several weeks to read it, and when I finished I understood two things that changed my life. The first was that I could read a book in Hebrew, and the second was the deep understanding that I loved books.

Very quickly my Hebrew became nearly perfect. The boarding school library only had books in Hebrew, so I began to read Israeli authors. I read Agnon, Meir Shalev, Amos Oz and I started to read about Zionism, about Judaism and the building of the homeland.

During these years I also began to understand my own story, and without planning to do so I began to write about Arabs who live in an Israeli boarding school, in the western city, in a Jewish country. I began to write, believing that all I had to do to change things would be to write the other side, to tell the stories that I heard from my grandmother. To write how my grandfather was killed in the battle over Tira in 1948, how my grandmother lost all of our land, how she raised my father while she supported them as a fruit picker paid by the Jews.

I wanted to tell, in Hebrew, about my father who sat in jail for long years, with no trial, for his political ideas. I wanted to tell the Israelis a story, the Palestinian story. Surely when they read it they will understand, when they read it they will change, all I have to do is write and the Occupation will end. I just have to be a good writer and I will free my people from the ghettos they live in, tell good stories in Hebrew and I will be safe, another book, another movie, another newspaper column and another script for television and my children will have a better future. Thanks to my stories one day we will turn into equal citizens, almost like the Jews.

Twenty-five years of writing in Hebrew, and nothing has changed. Twenty-five years clutching at the hope, believing it is not possible that people can be so blind. Twenty-five years during which I had few reasons to be optimistic but continued to believe that one day this place in which both Jews and Arabs live together would be the one story where the story of the other is not denied. That one day the Israelis would stop denying the Nakba, the Occupation, and the suffering of the Palestinian people. That one day the Palestinians would be willing to forgive and together we would build a place that was worth living in.

Twenty-five years that I am writing and knowing bitter criticism from both sides, but last week I gave up. Last week something inside of me broke. When Jewish youth parade through the city shouting “Death to the Arabs,” and attack Arabs only because they are Arabs, I understood that I had lost my little war.

I listened to the politicians and the media and I know that they are differentiating between blood and blood, between peoples. Those who have become the powers that be say expressly what most Israelis think, “We are a better people than the Arabs.” On panels that I participated in, it was said that Jews are a superior people, more entitled to life. I despair to know that an absolute majority in the country does not recognise the rights of an Arab to live.

After my last columns some readers beseeched that I be exiled to Gaza, threatened to break my legs, to kidnap my children. I live in Jerusalem, and I have some wonderful Jewish neighbours, and friends, but I still cannot take my children to day camps or to parks with their Jewish friends. My daughter protested furiously and said no one would know she is an Arab because of her perfect Hebrew but I would not listen. She shut herself in her room and wept.

Now I am standing in front of my bookshelves, Salinger in hand, the one I read 14 years ago. I don’t want to take any books, I decided, I have to concentrate on my new language. I know how hard it is, almost impossible, but I must find another language to write in, my children will have to find another language to live in.

“Don’t come in,” my daughter shouted angrily when I knocked on her door. I went in anyway. I sat down next to her on the bed and despite her back turned to me I knew she was listening. You hear, I said, before I repeated to her exactly the same sentence my father said to me 25 years ago. “Remember, whatever you do in life, for them you will always, but always, be an Arab. Do you understand?”

“I understand,” my daughter said, hugging me tightly. “Dad, I knew that a long time ago.”

“Quite soon we’ll be leaving here,” as I messed up her hair, just as she hates. “Meanwhile, read this,” I said and gave her The Catcher in the Rye.

Sayed Kashua is a Palestinian writer whose novels have been translated into 15 languages. The film Dancing Arabs, based on his first novel, opened the 2014 Jerusalem international film festival. His most recent novel, Exposure, was published by Chatto & Windus. Translated by Deborah Harris

Article in the Guardian here:

Football and The Brazilian People


I was not going to write anymore about the world cup, but since so many people have written me to ask what I think about what happened, and I actually have explained to some here it goes.

I think it was a mystery that Brazil could go as far as it did. Short of mind-boggling. No, not them loosing, but them reaching as far as they did with a team that was not very strong. Even more amazing was to see the population go from apathy to total fury because of the 7-1 yesterday in the game between Germany and Brazil.

Seriously, how could anyone actually  have expected that Brazil would beat Germany?When most of their team play together in Bayern München and have so much experience playing together.  Germany has been a great team for such a long time now.

Today Argentina will play Holland.  And many Brazilians are supporting Argentina. Intriguing isn’t it?  Some rationalise it, that they want the  cup to remain in this continent. Other’s like me really admire Messi. Could Argentina win in one player only? Who knows? Holland should definitely be taken seriously, yet, to be quite honest they have played so violently so many times.. that it is hard to invoke the admiration to the old dutch team in our memories.

