Transcript: Upside-Down Love with Sari Bashi

Ori Nir 0:04
Hello, everyone. Welcome to this Americans for Peace Now webinar with Sari Bashi, I'll introduce her in just one moment. I'm Ori Nir and with me is my colleague Karen Paul. She's APN's development director. Karen is a writer. And I thought it would be a great idea to have a writer in this conversation about a book with an author of a book. Hi, Karen. So, one more thing before introduce Sari, I'd like to remind you, these are our usual housekeeping comments that the webinar is recorded, we will post the video on YouTube, the audio is usually going to be on our podcast PeaceCast sometime later today. Hopefully. One other housekeeping note has to do with questions. Those of you who have been with us on webinars in the past already know it, you're welcome to ask questions, you can start right away if you'd like. But please use the q&a tool, not the Raise Hand Tool. The q&a tool is on the bottom of your screen. And you can use that to ask questions and shorter questions are better. And with that, we can actually introduce Sari and start our conversation. I met Sari, about 15 years ago, it was shortly before she co founded Gisha. It's an Israeli nonprofit organization that that tries to protect the freedom of movement for Palestinians, especially Gaza residents. I remember she gave a talk here in Washington at the JCC. And we we sit there and someone said to me, Wow, she is so impressive. She's so fluent, and so charismatic. And she really is, and I'm sure it'll come through in a conversation. Just now. During her work in Gisha, Sari met and fell in love with a Palestinian professor from the Gaza Strip, who was teaching in the West Bank, and needed help negotiating Israeli travel restrictions. She recently published a Hebrew language book, which is called Maqluba: Upside Down Love about her relationship with her Palestinian partner. Maqluba is a dish, it's an Arab dish that you turn upside down. It's like favorite Arab dish. It's fabulous. And so So yeah, so it's, of course symbolic. The book is a personal political memoir. It's, it's it involves romance. It's a historical record, a political critique, and, and a kind of an adventure story of navigating the physical, political, cultural barriers between Israelis and Palestinians. To many, Sari is better known as Umm Forat, which is her pen name, the pen name over popular blog, which I recommend very much. And I also obviously, recommend her book. It's not yet available in English, but it will be. I read the Hebrew version, and I really loved it. So with this rather lengthy I'm sorry, introduction. Thank you Sari for joining us.

Sari Bashi 3:19
Thank you for having me.

Karen Paul 3:21
And Sari, before we start, I think that there may have been a few other biographical details that that Ori wasn't able to include. And is there anything that you'd like to fill in, fill in the blanks about your story before we start talking about the book?

Sari Bashi 3:34
Sure. And I also want to say this is such an honor to be on this podcast. I'm a runner, and I listen to this podcast on morning runs. So it's like I get to hang out with my favorite celebrities. So thank you for this chance. So what else to say maybe just a bit more about myself. And thank you. Well, we for that really kind introduction. So I was born in the United States. My father is Israeli of Iraqi descent. He was born in Baghdad, and my mother's American. And I grew up in the US in New Jersey. And I grew up learning about the Israel-Palestine issue as as part of a broader history of anti semitism. So I was a child when the First Intifada broke out. And what I was told was that, just like the Nazis tried to kill Jews and the Inquisitors before them tried to kill Jews. Now the Arabs are trying to kill Jews. And it was only later when I went to Jerusalem as a journalist that I started to see things differently. And that journey continued with me going to law school and becoming a lawyer becoming a human rights lawyer. And then eventually seeing things even from a different perspective when I met my partner, so that's what I'll add.

Ori Nir 4:43
You mentioned the the first Intifada I'll just comment really quickly that today is the 34th anniversary of the breaking of the of the beginning of the First Intifada, December 9. Yeah, yeah. Karen?

Karen Paul 4:59
Um so you wrote the book in Hebrew. So for those of us who don't read Hebrew, we're anxiously awaiting the translation. I can't wait to read it. But English is your native language. So you clearly had the Israeli Hebrew speaking audience in mind. Could you talk a little bit about that?

