Sarah Irving

I do things with words, mainly English and Arabic

Gribetz, “Defining Neighbours”

A few fascinating and thought-provoking excerpts from Jonathan Gribetz’s excellent exploration of intellectual life and perceptions of faith in Late Ottoman and early inter-war Palestine (Defining Neighbors: Religion, Race, and the Early Zionist-Arab Encounter, Princeton UP, 2014):

Page 111

The small, rather cryptic paid notice in ha-Zevi in an issue from November 1908 that reads “to the Arab Hebrew woman. If you are Hebrew, you are not an Arab. If an Arab, not a Hebrew…”. The author who submitted this note appears to be writing to question, on logical grounds, an earlier note that was signed by “an Arab Hebrew woman”. Just six notices below this dismissal, there is yet another enigmatic notice that reads: “To M.M. I saw you, I knew you, I respected you. I will leave you, I will remember you, and I will not forget you,” signed “Arab Hebrew”. These brief, mysterious notices suggest that, at this point in Palestine’s history, the borders between ‘Hebrew’ and ‘Arab’ were still being delineated.

Page 112-13

[1910] In an article entitled “The Arabic Theatre”, ha-Or informs its readers that:
The troupe of the famous Arab actor, Rahamim Bibas – a Karaite Jew – performed several shows in Jerusalem with great success. Among the actors, there aee also many women, and this is undoubtedly the first time in Jerusalem that an Arab audience hears such beautiful words from both men and women together. Anyone interested in the Arab language, in its advancement and development, is well served to head to the theatre across from Jaffa Gate… It is fitting for members of our nation to Rahamim Bibas a round of applause”.

Page 114

Consider, for instance, the report in ha-Zevi about an encounter with a Jew from Gaza. “By chance”, writes the correspondent, we met this week one of those Jews about whom we are unsure whether they are members of our nation or children of the land, Arabs descended from Arabs”. Such ambiguous figures are, just like Arabs, “tall-statured, sun-tanned, slightly thin but otherwise healthy, and quite proud”. The author explains that this was a Jew from Gaza, a city that seemed to most Jews in Palestine more distant than America and less familiar than Australia. The article reports that this Arab-like Jew noted that, in Gaza, “the Arabs and Jews live together in brotherhood”.

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