When British Jew Susan Nathan flew into Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion airport in October 1999, not long after her marriage had broken down, she pinned a badge to her chest with the slogan: “I’ve come home.” At the age of 50, she was seeking to make a new life in Israel.
And yet six years later she is the author of “The Other Side of Israel: My journey across the Jewish-Arab divide”, a devastating critique of Israeli society and its systematic discrimination against its Arab population.
Nathan’s book was published by Harper Collins in Britain at the end of May, and on September 6 it was published in the US by Nan A Talese, an imprint of Doubleday which is part of the Random House group.
The book is made all the more powerful by the fact that it is written by a Jew, and one who was brought up in South Africa. Nathan draws telling parallels between Israeli and South African apartheid-style policies.
“The Other Side of Israel”, written in collaboration with British journalist Jonathan Cook, is based on Nathan’s experiences of living in the Palestinian Arab town of Tamra located near the Mediterranean coast between Haifa and Acre.
Nathan’s left-wing friends in Tel Aviv were appalled by her decision to move to Tamra. It dawned on her that in moving to Tamra to live with a Palestinian family, “I had crossed an ethnic divide in Israel that, although not visible, was as tangible as the concrete walls and razor-wire fences that have been erected around the occupied Palestinian towns of the West Bank and Gaza to separate them from the rest of the country.”
In the book’s second chapter, “Death of a Love Affair”, Nathan explains how her disillusionment with Israel grew, and how her questions about the indigenous, strangely “invisible”, Arab community became increasingly pressing.
Nathan has aroused the ire and indignation of many supporters of Israel. Some publications in the UK seem to have been reluctant to review her book. However, the book has been praised by some prominent reviewers, among them Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif who gave the book a big write-up in the Times Literary Supplement under the heading “Another Apartheid.”
Nathan’s targets are not only the Israeli government and bureaucracy, but also some of those Israelis who regard themselves as “doveish”. Some of her harshest words are for Israelis in the peace movement, and she describes certain “so-called left-wingers” as “hypocrites of the worst kind.”
Nathan rejects a two-state solution as the way to enduring peace, and thinks a one-state solution is the only way. This aim will seem impossibly utopian to those who see a two-state formula as the only realistic solution. But there is no doubting Nathan’s passionate conviction and her commitment to a struggle “to help a new country emerge here to which one day we all, Jews, and Palestinians, will belong.”
Saudi Gazette, 6 September 2005