HomeNewsIn Gaza, a Contentious Palestinian Professor Calmly Teaches Israeli Poetry

In Gaza, a Contentious Palestinian Professor Calmly Teaches Israeli Poetry

GAZA CITY — Forty-five minutes into his first seminar of the morning, a Palestinian professor at Islamic College in Gaza Metropolis had a query for his 70 literature undergraduates: Who had written the unsigned poem they’d spent the category studying?

To the scholars, all ladies, the poet’s id, or not less than background, was apparent.

This was a textual content about Jerusalem, a metropolis that they, as younger Palestinians unable to go away Gaza for many of their lives, had lengthy cherished however by no means visited. And the poem was written from the angle of a wistful onlooker who, like them, beloved however couldn’t enter town.

Its English translation begins like this:

On a roof within the Outdated Metropolis

laundry hanging within the late afternoon daylight

the white sheet of a girl who’s my enemy,

the towel of a person who’s my enemy

Sondos Alfayoumi raised her hand. The poem was by a Palestinian, gazing from a distance at an Israeli’s laundry, reckoned Ms. Alfayoumi, 19. “It reveals a person who can not get entry to one thing that belongs to him,” she stated. “A person working within the occupied territories.”

The category nodded in settlement. Solely a Palestinian might have written with such heat about Jerusalem, a second scholar stated.

However the professor, Refaat Alareer, had a shock ready. “The poet of this actually lovely piece is definitely not a Palestinian,” he stated.

There was a hubbub of murmuring because it dawned on the category what this meant. Somebody gasped, and Ms. Alfayoumi suppressed a shocked snicker.

“He’s an Israeli poet,” Mr. Alareer continued, “referred to as Yehuda Amichai.”

It was a second that added nuance to 2 contrasting narratives: That embraced by the scholars themselves, lots of whom knew somebody killed or injured by Israeli missiles, and whose interplay with Israel is commonly restricted to airstrikes; and that of many Israelis, who typically assume the Palestinian training system is just an engine of incitement.

Right here was an appreciation of one in every of Israel’s best-loved poets from a Palestinian professor at a college co-founded by the previous chief of Hamas, the militant group that runs the Gaza authorities, doesn’t acknowledge Israel, and was answerable for dozens of suicide assaults on Israelis. Consultants say the examine of Israeli poetry in Palestinian schools is uncommon, although not unheard-of.

What Mr. Alareer admired in regards to the poem, “Jerusalem,” he advised his college students, was the way in which it blurred divisions between Israelis and Palestinians and implied that “Jerusalem might be the place the place all of us come collectively, no matter faith and religion.”

“After I learn this,” he added, “I actually was like, ‘Oh my god, that is lovely. I’ve by no means seen one thing like this. I by no means thought that I might learn it.’ After which I noticed: No, there are such a lot of different Israeli individuals, Jewish individuals, who’re completely and utterly in opposition to the occupation.”

Mr. Alareer, 42, isn’t an apparent champion of Hebrew poetry.

The Israeli and Egyptian blockade of Gaza has stymied his educational profession, at occasions stopping him from learning overseas. He has family in Hamas, and his brother was killed throughout the 2014 conflict with Israel. He has served as co-editor of two books of essays and brief fiction in regards to the struggles of life in Gaza.

And on social media, he ceaselessly writes livid barrages that describe Israel as a supply of evil, posts that led to the suspension of his Twitter account. In a single post he wrote: “No type, act, or technique of Palestinian resistance in any respect is terror. All Israelis are troopers. All Palestine is occupied.”

However within the lecture theater, Mr. Alareer has a milder educational method. As a part of a course for undergraduates about worldwide literature, he teaches work not solely by Mr. Amichai but additionally Tuvya Ruebner, one other distinguished Israeli poet. He introduces college students to “The Service provider of Venice” and “Oliver Twist,” and encourages his lessons to empathize with the texts’ Jewish characters, Shylock and Fagin.

Whereas Shylock and Fagin, two advanced characters who’ve spurred debate for hundreds of years however are broadly thought of antisemitic caricatures, would possibly appear to be odd selections to show Palestinians about empathy, Mr. Alareer encourages his college students to empathize with them as victims of a bigoted society.

Maybe probably the most shifting second of Mr. Alareer’s educating profession, he wrote in an essay in 2015, “was once I requested my college students which of the characters they determine with extra: Othello, along with his Arab origins, or Shylock the Jew. Most college students felt they’re nearer to Shylock and extra sympathetic to him than to Othello.”

His college students had interpreted Mr. Amichai’s poem as an outline of Palestinians reduce off from Jerusalem by a wall constructed throughout the 2000s. However the revelation of the poet’s id was a reminder of how Jews have been blocked from town’s historic middle when Jordan managed the Outdated Metropolis of Jerusalem between 1948 and 1967.

Within the sky of the Outdated Metropolis

a kite

On the different finish of the string,

a baby

I can’t see

due to the wall.

“As Palestinians, do we now have any drawback with Jews, as Jews?” Mr. Alareer requested his class. “No, it’s a political form of battle.”

Mr. Amichai died in 2000. His widow, Chana Sokolov, and son, David, later stated that whereas they disagreed with the content material of Mr. Alareer’s social media posts, they have been impressed by his use and interpretation of the poem.

“My father would in all probability be very happy to listen to that persons are utilizing poetry to see the humanity on the opposite aspect,” stated David Amichai, who researches antisemitism on the Hebrew College of Jerusalem. “It is vitally shifting that he makes use of this poem to attempt to educate about Israeli society,” Mr. Amichai added.

For a few of Mr. Alareer’s college students, the poet’s Israeli id got here as a minor epiphany.

“Possibly this modified one thing in my thoughts about their expertise,” Ms. Alfayoumi stated. “It’s like we share issues. We relate.”

However then she stopped herself. There was a restrict to how a lot empathy she felt for a nation whose warplanes had bombed Gaza for 11 consecutive days earlier within the 12 months.

To Israelis, Hamas was the instigator of the combating in Might: Struggle broke out after Hamas fired a number of rockets at Jerusalem, and continued to purpose hundreds extra unguided missiles towards many Israeli cities.

However to Palestinians like Ms. Alfayoumi, Hamas was responding to Israeli actions in Jerusalem, together with raids on the Aqsa Mosque. And the ultimate demise tolls have been uneven, with Gaza struggling practically all the greater than 260 deaths of the battle.

“In the long run, the hole in our experiences is large, if you examine their losses to ours, and examine their luxurious life to ours,” Ms. Alfayoumi stated. “We might relate and share issues — however on the finish of the day they should admit what they’ve carried out.”

One other scholar stated she couldn’t consider an Israeli had really written the poem, even after Mr. Alareer had revealed who he was.

“I nonetheless insist that that is Palestinian,” stated Aya al-Mufti, 19, citing the usage of the phrase “the Outdated Metropolis,” which she believed solely an Arab would use.

Mr. Alareer stated that was her proper: The that means of any textual content was open to the interpretation of its readers. However he nonetheless bristled barely, and gently hinted that she hadn’t absorbed the principle level of the category.

“If you wish to occupy the poem,” he stated, with a flash of sarcasm, “good for you.”

Iyad Abuheweila contributed reporting.


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