Sari Bashi 5:16
Sure. So when my partner and I began to develop feelings for each other, I felt like that journey brought me into a world that was familiar but unfamiliar to me. And that's the world on the other side of the wall in the West Bank. So I traveled to Ramallah, I traveled to other parts of the West Bank for professional purposes, but actually living there, and seeing a little bit through his eyes of what life looks like, and what military control looks like. I started writing it down. Because I was I was a tourist, everything was new to me and fresh. And I didn't make a conscious decision to write in Hebrew and fluent in both languages. But I think, I think to some extent, I was trying to communicate that to to an Israeli audience to people who lived just on the other side of the wall and crossed over as soldiers or settlers, but maybe didn't didn't know that much about what was going on on the other side. It wasn't conscious, but I'm glad I did, actually.

Karen Paul 6:24
Ori you're muted.

Ori Nir 6:25
Yeah, I know, it has to happen in every, you know, every Zoom conversation. The book is, is written in first person, but not only in your first person language, it's two voices. You wrote the book, obviously, but you bring into it, someone's voice, Osam is the pen name, or the name of that you gave your partner for the book. So why is that? What what are you trying to achieve with that kind of literary technique?

Sari Bashi 7:01
Sure. So the book tells a true story about how he and I fell in love. And then are the struggles that we went through partly just as a regular couple, when two people try to come together, there's lots of obstacles and challenges, and everyone brings their baggage from their previous relationships, but also the external struggles that we were dealing with. And so everything in the book is true. I don't, I'm not, I'm not, I'm not a good enough writer to be able to make up the things that happened to us and the things that we experienced. But I used literary tools to tell the story. So I changed names like the name of my partner, I changed some identifying details to protect people's privacy. And I used a tool of alternating chapters, where each chapter is written from the perspective of one of the characters. And the hope there was to try to kind of show this, this this mirror image of what this relationship was like. So there's some cases where we have a common experience going hiking in a part of the West Bank, where we encounter armed settlers, bringing guns on the hike. And so there's a chance to see what that looks like, from my point of view, as the person who would protect us from those settlers is the person who could respond in Hebrew to them, and, and who, for whom they weren't scary to me personally. And then my partner's perspective is somebody who was terrified and also angry that his land was being takeover was being taken over by armed settlers who were determined, because it wasn't a hike he wanted to repeat.

Ori Nir 8:34
You know, years ago, I actually wrote a magazine piece for Haaretz about mixed couples, couples that are, you know, one spouse, or one member of the couple is an Israeli Jew. And the other is a Palestinian from the West Bank, or Gaza, there was one from Gaza. And those are people who build families together. In all of these cases, I have to say, these are people who ended up settling in Israel, because at the time it was possible today, it's very different. And it was it was kind of a difficult story, both difficult because it's, it's difficult for people to go public about these issues, but also difficult to hear their stories, their stories, it's not easy to lead such lives. It's pretty much a taboo in both societies, Israeli and Palestinian. And a great is raises a lot of complications. One of these complications is the question of imbalance. In other words, the imbalance in the relationship between the two people as the two members of the couple in other words, as as its mirror, as it mirrors the imbalance between the power of the two peoples is really is is and Palestinians. And your book really puts this issue under under a microscope if one can can put it that way. Tell us maybe a little bit about what you learned about the imbalance as it as it plays out in a relationship between two people who are trying to build a home, a family a future together?

