The All the Rivers exchange, part 2: ‘We Israelis and Palestinians are programmed to identify with only one narrative’
Dorit Rabinyan was born in Kefar-Saba, Israel and wrote her first novel, Persian Brides, at age twenty one. An award-winning international bestseller translated into ten languages, Persian Brides established her as the voice of a new generation in Israel. Rabinyan won the Israeli Film Academy Award for best television drama of 1997 for Shuli’s Fiancé, and the Eshkol Prize for her second novel, Strand of a Thousand Pearls. She lives in Tel Aviv.
The following exchange will focus on Rabinyan’s book All the Rivers (Random House, 2017), a controversial novel that tells the story of an affair between an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man. Part one can be found right here.
Let’s consider the “demon” to which you referred in the last round. What is the nature of this demon? That is, what is the main obstacle that your love story has to overcome? Is it religious difference? National conflict? Family consideration? Technical difficulties? Reading the book, one realizes that the protagonists have an issue, but it is not easy to pinpoint.
Can you explain it?
Of course, Hilmi and Liat both have their own rationalization and psychological course that evolves along the storyline. But beyond the obvious core obstacle that their love for each other is doomed to an impossible fate, or at least to a very challenging or demanding one, I’d say their mutual demon is perhaps generalization: the suffocating sack of multitude that we, “all Palestinians” and “all Israelis,” are packed into together by being citizens of this conflict. It’s the right for individuality that is taken away from us by birth and we’re later on forced to sacrifice – the nationalization of the personal, of the intimate. Hilmi and Liat are revolting against this demon by redeeming each other from the sack. When Liat first meets Hilmi, she unknowingly follows Emmanuel Livinas’s Philosophy, just by her careful description of Hilmi’s features; by her look specifying his facial details and by particularizing him, she acknowledges both his and her humanity. Because this sack does not only suffocate our private identity – it also blinds us.
Both by formal education and by subliminal currents of the two cultures, Israelis and Palestinians are blinded from acknowledging the other’s perspective. We are programmed to fortify our identification with only one narrative, one history. We prove loyalty to our tribe by denying the opposite tribe’s justifications. Again, following Levinas, this sack is partially torn from Liat’s sight when she returns home to Tel Aviv and sees it through Hilmi’s eyes; when she dares to observe her Israeli reality through dual viewpoints. She is not liberated from the inner boundaries that designed her identity, those which travelled with her to New York and were preventing her from following her heart and her love for Hilmi; she is not at all redeemed from her guilt towards him, but yet she gains that double outlook, and his gaze is carried within hers.