Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Oh, those funny Arabs!

Arab Sitcom Becomes Surprise Hit in Israel

It's called "Arab Work."

The show focuses on an insecure journalist named Amjad, who lives with his wife and 5-year-old daughter and works for an Israeli newspaper.

The show's main writer, Israeli-Palestinian Sayed Kashua, 32, says the series is loosely autobiographical.

"It's just a comedy of being on one side Palestinian or Arab and on the other side an Israeli. Already this definition is comic and tragic at the same time and that's what I tried to do," he says.


In one episode, Amjad decides it's time for his daughter Maya to go to kindergarten, instead of playing poker with his parents all day. He first tries an Islamic school where his daughter dons a headscarf, learns the Quran and tells her father he will be punished for being a nonbeliever. Maya tells her mother she's only pretending to be religious so she can go back to playing poker.

Punished? As in "head cut off" punished? Hilarious.

In another episode, Amjad proposes a hard-hitting piece on the barrier Israel is building in and around the West Bank. His editor says no and demands something hipper and lighter, so Amjad finds a sheep that's been trained to pull its owner's ID card out of his pocket at Israeli army checkpoints. Sheep prove difficult to interview, but his story makes the front page.

West bank humor? Alrighty then. Wouldn't it be like a sitcom about Iraq playing here? Seems strange to me. But if they can laugh at it all despite the world around them, who am I to judge?

Some Israeli reviewers have compared it to The Cosby Show. Like the Huxtables, Amjad and his family are credited with facilitating cultural understanding, but they are also accused of reinforcing negative stereotypes.

Did anyone feel like they were learning about black culture with the Huxtables? I didn't. It was just a funny show about family to me. And I certainly don't remember any negative stereotypes about blacks. You can watch the Dave Chapelle show for that.

"This is the first time that Israelis can see what Arabs think of themselves. It's done in a humorous way, but if you look through, the humor has a lot of sadness in it," says Jerusalem lawyer Jonathan Livny.

Interesting. I'd like to see it, wouldn't you?