Saturday, November 29, 2008

Again, the boycott and its many questions

Again the boycott issue, with its difficult questions already tackled in previous posts, like that one about two movies, an Israeli one, The Band’s visit, and another, Egyptian, Salata Baladi (Salade maison).

This time the discussion concerns a book, Madinah, City Stories from the Middle East. This collection of short stories edited by the Lebanese writer Joumana Haddad gathers ten texts written by various Arab writers, by a Turkish one and… by the Israeli writer Yitzhak Laor with a text about Tel Aviv.

The Palestinian poet Najwan Darwish started the whole discussion in the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar asking how Arab writers could have accepted to participate in a project which presents Tel Aviv side to side with the other Arab towns, as a figuration of the New Middle East map…

Because of such reactions, the English publisher published on his site a declaration mentioning among other things that “the request to include an Israeli story was the publisher's” and that the editor “was initially very much against it (…) until the name of writer Yitzhak Laor was eventually suggested”, an idea “highly supported by the Palestinian contributor to the book, Ala Hlehel.”

Hlelel, a Palestinian living in Acco, had already expressed his point of view in Al-Akhbar saying that Yitzhak Laor, as a radical opponent to the Sionist state, was perfectly entitled to participate in such a book, even with a story about Tel Aviv, a city built on the ruins of the Palestinian villages.

Later on, Al-Akhbar published Laor Yitzhak’s answer. His text begins with an interrogation about the wijdân¸a word used by Najwan Darwish and for which there is no easy translation in other languages. Then, Yitzhak Laor goes on saying that Darwish’s attitude means in fact that when an Arab public discourse speaks of secularism, democracy and so on, another one, like in Darwish’s article, denies any right for a Jewish presence in the Middle East.

Of course, explains Yitzhak Laor, nobody is asked to forget on which ground Tel Aviv has been built but, at the same time, somebody like Najwan Darwish should learn that all the people who live in that city are not the same. Something the reading of his text, which describes Tel Aviv as a huge and frightening military camp, makes quite obvious…

Pierre Abi Saab, the editor of Al-Akhbar cultural section, comments on Yitzhak Laor’s position. He regrets that the Israeli writer sees Najwan Darwish’s position as racist when it is just the denial of a policy which aims at making the Jewish occupation like something natural (tabî‘î, a key word very closed to the Arabic tatbî‘ for “boycott” "normalization" [see comments]).

Of course, the dispute is much more elaborated than said in this short summary. But it has to be mentioned that it was published in Al-Akhbar, a daily supposed to be very close to the Lebanese Hizbollah, and thus to Al-Manar. A TV station that Germany has recently banned on grounds that it violates the country's constitution!

Just to make things more complicated, another boycott issue was raised by the same Al-Akhbar with the possible coming to Beirut of the West-Eastern Divan. Founded by Daniel Baremboim and the Palestinian Edward Said, the orchestra has played only once in an Arab country. It was in Ramallah, some three years ago. Knowing that the players come from various Arab countries, from Spain and from…Israel, should the visit be boycotted?

As usual, here are the links to the more developed posts in French, about Al-Madinah and the West-Eastern Divan.


Anonymous said...

All this sounds tiredly familiar, not to say predictable, though I don't remember Laor ever being in the center of such attacks from the Palestinian side. It is significant that the language of the exchange here is Arabic (were Laor's remarks translated from Hebrew?) but I must correct you: Tatbi' is the Arabic word for 'normalization' (not 'boycott' which is muqata'a) and thus tabi'i means both 'natural' and 'normal.' Wijdan is indeed a difficult word to translate, though 'consciousness' might do in this context.

YGQ said...

Hello! You are perfectly right for "normalization" and "boycott" (clearer I hope in the French post!) For Laor's answer, I found it Arabic but I suspect the texte was translated into that language, although no mention was made to a translation, eventualy done by Al-Akhbar or by an author's friend...