Sari Bashi 10:05
It's a great question. And it's something that we dealt with in the very beginning and are still dealing with, you know, 10-15 years later. So in the book, I describe how we met. And this this feeling that we both had separately, which was this is impossible, this, this, this is not going to happen. And I think the book is romantic, and that it describes really the power of love that we we knew it was impossible, we knew it could never be, and yet we wanted it to be. But the power dynamics were there from the beginning, and they still are. So there's a part of the book actually, where I describe how after we broke up, Osama wanted to come and reconcile and apologize to me. But he couldn't, because as a Palestinian, he's not allowed to enter Israel. So we see each other when I come to Ramallah, he can never come to me, I can only come to him. And I wasn't going to come to him when we were broken up, and I was angry. And so he it's actually kind of funny, he schemes to get like a fake medical permit, so that you can get an entry permit into Israel. So he can come and apologize to me. And it's kind of a very funny section. But it also shows this imbalance that is so fundamental. I have privilege that he doesn't have as an Israeli Jew, I can travel, I can, I can move safely. I can access medical care, quality, medical care, I have privilege. And he doesn't. And I think in the beginning, that was really hard. And he asked himself, whether he wants to be in a relationship, whether it can be in a relationship with that kind of power imbalance. And it's still something we struggle with, you know, even now, we live together in the West Bank, but I bring my privilege with me. So when the COVID vaccines came out, I could get one and he couldn't. We know that if something ever happens to us, medically, the kids and I can go to a Kupat Cholim or a hospital in Israel and get excellent care. And he can't, we can travel, we can go to the sea, we can go to a restaurant in Tel Aviv, we can go to a family meal and give a time, and he can't. And so that power imbalance in the beginning of our relationship created a strain. And we we still have to navigate it. And I think one thing that's helpful for us, is to be honest about the fact that we can't overcome it, we can't equalize it, we just have to respond to it intentionally.

Karen Paul 12:25
That that's so interesting. And my next question, actually, I think, is sort of an outgrowth of what you just described and talking about power and, and privilege, especially. You've been living in the States now for almost a year, with your partner and your children. How has the experience of living in the States today, and I say, learning about I mean, you you're from here, so you know, some, you know about structural racism and what's what's been baked into our, into our country, but how has that shaped your relationship? And and you're thinking about whether you return to Ramallah?

Sari Bashi 13:04
Yeah, it's a good question. So I should say that, when we got together, I agree to be willing to leave. And that was why I transferred the management of Gisha, the organization that I founded, to somebody else, because my commitment to him was that I would acknowledge that living under occupation is really hard for him. And if he wants to leave, we'll go. And so since then, we've traveled three times. But each time we've come back, so the first thing we did was traveled to South Africa, to Johannesburg to live for a year and a half when our daughter was a year and a half old. And it was this amazing experience, like we traveled and we had to fly separately because we're he's not allowed to tell me the airport. And I can't I'm not allowed in the border crossing that he goes. But we met in Johannesburg, and all of a sudden, we could drive the same car because in Israel-Palestine, we can't. I have to drive an Israeli car, he has to drop a Palestinian car, we could live in the same home legally, we could be registered as living in the same place. We didn't have to either lie about where we live and who we are. And we also didn't have to be so interesting to people. We could just, you know, we find our circumstances, people were like, Oh, that's nice. And then they move on. And it was really a relief. It was very nice. We then went back to Ramallah for another year. And then we were in Connecticut for a year. And now that back in Ramallah, and now back in the States, so we we have this experience of normalcy of living just like any other couple lives, and there's something therapeutic about it. In the beginning, our daughter was confused. So when we first came to, to Connecticut, for example, we're gonna go to a restaurant and she said, Ima, can Baba come with us? And I said, Yeah. And she said, why does he have a permit? Because she was used to the idea that, you know, he could only join us in distances beyond 15 minutes if you had a permit, which usually couldn't get. And it took her a while to realize that like here in the United States, you don't need a permit. And that's true when we tell her that. But interestingly, she's the one who's been helped Have conversations about the ways in which inequalities play out in the United States. So she's in school now she's much more aware. She asks us questions. She learns about Martin Luther King Jr. She learns about racism against black people. And I think for her, there's actually something, something therapeutic about it as well for her to realize that it's not just Israel Palestine where oppression occurs, and that she has multiple identities that you know, in, in Israel-Palestine, she's either Palestinian or either Israeli, either part of the dominant group or part of the oppressed group. And in the United States, she's mostly part of the privileged group, she's perceived as white. And, and for her to be able to navigate those identities, I think is is a useful thing. For me, I think, we will go back to Israel-Palestine. In the summertime, we're here for sabbatical, I would be happy to go back and stay there. I love the area. And I think that my partner and I both have important work to do there. But I also recognize that it's easy for me to be there. And so ultimately, the decision is up to him. And for now, we've decided to go back. But if that changes, I'll respect his his his need to leave if he does have a need to leave. So I've sort of a follow up, and I don't know what someone looks like, but has an it sounds like your children look white? And has he experienced any discrimination here? Has he has your family in any way experienced a sort of a push back against who you are, while you're in the States during this very fraught moment? Nothing, I mean, nothing significant. I mean, we, you know, we're all sort of Arab. So I'm half Arab kids, or, you know, three quarters, Arab, Osama's, all Arab. And but I think, you know, races is a mixed issue in the United States. If you if you live in a middle class neighborhood, if you dress in a certain way, so far, we've been fine. He has experienced discrimination, especially around issues of like airport security, I think in in professional opportunities, I think people see an Arab name. And there's a lot of assumptions that go into that. But for the most part for us, being in the US has been a relief from being the target of racism, and also kind of invitation for us to consider our role and his role in the the privileged group. When we first moved to South Africa, it was really interesting. He was shocked to discover that he was considered white in South Africa, who was the first time he'd ever been considered white. And it raised for him all kinds of questions about what does it mean to have to be responsible for your privilege, which was you'd never had the privilege to be responsible for.

