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In Gaza, a Contentious Palestinian Professor Calmly Teaches Israeli Poetry

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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 girls, the poet’s identification, or no less than background, was apparent.

This was a textual content about Jerusalem, a metropolis that they, as younger Palestinians unable to depart 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, cherished however couldn’t enter town.

Its English translation begins like this:

On a roof within the Previous 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 mentioned. “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 pupil mentioned.

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

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

“He’s an Israeli poet,” Mr. Alareer continued, “known 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 usually assume the Palestinian training system is just an engine of incitement.

Right here was an appreciation of one in all 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 accountable for dozens of suicide assaults on Israelis. Specialists say the examine of Israeli poetry in Palestinian faculties is uncommon, although not unheard-of.

What Mr. Alareer admired concerning the poem, “Jerusalem,” he instructed his college students, was the way in which it blurred divisions between Israelis and Palestinians and implied that “Jerusalem may 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’d learn it.’ After which I noticed: No, there are such a lot of different Israeli individuals, Jewish individuals, who’re completely and utterly towards the occupation.”

Mr. Alareer, 42, will not be an apparent champion of Hebrew poetry.

The Israeli and Egyptian blockade of Gaza has stymied his tutorial profession, at occasions stopping him from learning overseas. He has relations in Hamas, and his brother was killed in the course of the 2014 struggle with Israel. He has served as co-editor of two books of essays and brief fiction concerning the struggles of life in Gaza.

And on social media, he often 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 anyway is terror. All Israelis are troopers. All Palestine is occupied.”

However within the lecture theater, Mr. Alareer has a milder tutorial strategy. 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 courses 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 extensively thought of antisemitic caricatures, may appear to be odd decisions 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 instructing profession, he wrote in an essay in 2015, “was once I requested my college students which of the characters they establish 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 in the course of the 2000s. However the revelation of the poet’s identification was a reminder of how Jews had been blocked from town’s historical heart when Jordan managed the Previous Metropolis of Jerusalem between 1948 and 1967.

Within the sky of the Previous Metropolis

a kite

On the different finish of the string,

a baby

I can’t see

due to the wall.

“As Palestinians, do we’ve got any downside with Jews, as Jews?” Mr. Alareer requested his class. “No, it’s a political sort of battle.”

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

“My father would most likely be very happy to listen to that persons are utilizing poetry to see the humanity on the opposite aspect,” mentioned 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 train about Israeli society,” Mr. Amichai added.

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

“Possibly this modified one thing in my thoughts about their expertise,” Ms. Alfayoumi mentioned. “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 yr.

To Israelis, Hamas was the instigator of the combating in Might: Battle broke out after Hamas fired a number of rockets at Jerusalem, and continued to intention 1000’s 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 had been uneven, with Gaza struggling almost all the greater than 260 deaths of the battle.

“Ultimately, the hole in our experiences is big, once you examine their losses to ours, and examine their luxurious life to ours,” Ms. Alfayoumi mentioned. “We could relate and share issues — however on the finish of the day they need to admit what they’ve completed.”

One other pupil mentioned she couldn’t consider an Israeli had truly written the poem, even after Mr. Alareer had revealed who he was.

“I nonetheless insist that that is Palestinian,” mentioned Aya al-Mufti, 19, citing using the phrase “the Previous Metropolis,” which she believed solely an Arab would use.

Mr. Alareer mentioned that was her proper: The which 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 primary level of the category.

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

Iyad Abuheweila contributed reporting.


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