Meretz USA was the sponsoring partner with The Other Israel Film Festival in last Sunday’s screening of “Forever Scared,” a documentary film about Sayed Kashua, an Israeli Arab writer whose work has brought him fame and success. His book, “Dancing Arabs,” is a best seller in Israel and his sitcom television series, “Arab Labor,” is very popular among Israeli Jews. But he also suffers the slings and arrows of his fellow Arabs who see his honest and comedic portrayal of Israeli Arabs as something of a betrayal and a kind of “collaboration” with the Jews.
The documentary is painful in relating his discomfort with both Jews and Arabs in Israel. Hebrew is his writing medium and an object of “love” for him. But he also relates how difficult it was to adapt as a lone Arab child in a Jewish school and how problematic it is for Israeli Arabs to find housing outside of Arab towns and neighborhoods; Israel has no anti-discrimination laws. But today he lives in West Jerusalem, even as he tries to minimize the Arab profile of his young family (for example, he contemplates a visit by his typically Arab-garbed grandmother with great anxiety).
So he illustrates in his very being how Arabs can reach material success in Israeli society, but also how difficult it is even for him to live comfortably as an Arab citizen. The riff he comes back to in the film is that he is “forever scared” of the trucks that may come one day to forcibly transport him, his family and other Arabs beyond Israel’s borders. This fear has to come as a surprise to most of us as Jews, many of whom of a certain age have long had a similar and even more horrifying nightmare, that of being collected for transport to a death camp.
I am saddened by the ongoing difficulty of even a successful Arab like Kashua to feel at home in Israel. Discrimination in housing and other aspects of Israeli life is scandalous. But the fact that he is a success, and feels free enough to share his discomfort and dissatisfaction in living in the Jewish state (it can even be seen as a kind of shtick for him), is also a source of hope. Something that did not come up in the film is that if and when (God willing) there is a peaceful resolution to the external conflict with the Arab world, relations between Jews and Arabs within Israel should evolve in a dramatically more positive direction.