Translating Zionism into Arabic

Posted: March 15, 2010 by Scott Kistler in Missional Thought
Tags: , , ,

Ethan Bronner chronicles an unusual story in the New York Times, telling of a Palestinian lawyer who decided to translate Jewish author Amos Oz’s autobiography into Arabic.  Bronner writes that this work, A Tale of Love and Darkness, “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.”

This was a poignant quote from Elias Khoury, the translator:

“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.”

So often it seems that critics of Israel can’t see any reason for its existence, but it’s ridiculous to ignore the history of anti-Semitism that led to the creation of Israel.  Even if you don’t think Israel should exist in Palestine or at all, you can’t ignore the history that makes so many Jews feel as if they need a state for their own protection in their historic homeland.  As Bronner writes:

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.”

There seem to be a lot of historical and cultural dynamics in the Middle East that really make a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict seem unlikely.  And I think that there are understandings between cultural elites, dovish writers like Oz and Palestinian advocates like Khoury, that are rarely if ever translated into agreements at the popular or political levels.  For example, here’s a quote that sounds hopeful, but I am skeptical that it would translate out of the discussions between public intellectuals of both sides:

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?”

But perhaps God will use things like this to bring peace in this seemingly unsolvable conflict.  I do ultimately believe that the best solution will come from the peace that the only the gospel of Jesus Christ can bring.  Rick and I discussed this in the comments on a video that he posted on his blog.


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