The reason I write today about this, is because, in fact I was quite appalled by the reaction Brazilians (who first did not want Brazil to win) had. Flags were burned, bussed were burned, foreigners were harmed. And that is definitely shameful.

I remembered Darcy Ribeiro, the anthropologist and writer who ran away from hospital to write the book called “O Povo Brazileiro” ( the Brazilian people). There he argues that Brazilians were not Africans, nor Indigenous, nor Europeans. He claims that because of the mix ( true love and rape etc) these mixed children were rejected by all. They were Brazilian. I would add that it goes way further than this beginning of interaction. Brazilians learned to accept all that came in their path.

Till very recently our main Cathedral in Sāo Paulo held Jewish, Christian and Islamic events when Mosques and Synagogues did not exist here. Everything else was integrated…. from Asia to middle eastern cultures. Everything was incorporated, in a symbolic system that in Brazil antagonism did not really matter. That is not the same to say that in Brazil there is no violence, no inequality. It is to say that they received Jews and Nazis, Japanese and Chinese, Sirian and Lebanese. And that they have learned to incorporate their beliefs with indigenous and Africans.

That is why, it was so embarrassing to hear people were attacking property and people for something that till a couple weeks ago they did not want.

But today, when the day had risen I went to the buss station to exchange my tickets since I have a cold and as I entered the bus station, after having read so much crap in the internet I saw hundreds of Argentinians in Sao Paulo singing. It was actually quite beautiful. It was even more beautiful to see that Brazilians filmed it. Watched it and did not start a fight. It was the same in the tube, and even close to my house. There were dozens of Argentinians singing.

It made me happy.  At least the usual respect for the outside remained here, even when their arch-rival was singing in our lands.

Who knows… maybe Messi can win alone 🙂 And if they don’t, a game between a non motivated Brazilian team and Argentina should definitely  text how strong is “o povo Brasileiro”.

PS: After the game: I supported Argentina the whole time! And Messi did not win alone. Mascherano was amazing! In fact both teams played really well.  But Romeno is way better keeper than the Dutch guy.  I am happy they won. I am happy that all their joy I had seen yesterday all over Sao Paulo had result. How could one not admire those who came in every single way here,  knowing their economy is collapsed to support their team. It was really beautiful!  Congratulations!

Equality, Respect and Responsibility


I come from a very different world. I am from Brazil. I have been to both middle east and India. And I love both places. I travelled by myself every time and to be quite honest I was  never afraid of people.

Today someone sent me these photos asking for feminism in India. They are beautiful. All of them. But as I watched, and read I kept thinking we should not substitute  male chauvinism for feminism. We should walk the path of equality of rights, justice, and respect to all.



I stayed in the houses of people I met along the way. And because of that I have an unabated faith on humanity in general.  So much so that even now, after almost dying last year, I bought another ticket to travel on my own to the northeast and north of Brazil. It is true, that as a woman all men in busses would stare at me… But I would speak to them. They would get quite shocked in India, but eventually those who initially had been agressive protected me from something I never really knew what it was. I was never mistreated anywhere, nor have I stopped  going somewhere alone.



When it was Ramadan and I was in Kashmir I followed it, in Morocco no one asked me to do it and I followed it… in fact no one ever asked me to follow Ramadan because I am not a muslim. I did it anyway…or almost did it because in Morocco I drank water. Out of respect to the place where I was in I drank without anyone seeing. I veiled in mosques, and outside in the streets of Hebron, in Palestine also not because they asked me, simply because the women put it in my head and they thought i looked beautiful in a hijab.

Brazil, is another world. We walk half naked, we go in very small bikinis to the beach… and it is also not exactly a choice…. We are taught to do it. So many beautiful women go under non necessary plastic surgery for no other reason but to satisfy a society that values the body of a model.  Educated women fully believe they they choose to do that. But choice is such and intriguing thing…. How much do we actually consciously choose?

Do the indigenous who always walk naked dress now because they choose? Do they even keep these clothes on once non indigenous leave? Do they have higher rate of rape because people are naked?

How do we know what is choice? Do we like choice? The burden that comes with it?

Nowadays, I stop and I think… will a person be separated from society? Will they not get a job, a boyfriend/girlfriend, a wife/husband  a friend if they have not behaved in the way they believe they are choosing ( and is also the same way most people in that society is behaving). What happens then? Are they marginalised?  Are the answers to all of my questions about their social engagement is immediately NO?  Then we should know this is not a choice, It is a social practice, some way we were taught to behave  in that society, it is not really a choice. There is not really anything wrong to follow society. But we should know it is not a non-influenced choice.

I saw all pictures from this community called “The Logical Indian”. It is beautiful. But more importantly as I started in the beginning of this post  we should not exchange male chauvinism to feminism. We should fight for justice, respect and equal rights. So that people can evaluate really what it is that they are choosing.And finally, this is a path that should be walked not only in India but in the whole world.


But that in fact asks from all of us total responsibility….and I am not sure everybody  really wants that.