This valuable and convincing second novel by Arab-Israeli journalist Kashua (Dancing Arabs, 2004) captures how the Middle East conflict affects a young man of similar background to the novelist’s own.
The story concerns an Arab-Israeli journalist, who, stung by the discrimination of his Jewish neighbors and colleagues, moves back to the small Arab town where he and his wife were born. Because his editor is increasingly mistrustful of Arabs and indifferent to their point of view, the hero has practically no work, which he experiences as shameful and conceals from his family. Thus the move home feels like a step backward, or worse, since the town has declined in safety and civility: Gang-bangers with Uzis shake down local storekeepers, and Arabs with Israeli citizenship exploit illegal Palestinian day workers. The most ominous change is in how the town is categorized by Jewish Israelis. Without warning, tanks suddenly seal off the village. Phone service, electrical power, water and sewer lines are shut down. This cataclysmic break with normalcy has no explanation. Like characters in Kafka, the locals try to puzzle out a reason for the hardships they are subjected to. When a contractor on his way to work in a Jewish settlement approaches a barricade to talk his way through, his truck is blown up by mortar fire. Later, he will be described on Israeli television as a terrorist. The narrator’s father, a village elder, trusts his Jewish compatriots; younger men riot. Without food or water in the parching heat, plagued by the stench of sewage and uncollected garbage, the villagers wait helplessly, none knowing why their rights and services have been withdrawn. But as brutal and irrational events unfold, they must still find a way to live and work.
An accessible and remarkably fair-minded book of particular importance in its immediate relevance.