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This report is taken from PN Review 179, Volume 34 Number 3, January - February 2008.

The Helicon Hebrew-Arabic Poetry School Amir Or

The unique complexity of Israeli society and culture is at times fascinating, at times unbearable. Now it seems to be a bridge, now a limbo, at the point where East and West meet. Israel has about 4.5 million Jewish citizens whose families emigrated from Europe and Russia after the Second World War, about three million Jewish citizens whose families emigrated or fled from Arab countries in the 1950s, and just over a million Arab citizens, subdivided into Moslem, Christian and Druze. Hebrew and Arabic are both Semitic languages, and Eastern culture is to a large extent shared by half Israel's population, including Jews and Arabs.

On the other hand, Israel is a modern state, its founders European by origin, upbringing, ideology and mentality. Consequently, if you watch the Israeli condition in real life, it's ambivalent: Israelis and Palestinians may fight, but at the same time they have a lot in common. For sixty years Israeli Jews and Arabs have shared a society and culture that are liberal and democratic; since Israel became independent, its Palestinian and Eastern Jewish citizens have interiorised free democratic values, more than anywhere in the neighbouring Arab states whose culture they share. And have you noticed? Often the two sides of a conflict become more and more similar over the years, like husband and wife. Characteristically, other Arabs currently call Palestinians 'the Jews of the Arab world'.

Now, what has all this to do with poetry? Not much if you consider ...


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