Ori Nir 17:41
So I want to remind our participants to ask questions, they, you know, use the q&a tool that's at the bottom of your screen, and we'll relay in a few minutes your questions too. Sari, I wanted to follow up on this and kind of push you a little bit. You know, you just said that it's easy for you to go back and easy for you to live there. It's not easy. It's not going to be easy. I mean, I'm sure that you that both of you, and perhaps your daughter who's you know, beginning to understand that the the intricacies of identity and in in the Israeli Palestinian conflict, it's really hard to to lead a to try to lead a normal life as a mixed couple. Are you are you? Are you aware of the couple of complexities?

Sari Bashi 18:29
Yeah, I mean, I don't want to oversimplify things. It's, of course, it's complicated. You know, I also speak to my kids in Hebrew. So it's complicated to have a conversation with them in Hebrew in the supermarket, especially when they're not aware of the first time when we came back from Johannesburg and my daughter was like, starting to talk. And we went into a supermarket he screams at me in Hebrew. Ima I want the lollipop, I didn't know where to bury myself. So there's been a long process of me figuring out how to live there.

Ori Nir 18:57
I have to I have to tell you one quick I, I speak, you know, I used to speak when my daughters were younger, speak Hebrew to them in public spaces as well supermarket, and with my daughter, then she wants to buy so he wants me to buy something for and I say to her enough stop. And some, the you know, finally I raised my voice now enough in Hebrew is "dai", and I scream at her "dai". And people turn their heads like what kind of an abusive father is that? Sorry, I just had to tell the story.

Sari Bashi 19:31
So yeah, I mean, I think my approach to living in the West Bank has evolved over the years and as my kids have become older, when I first moved there, I tried to keep a very low profile. And but as the years went on, and my kids started talking to me in Hebrew, which made it harder to keep a low profile, but also I think, as I wanted them to, to be proud of who they were and for me to start forging the path that they would have to take over. As mixed kids. I started to I actually have a much more public profile. So letting people know, in the neighborhood in the building in the supermarket's who I am also, first of all, to get it out of the way, because it's uncomfortable, but also for security reasons so that they would know that a lot of settler, because Palestinians are afraid of settlers, and who else could I be. And for that reason, it's actually more dangerous for me to go to villages where the settlers come, and they sometimes come, not intending good things, intending violence, then in a much more kind of Palestinian area, like, you know, for example, the Ramallah area where the settlers come less often, and it's less expected to see an Israeli Jew. But in terms of ease, I mean, look, I can compare myself to my other friends from Israel, and what the what becoming parents has been for left wing Israelis who don't agree with what the government is doing. And I know it might sound strange, but actually, I have it easier than they do. Because my kids will never go into the army, they will never be drafted, they will never be subjected to Jewish supremacist content in Israeli schools, it will be very hard for them to grow up racist, either against Arabs or against Jews, because they live in both worlds. And I have a large number of friends who have left Israel, with their young children, because they didn't want to take the chance of their kids inhaling too much racist content in the schools. And they didn't want to take the chance of their kids being drafted or joining the army. And they did it early. You know, they did it when like their boys were six, because they didn't want to risk waiting until they were 12. And then maybe they would be affiliated enough with the military that they voluntarily go back at the age of 18. So in that sense, I've actually protected my children from things that it's harder for other Israeli parents to protect them from.

