MY ISRAELI-ARAB LOVE STORY? BANNED
We speak to the celebrated author of a banned book about the love affair between an Israeli and a Palestinian
Nothing strikes fear into the heart of Jews as much as marrying out
THE ONE fear that haunts Jews more than anything else — even more than the prospect of endless intifadas or of Iran building a nuclear bomb — is that of disappearing as a race, a culture and a religion, through the gradual, peaceful process of assimilation. In a nutshell, ‘‘marrying out’’.
It is this dread that underlies the current controversy over the book Borderlife ( Gader Haya, in Hebrew), about the love affair between an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man. The 2014 novel won its author, 43-year-old Dorit Rabinyan, Israel’s prestigious Bernstein literary prize, and an advisory panel of Israeli academics recommended that it be put on the school curriculum.
But, last month, the Education Ministry, headed by Naftali Bennett of the Zionist Jewish Home Party, rejected the recommendation and banned Borderlife from school reading lists. Bennett stated that ‘‘intimate relations between Jews and non-Jews are a threat to our separate identity’’, and education ministry official Dalia Fenig added: ‘‘Young people tend to romanticise and don’t have considerations about preserving the identity of the nation and the significance of assimilation’’. But, hey, this is Israel, and even the son of Prime Minister Netanyahu has been dating a gentile lady from Norway, prompting much outrage from hardliners.
Predictably, the Left and Rabinyan’s fellow writers have loudly protested against the ban. During a visit to a military prep academy in Sderot, Opposition leader Isaac Herzog distributed copies of Borderlife to students and told them they should all read it. ‘‘I asked them: ‘Tell me, are the People of the Book afraid of books? Are the People of the Book afraid of stories?’ This is a backward worldview that does not believe the public can make judgments for themselves.’’ And veteran Israeli writer A.B. Yehoshua, whose novel The
also depicts a relationship between an Israeli and a Palestinian, said the ban not only targeted Rabinyan’s book but threatened all literature.
Meanwhile, needless to say, all the brouhaha has propelled Borderlife to best-seller status in Israel. Book stores have been running out of copies, a new print run is under way and, apparently, highschool heads have been buying it for their own schools. They see it as an important educational tool precisely because it addresses vital issues of concern to Israelis, of every generation. How can Jews and Arabs learn to live together? Can inter-faith romantic relationships help to forge peace in this strifefilled part of the world? Might they be a positive rather than a dangerous thing? For if Jews and Palestinians could view each other as individuals potentially worthy of love, doesn’t that mean things could one day change for the better?
As Rabinyan observed in a recent interview, barring her book from the curriculum highlighted the fear of “the other” among the Israeli political establishment, and it was as if, by preventing youngsters from reading a book dealing with the thorny subject of intermarriage, the issue would go away.
The story related in Borderlife has deep personal resonance for Rabinyan, as it appears to have been inspired by her own relationship
Shocked: writer Dorit Rabinyan