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The Other’s Other

Reflections and Opacities in an Arab College in Israel

Helen Paloge

A challenge, a mission, a hope for a better life for all in an embattled country. This was the author’s vision in The Other’s Other. The challenge turned out to be greater and different than imagined; the mission more exasperating; the hope, more complicated. The book offers a new perspective on the problematic encounter between Jewish and Arab Israelis through the experience of a Jewish lecturer at an Arab college in an Arab city in Israel. The author’s unique insights into Arab Israeli culture gleaned from conversations with staff and students, students’ work, and everyday contact offer a window on the often conflicting feelings; the ambiguities, ambivalent identities, and layers of reality; the questions, doubts and dilemmas that mark the struggle of Arabs and Jews living in one country. It is also a meditation on the rewards and difficulties of discovering and accepting the other – and oneself as the other’s other. Of coexistence.

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Chapter 2: The Big Cover-up

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C H A P T E R T W O The Big Cover-up I am genuinely happy whenever I see Hakim, head of our English department. He is a tall, burly, square man with a broad smile. His philosophical view of life is filtered through the fine sieve of irony and humor. But his eyes are curiously impenetrable behind partially tinted, narrow-lensed glasses. This follows the adage of the exotic inscrutability of the (Middle) Eastern ‘other’, to be sure, but I can’t read him because he doesn’t look directly at me for any length of time. I can’t really get a good enough look at him, and so I feel I can’t really get to know him. Of course, it may be Hakim’s intent. It may be because I’m a woman, and the tangential look might be his way of dealing with women who are not his close family members. I don’t know yet. Hakim has, by his account, returned to God from a less religious life, and prays his required 5 times a day with enthusiasm. But having traveled, studied and lived abroad, he is also “enlightened.” He professes to respect women as equals. If so, I’d expect him to be able to look at me, and to see me. Yet he doesn’t. Perhaps it’s not possible to be both modern and traditional, Muslim and humanist, open-minded while believing in precepts stemming from the Middle Ages. Or perhaps it is possible, but necessarily produces a strange hybrid. In this...

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