Ori Nir 21:59
I want to ask you to explore something to that you sort of refer to in passing. And that was your exploration of the Palestinian if you get to we can call it the countryside or the rural areas. You're a runner you you run very, very long distances. And I heard you saying that you preferred when you were living in the West Bank, to run in the Palestinian controlled areas that the more rural areas, because it was eye opening for you. And I wanted to just ask you to talk a little bit about that.

Sari Bashi 22:37
Sure, um so it wasn't a preference to run in Palestinian areas. That's that's kind of where you can get to from from the Ramallah area. And the few times that I, I view too close to the settlements, I actually had security come after me. So I learned to avoid that. After I had like security jeeps and soldiers basically stopping me. But the Palestinian areas are not Palestinian run, especially in that area, there's a very strong Israeli military presence, but they are areas where Palestinians live, not of the settlements. The West Bank is really very segregated in many ways, between Israeli and Palestinian areas, with roads that are dedicated for settlers and roads of dedicated for Palestinians. So um, I mean, that I ran there because that's where I could run. And you know, it, it was, the areas are beautiful. And I stuck out as a runner, but I also needed to make clear who I was, you know, for safety reasons. So I remember, this is actually something I wrote about in my blog. When I, when I returned to rural area from from a trip to the US, I didn't know it, but it turned out that a spring near a village had been taken over by settlers. So I was running what had been my usual route through the village and toward the spring. And then when I reached the spring, I realized oh, settlers have been coming in from here. When I went back, I'm identifying myself as a settler. So I actually, I when I ran back to the village because I had no choice actually knocked on the doors of the houses. And and I introduced myself if I were running for the mayor, Hi, I live in this area, my partner's Palestinian I have kids I'm just running through. But I mean, I It's funny, but I actually I did it because I was worried. Because Palestinians are afraid of settlers. And their fears can endanger me as well.

Karen Paul 24:35
Yeah, it's a story that doesn't, you know, we talked about that a little bit earlier. So Ori Ori invited me on to talk with you also because I'm a writer, and we share we share that. So I have a writer writerly question for you. I know I've so I've blogged for many years about my family about my life. And actually in the in the early days of my blogging my then husband, my late husband said You can write your you know, your blog about motherhood all you want, but you can't talk about the family. How do I do that? How do I write about my family, but not write about my family. So I, you know, I learned how to be as, as, as private as possible to protect privacy. And this is something that memoir writers have issues with and talk about all the time. How do you write about what has happened in your life when it has an impact on so many other people that reverberations all around? So my question for you is, how did you do that? And how does your family feel about your writing both the book and the blog? And how was that feeling internally?

Sari Bashi 25:38
No, thank you for that question. It's, it's hard. So there were years when I was in communication with publisher, and, you know, I wasn't sure whether whether I could publish it. And I have to get my partner a lot of credit, because because of the privilege that I mentioned, the book creates security risks for him that it doesn't create for me. And still, he's been very supportive in allowing me to publish it and supporting my publishing it. And the same thing for the blog. So I started writing the blog in December of 2019, under a pen name. And it's not an accident that, that I published the book and also kind of came out from behind the pen name when we were here in the United States. It was easier to do from far away for a variety of reasons. And I think there's the the, the privacy issues that you mentioned, which come up anytime you write about your family, you know, you especially your children, so you may choose to reveal stuff about yourself, but your kids never did that. And you have a right to to reveal things about them. And that's hard. And that's an issue that comes up. For me, there's also security issues that come up, because the people that I write about, can be at risk because of the nature of the military occupation. So those are things I think a lot about. I also think that you know, one thing that that's been hard with the blog and it encourages me to, you know, consider if I'll continue doing it has been like, like attacks on my children, not physical, but in like the responses, the talkbacks in the Haaretz newspaper, primarily in Hebrew. And what I realized kind of early on is that because my children are identified for Haaretz readers as Palestinian, they, they have very hateful assumptions about them, some people. So like, I remember I wrote a blog post that seemed to be pretty innocuous about my son, who was at the time like two, and he found a stray kitten in the garden. And so he did what two year olds do, he picked up the kitten and looked at it, you know, threw something at the kitten to see how he would respond. And the responses that I got, basically, like called him a terrorist, as if you were some violent, you know, crazy, two year old exploring a cat. Right. But I think that the the level of demonization is so great that it also makes me think twice about whether I want to expose my children to that because they're not, they're not being given a fair read, by some people, at least.

