Monday, December 15, 2008

Wandering Jewish Arabic Voices in Israel

We don’t hear very much about Antun Shammas, a Palestinian that many specialists considered as one of the best writers in Hebrew. But who has never heard about Samir Naqqash (سمير نقاش), an Israeli Jew writing in Arabic?

His family arrived in Israel when he was 13 years old, like many other Jewish families signing away their Iraki citizenship in order to emigrate to Israel, after bombings in Bagdag that could have been done by some sionist organisations willing to “encourage” the millenarian Jewish community in Irak to flee to Israel.

Samir Naqqash spent his whole life in search of a “better” exile, crossing the Lebanese border when he was 15 years old, then looking hopelessly for a more appropriate homeland in Iran, India, Turkey, Egypt after the Camp David agreements…

He died in 2004, after half of a century in his new homeland where he refused to give up his first language, the colloquial Arabic spoken by the Jewish people of Bagdad. His last novel, Shlomo the Kurd, myself and time, has been published by al-Jamal, an Arabic publishing house in Germany, a good summary of the literary destiny of an Israeli Jewish author writing in Arabic facing the Arab policy toward the Arab Jews and the contempt of the sionist state for the Arabic culture.

But not all the Iraki Jews living in Israel stuck to their native language. On the contrary, most of them use Hebrew, sometimes as a way to promote the Arabic culture through translations. Born in Irak in 1926, friend of the great Palestinian writer Emile Habibi, Sami Mikhail (سامي ميخائيل) has translated into Hebrew Nagib Mahfouz’s famous Trilogy.

His latest book, The pigeons of Trafalgar, offers a rather unusual dialogue with the Palestinian writer Ghassan Kanafani, assassinated in Beirut by the Mossad in the beginning of the 1970’ and author of the world-acclaimed Returning to Haifa. In his own novel, Sami Mikhail suggests another ending to this story of a couple of Palestinians going back to Haifa in order to enquire about the son they had lost there because of the war in 1948. After the death of her husband in a military operation, the mother of Khaldun/Dov – the Palestinian boy raised as an Israeli – refuses to abandon none of her children and tries to gather them around her in Cyprus.

Not surprisingly, some people have been upset by what they have called the “spoliation” (see previous post) of a Palestinian work but others were obviously interested to see how two voices, doomed to live in two different endless exiles, could, nonetheless, hold such a literary dialogue.

As usual, here is the link to the more developed post in French.

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