Page 39 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 37

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SILBERSCHLAG / ARABS IN HEBREW FICTION
31
zation led to inevitable polarization: massacres in 1921 with
B renne r as one of the victims in Jaffa, massacres in 1929 and the
concom itant bloodshed o f innocents in Jerusa lem and Hebron ,
hostilities from 1936 to 1939 and four wars o f futility. Eventually
the Arab became the enemy. Already an early writer like Aaron
Reuveni (1886-1971) expressed an awareness o f fear which was
generated by the presence o f the indigenous Arab.
In the first decades o f the century the attitude o f Jew to Arab
ih Hebrew fiction, especially in the work o f Yehudah Yaari
(1901 -
) and Yizhak Shenhar (1902-1957) — reflects general
benevolence. T he Arab is idealized or romanticized. But in the
work o f Isaac Shami (1889-1949), a native of H ebron and an
unsurpassed portraitist o f the Arab in Hebrew literature, the
Arab is ne ither romanticized no r de-romanticized. A neglected
au tho r in Israel, an unknown au tho r outside Israel, he succeeds
in recrea ting Arab characters with matchless ta lent in th ree
stories — a meager ou tpu t quantitatively bu t qualitatively un su r ­
passed before or after him. Two o f them — “In the Sands o f the
Desert” and “Jum a the Simpleton” concentrate on the Bedouin
and the shepherd respectively. T he th ird ,
Ancestral Vengeance
almost a novel in length and the best o f his stories — is more
ambitious. The plot reflects life in placid Palestine at the begin­
ning o f the century.
T he festival o f Moses the P rophe t — al-Nebi Musa in Arabic —
is the fulcrum o f the story. T he pilgrimage to the alleged sepul­
chre o f Moses — in Je rusa lem according to Arab tradition, some­
where in the vicinity o f Mount Nebo in Jo rd an according to
Hebrew tradition — is the essential element in the plot. T he chief
protagonist and leader o f the pilgrims o f Schechem, Nimr Abu
al-Sawarib, who kills the leader o f the pilgrims o f Hebron , Abu
Faris, at the entrance o f the alleged grave of Moses, is depicted as
a traditionalist par excellence. Abu Faris, on the o the r hand, is a
sly plo tter who tries to achieve with trickery what he cannot
accomplish with bravery. At the penultimate moment of the festi­
val the assembled crowds face the sepulchre while the standards
o f each town are b rough t into the mosque. But at tha t very
moment Abu Faris’s dapp led steed passes Abu al-Sawarib’s in
fiery gallop. T ha t means: Abu Faris wins p ride o f place for the
Hebronites as he enters the holy sepulchre by force. At tha t
moment Abu al-Sawarib commits murder . Abu Faris manages to
hurl at his killer the insulting sobriquet: whoreson. But Abu