Sayed Kashua, an Israeli-born Palestinian, is famed as the creator of “Arab Labor,” a humorous sitcom that attempts to tackle the tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. However, speaking to a crowd of 50-some Knox students and professors on Oct. 27, Kashua focused not on the sitcom but rather on how his life experiences compelled him to create the series.
Kashua’s hometown of Tira, Israel was Palestinian land before the Arab-Israeli War in 1948, when it became incorporated into Israel. But though he is an Israeli citizen, the ethnic divide is strong. Being accepted into a prestigious Jewish high school in Jerusalem introduced him to a foreign world.
“I remember when I entered that school,” Kashua said. “As soon as I entered this big glass door, the music was different … the principal approached me and mispronounced my name. I entered the room, I had three roommates at boarding school, and my mother … had bought me pink sheets with black whales. I didn’t know why they were making fun, laughing at my clothes.”
On his first bus ride home, Kashua was recognized by an Israeli soldier as an Arab and had to step off the bus for not having an ID, although IDs are often not issued until citizens are 16.
“He was asking questions like I did some crime and [I knew] that Israeli soldiers killed my grandfather and [I knew] that Israelis had arrested my father and … that Israeli soldiers were doing awful things to Palestinians in the West Bank.” He was allowed allowed back on the bus, but the moment solidified his feelings of being the “other” and unwelcome in his country.
During his high school years, Kashua began to question what he was taught.
“What’s the meaning of being a minority in a Jewish state? We were never told stories of the war or about Palestine in our education system. In our Arab school we learned Zionist history … I started to read stories of Jewish writers but … I knew very well from what I heard from my grandmother that there was a different story to tell.”
This brought about his initial novel “Dancing Arabs” and eventually lead to his sitcom “Arab Labor.”
“I realized in high school I needed to humanize the Arab characters,” Kashua said. “I knew very well that humor could work to make people listen.”
However, Kashua has recently found it difficult to be humorous.
“I used to say that I use humor as a weapon, [but] it’s a humor to survive. Oscar Wilde said, ‘If you want to tell people the truth, you have to make them laugh or they will kill you.’” Kashua has found that this statement has come too close to his reality now, where his home is unsafe for him to live. The same day his family left for America this past summer, a Palestinian teenager was burned alive in Jerusalem.
Remarking on how she was struck by Kashua’s honesty about his personal experiences, sophomore Nabila Dadar said, “It’s praiseworthy to see how a man so successful feels no hesitancy in speaking his mind. The way he answered his question gave more credit to his work, because I see he’s a reliable narrator.”