Palestinian Sees Lesson Translating an Israeli’s Work


khouryThe following report by Ethan Bronner appears in the New York Times:  Six years ago, when violence was the order of the day in Yerushalayim, 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 core.

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 weeks.

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 different light.

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 their way.

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 conflict?”

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.”

{NY Times/Noam Amdurski-Matzav.coim Newscenter}