The New Yorker has published a moving exchange between Sayed Kashua and Etgar Keret, two writers for whom this summer’s war in Gaza was particularly troubling. Kashua, a Jerusalem-based Arab-Israeli novelist, announced in July that his upcoming sabbatical in Illinois would be a permanent one, and that he and his family would be leaving Israel for good.
Kashua writes to Keret—a Jewish Israeli writer and filmmaker who this summer expressed his own discomfort with the latest round of fighting (it’s not repetition, he argued, but descent)—about how it felt to be an Arab Israeli as the tension built before the war and his searing decision to leave Israel behind. He begs Keret to “tell me a short story with a happy ending, please.”
Leaving was traumatic. I felt like a refugee running for his life, and the decision to leave quickly was made even before the war with Gaza began. On the day the Palestinian boy was burned to death in Jerusalem, I realized that I couldn’t let my kids leave the house anymore. That day, I called the travel agent and asked her to get us out as soon as possible. Unfortunately, it took a few days, and that damn war, another damn war, had already started, and the racism that I’d seen taking off around the second intifada, at the end of 2000, was reaching terrifying heights. I was so afraid, and I felt really persecuted. You know, I was at the zenith of my success—with a film scheduled to come out this summer and a new series being shot during those first days of the war—and all of a sudden I felt I’d been turned into the enemy.
Keret dutifully replies with a beautiful story about cornfields, and the wide expanses of rural Illinois, which, when transported back to the crowded streets of Israel open a world of possibilities.