Monday, January 07, 2008

Prime-time situation comedy in Israel on Palestinians ("Israeli Arabs")

I learned about this show from an informative article in the New York Times. The title of the show, written by Sayed Kashua, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, is "Avoda Aravit," which means Arab work or Arab labor. According to the article, the title is Hebrew slang for second-rate work. The title also riffs off of the slogan, "Avoda 'Ivrit," or Hebrew labor, which was fundamental for the Zionist colonizing movement in Palestine. The Zionist ideology proposed that the Jew of the diaspora would be remade by doing hard physical labor on the land, and by not hiring others (namely Arabs) to do that work. The fact that the iconic "worker," especially when it comes to the most difficult physical labor (in factories, in agriculture, in construction) is done in Israel today by Arabs represents, therefore, a kind of subversion of the Zionist dream.

Two things I love about the video clip (courtesy of Al-Jazeera English): first, the daughter who subverts her parents plan to get through the checkpoint by speaking Arabic: "Sabah al-khayr ya bulees!" (good morning, policeman); and second, the Palestinian-Israeli woman who refers to Edward Said's book Orientalism when she spurns her Jewish-Israeli date. "Since I'm an Arab, I must adore maqluba [a traditional Palestinian dish, made with cauliflower]. That's exactly what Edward Said wrote about in 'Orientalism.'" Interesting because the expectation is that both Jewish and Arab viewers in Israel would be expected to know, or at least know of, Said's book.


Anonymous said...

Subversion or success? How much hard manual labor do you do? Would your grandfather consider you a failure for it?

Ted Swedenburg said...

The aim of the Zionist movement was to create a Jewish nation where Jews occupied all occupational strata, unlike in the ghettos of Eastern Europe where they were restricted to particular occupations. The reality is that today's Jewish state, Israel, has a substantial non-Jewish minority (almost 20% of the population) who are second-class citizens and who occupy the lower rungs of the job hierarchy. (At the bottom are migrant workers: Palestinians from the West Bank--none now from Gaza--plus substantial numbers of others from abroad.) The dream of "Avoda 'Ivrit" was not fulfilled.

Anonymous said...

Yes, but this is largely the result of the success and prosperity of the nation. There's no reasonably wealthy country in the Mediterranean where the indigenous population (if you'll forgive the term) does the bulk of the manual labor. Not Greece, not Italy, not Cyprus, not France, not Spain, not even Turkey or Lebanon!

You'd be holding Jews to a standard that no one else is expected to meet. But that's part of the game, I guess.

Ted Swedenburg said...

The 'standard' is that of the historical Zionist movement, not my own. Yes, in terms of labor, Israel now looks something like many other Mediterranean. My only point, in my very brief discussion is that the t.v. show, by calling itself of 'Avoda Aravit,' seems to be alluding to the failure of Israel to achieve the standard ('Hebrew Labor') that its pioneers and founders set for the country.