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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Screenwriter Kashua discusses identity roles in Middle East

Published: March 12, 2010
Section: News

Sayed Kashua, screenwriter for the popular Israeli television show “Arab Labor,” and columnist for the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, answered questions after a screening of an episode from the first season of the show Tuesday evening.

Much of the first season of “Arab Labor” centers on the beginning romance between an Israeli man and an Arab woman.

Kashua said he wanted to attract the audience to the show by making them want to see the relationship be successful. “Arab Labor” has seen high ratings in Israel and features mainly Arab actors.

Although Kashua admitted his show has not had an influence on the peace process and politics of Israel, he stressed the need to view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as one between human beings, rather than races.

“I hate this separation because of religion and nationalism,” Kashua said. He added that despite the show’s popularity, “peace can only be made by politicians.”

“Artists can make this atmosphere [of peace] in the street, but not more than that,” Kashua said, commenting on the limited impact he believes his show will have on Israeli politics.

The screening, held in Wasserman Cinematheque, and sponsored by the Schusterman Center and the National Center for Jewish Film, featured the fifth episode on the first season of “Arab Labor.”

The episode was about a Passover seder that an Arab family came to celebrate with an Israeli family, and the episode included humor to depict the differences and particular traits of Israeli and Arab culture.

“I think it could be the basis of some very important dialogue,” Cynthia Cohen, director of the Slifka Program in Intercommunal Coexistence said in an interview with The Hoot.

Kashua told The Hoot that he hopes students take away “the basics–that all human beings are the same” from his lectures and workshops.

Kashua, the author of “Dancing Arabs” and “Let it Be Morning,” also discussed issues of identity that Palestinians face in Israel. When asked how he identifies himself by a student after the screening, he said, “Can I just say I’m a father, a husband and a writer?”

Although much of Kashua’s work uses humor and satire, he insisted that he is more concerned with being serious and telling important stories than being funny.

“I don’t feel like I have to be funny at all,” he said.

Yet Kashua acknowledged that when he does use humor and satire to reflect on and explain the Israeli culture.

Prof. Ilan Troen (NEJS) was able to get Kashua to visit Brandeis this week, according to visiting Professor Gannit Ankori from Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

On Monday, Kashua spent time working with students in a Schusterman Center graduate center class.

At a workshop on Tuesday, Kashua spoke to students in classes about Hebrew literature, Israeli art and film, and Muslim culture, Ankori wrote in an e-mail to The Hoot. Along with Ankori, Prof. Mitra Shavarini (WGS) and Prof. Ilana (NEJS) Szobel hosted the workshop.

At a workshop Wednesday afternoon in Shapiro Campus Center, Kashua spoke about different episodes of “Arab Labor” after students had an opportunity to view them and then ask questions.

The workshop included students from Ankori’s “Trauma and Art” seminar, graduate students from Prof. Mari Fitzduff’s (COEX) “Co-existence and Conflict” program and Slifka Scholars, according to Gankori.

The workshop was also co-hosted by the Ethics Center.

In one episode shown on Wednesday, an Arab father was debating whether to claim a millon dollar cash prize after his child was the first baby born in the New Year. The family was Arab, and in order to claim the prize had to name their son Israel. After talking to an Israeli father whose child was the second born child of the year, the two agreed to let the Israeli father claim the prize and then split the money between themselves.

Ankori wrote that “of course political actions have a direct and obvious impact on our lives—but I think art and culture also have a long term and gradual effect. Art can help change attitudes, open hearts and minds.”

She wrote that she respect Kashua’s modesty but insisted that he should not “underestimate the power of [his] work.”

Students in the audience expressed much gratitude for Kashua’s presence here at Brandeis and many explained that they and their families are all regular readers of his weekly columns in Ha’aretz.

“You have fans here for whatever you do. We hope to see you back here at Brandeis in the near future,” Troen said.