Approaching Conflicts
Contexts, Perspectives, and Values in Israel Education

Exploring the Works of Sayed Kashua

Toolkit Discussion Guide

Background on Sayed Kashua

  • Israeli Palestinian writer, born in 1975 in the city of Tira, in the “triangle” region of Galilee, where most of Israel’s Arab population lives. His father was a bank teller and political activist and his mother was a teacher. He is married to Najat Kashua and they have three children.
  • Kashua was first exposed to Jewish Israelis when he received a scholarship to attend a prestigious Jewish boarding school in Jerusalem for high school. He then studied at the Hebrew University. Afterwards, Kashua and his family lived in both Arab and Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem.
  • Kashua writes in Hebrew and says he is more comfortable in Hebrew than Arabic. He writes across many genres—including novels and weekly newspaper columns. Kashua is also the creator and writer of the popular television show Arab Labor. One of his novels, Dancing Arabs, was adapted into a movie. His work tends to focus on the experience of being Palestinian in Israel, and is often darkly satirical.
  • His main audience is Israeli Jews and foreign readers. He is controversial among Israeli Palestinians. Many accuse of him “selling out” to Israel and not being proud of his Palestinian identity, while other argue that Kashua uses cheap stereotypes and betrays his own people to make Jewish Israelis laugh.
  • Suggested video: Kashua on writing in Hebrew. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-Ukrd2JRDo

TV Show: Arab Labor

Arab Labor is the first israeli television show to focus on the lives of Israeli Palestinians. The name of the sitcom is a colloquialism for shoddy or cheap labor. The sitcom focuses on the trials and travails of Amjad, a journalist for a Hebrew newspaper, as he tries to navigate Jewish and Arab society.  He is married to Bushra, a social worker, and a father to his daughter Maya. His parents are more traditional, and disapprove of his life choices, especially as Amjad attempts to assimilate into Israeli society and leave his Arab past behind. His best friend Meir is a Jewish photographer who falls in love with Bushra’s best friend, the feminist Palestinian activist Amal. The show has a Seinfeld feel with its focus on the humor of everyday life in Israel and is one of the most successful comedies in Israeli television history.  Arab Labor’s use of humor and satire, sitcom format (i.e episodes are mostly self contained) and short episodes, about twenty five minutes each, make them ideal for classroom use. The show has run for four seasons, an eternity in Israeli television, where even a second season for most shows is uncommon.

Several episodes and clips are available here : https://www.linktv.org/series/arab-labor

Suggested episodes:

  • Swimming: Season 2, Episode 12 (Clip)
    • In Israel, there is a stereotype of Arabs not knowing how to swim. Are you familiar with similar stereotypes in American culture--that different ethnic groups are good or bad at particular activities?  What are they? What effects does this have on our perceptions of different groups? What does swimming symbolize for Amjad and his family, and why is he so upset he can’t swim?
    • Meir is engaged to Amal but doesn’t want to go her family’s traditional celebrations in near Shechem/Nablus. (a city in the Palestinian territories, over the green line.) He also doesn’t want to offend her family. Do you agree with how he handled the situation?  What would have done?
    • Why does Amjad accept the pool owner’s deal instead of going to the courts? What you have done?  What is the best way to handle injustice, and what role do private individuals have to play?
  • The Shelter Season 3, Episode 10: https://www.linktv.org/programs/arab-labor-the-shelter
    • The entire episode takes place in the bomb shelter in the basement of the apartment building in West Jerusalem, where Amjad and his family live. Meir and Amal live there as well. (All of the other neighbors are Jewish). What effect does the setting have on the episode?  Can you think of any other television show or movie that takes place entirely in one room?
    • This episode is much more serious than the other episodes. Why do you think that is? Remember it was the season finale of the third season.  Does the conversation between the neighbors remind you of anything you’ve seen on American television?
    • How does Amjad describe his desire to live in another country? Do you think his neighbors understand him?
    • How does the episode portray the effects of war on Jerusalemites?  Why does Nadav leave the shelter at the end?

 

Haaretz columns:

  • Kashua recently took a leave of absence from Haaretz so the column is on hiatus. Nevertheless, they are an excellent, funny, and a good resource for teaching  All of his columns can be found here. http://www.haaretz.com/blogs/sayed-kashua

Suggested columns:

  • Sayed Kashua's kid wins Hanukkah quiz. And he's not even Jewish http://www.haaretz.com/blogs/sayed-kashua/.premium-1.632553
    • What is the symbolism of Kashua’s son speaking Hebrew and English, but refusing to speak Arabic? (Baba is Arabic for Daddy.) How has immigration to America affected their lives as a family? Is this similar to other immigrant stories you may be familiar with?
    • What is his reaction to his other son winning the Hanukah quiz? Why is he upset that everyone assumes that his family is Jewish?
    • In the end Kashua gives in and does not correct the teacher. Why?
  • 8 days a slave: Sayed Kashua contemplates Pesach http://www.haaretz.com/blogs/sayed-kashua/.premium-1.587159
    • What is Passover like for people who don't celebrate it in Israel? Do you think is similar to American Jews and Christmas? Different?
    • Why does the lady assume the Kashua works at the supermarket? Why do you think he reacts as he does?
    • How does Kashua relate to the themes of slavehood and liberation of the holiday? Who is he a slave to?  Is there any hope of redemption?
  • Sayed Kashua presents: A revolutionary peace plan http://www.haaretz.com/blogs/sayed-kashua/.premium-1.567789
    • This article is a response to forcibly transfer Arab Israeli populations outside of Israel, an idea which has sometimes appeared in right wing Israeli political circles.
    • Why does Sayed Kashua write his own peace plan? What kind of image of Arabs is he trying to overcome?  What is the point of writing it in bullet points?
    • Suggestions 2-5 are a reaction to the Law of Return, which grants citizenship immediately to anyone who has at least one Jewish grandparent. What does he propose instead? For Kashua, why is this a better solution?
    • Why are Jewish and Arab parties banned? What is Kashua’s end goal with his plan?
    • What does Kashua think about religion and religious people?
    • How serious is this peace plan ? Is it satire? How should we react?

 

Novels

  • Dancing Arabs is a semi-autobiographical novel about a poor Arab boy who receives a scholarship to attend high school in a prestigious Jewish boarding school in Jerusalem as the first Arab student to attend. The novel has been recently made into a movie of the same name.
  • Other novels: Second Person Singular, Let It Be Morning