Tuesday, February 7, 2012

"Avodah Aravit" or "Shughl Arab" or "Arab Labor"

The third season of "Avodah Aravit" (Arab Labor), perhaps the most popular TV series in Israel, launched yesterday.  The comedy show -- described by Haaretz as the single best TV series today in Israel, "the jewel in the crown of the rainbow," is a sitcom which focuses on an Arab family in Jerusalem, in particular on the life of Amjad, a Palestinian-Jerusalemite journalist.

The show pokes fun at cultural stereotypes; exposes the struggles of this Jerusalemite Palestinian man, who desperately wants to become Jewish Israeli in every way possible -- own a dog, learn how to swim, buy an "Israeli Jewish car," even moving to an all Jewish middle-upper class neighborhood (Rahvia) of Jerusalem.

Much like Israeli audiences raved about Ajami -- the Israeli film about violent Arab Palestinian life in Jaffa -- it seems that, precisely because the show deals with the red hot buttons of Israeli society -- chief among them Arab-Zionist/Jewish issues, the show has gained widespread success.  And, let's be completely honest here: this is by far the best Israeli TV show I've ever seen, far better than even other good shows like "Ramzor," the humor absolutely brilliant.

But it's more than just the humor.  I think there is a large segment of Israeli society that desperately wants to put these issues on the table -- is interested in Arabic, Palestinian culture, society and so on, a lot segment that wishes they had more "Arab friends" (just like White Americans love talking about their black friends, Israeli Jews love talking about their Arab friends).  In fact the show makes fun of this very stereotype all the time -- Amjad's Israeli neighbors are "liberal Israelis" and try to show him how "liberal" they are all the time -- hey, "we vote for Meretz!"

The show adeptly moves seamlessly between Arab and Jewish society in Israel.  In this sense language plays a profoundly important role in the show -- that, if one is merely reading the subtitles -- one will completely miss a great deal of fascinating social commentary (there are Hebrew subtitles whenever the characters are speaking Arabic, and Arabic (and Hebrew) subtitles whenever the characters are speaking Hebrew, although no Arabic subtitles when the characters are speaking Arabic).

Let's provide at least one example to illustrate the point.  The opening scene from one episode recalls Amjad begging his wife to have sex with him.  She clearly does not want to, frustrated by his failure to help around the home.  Finally she says, "alright, just do it," and angrily lies flat, awaiting his penetration.  He says something like "shway Heshek, eeehh?" a little "emotion" or "lust," (will you?).... Amjad asserts.  Amjad throws in the Hebrew word for "emotion"as a way of disguising his distaste for his wife's reaction. This is the first example that comes to mind, but the entire show is ridden with these kinds of examples.   More to come on this show in the future!

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