Ori Nir 28:10
We're beginning to get some interesting questions from the audience. And I want to, again, encourage people to ask us more, we're going to sort of ask them thematically and maybe bunch them up in in themes. One, which relates to some things that you just said earlier, has to do with the issue of security and fear, and so on. One of the things that I that I realized while writing (sic) the book, which I thought was really interesting, is your better understanding through the relationship with your partner, have the kinds of fears that Palestinians have when it comes to their personal security, we Israelis, include myself in that collective, are always aware of our personal security, you know, violence, terrorism, and so on. Palestinians, you know, worry very much about their security. And so I thought maybe you can talk a little bit both about that specifically with maybe other issues, that the two of you have explored about the others. society through the personal relationship.

Sari Bashi 29:25
Yeah, no, thank you for that question. I mean, I think that was something that Palestinian insecurity was something that I knew about in a general way as a human rights lawyer. But it was only when I began to love somebody who felt insecure that I think I had a different understanding of it. And so like in the book, there's a part that talks about my partner's fear from 2002 during operation, an operation to kind of reinvade West Bank cities, and he has an older son by a previous marriage, so his son was few years old at the time. And he remembers taking his kid to the basement along with all the other parents in the in the building and moving from place to place trying to find the safest place for his child because he knew he couldn't protect him from the tanks and the missiles. And that fear played a big role in something that the book discusses at length, which is like our dilemma over whether or not to have children, and his fear of having children, his fear of having a child that he would not be able to protect. And that, that fear is is very deep. You know, we have a his colleague now who just recently, she went abroad, and she, she brought, she has many children, she couldn't bring all of them she was working abroad, but she brought the teenage son when he became 13. Because she was afraid that if he stayed, he could be shot. Because there's always the danger that you know, as a Palestinian, you'll approach checkpoint, and somebody will be nervous and misinterpret what you do. And unfortunately, people have died that way. And I can say, you know, even for us, I mean, we since we've been here, over the summer, the Israeli military raided the building where we live and arrested our downstairs neighbor. It's kind of mild mannered guy, he's got four kids. So that, that that fear that in any moment, you can be plucked from your home and arrested or shot at a checkpoint is is very real, and very intense. And I don't, I don't have that fear in that way. And I think, you know, we see that also in the way that we approach new places, when we reach a new place, you know, in the US or South Africa, he's more hesitant than I am, I have a confidence that comes from a lifetime of feeling safe. And he approaches situations with the position of somebody who all his life has not been safe, and the ground beneath his feet has not been secure. It really, really can't wait for this to be published in English. There's so much relevance to to our lives here as well as, as you know, people we know and love in Israel Palestine.

Karen Paul 32:02
Um, a couple of questions have come in asking about your connections with the Jewish community here in America, synagogue communities, even more broadly, you know, Jewish people in you know, where you're living? And I would I would add on to that, you know, and have you had any connection with the with the Arab community? While you're here hair? Yeah, I mean, we moved to Raleigh, in the middle of the winter and in the middle of a pandemic, and knowing where you're temporarily so we haven't been great at making social ties. But we have had some sort of by chance, we ended up putting our son in a synagogue preschool, Jewish preschool. And it's a wonderful, wonderful preschool. And so and, and it's nice for him to learn about Judaism, you won't get that in the Ramallah area. And the school is wonderful. But I think, you know, I had always intuitively avoided the organized Jewish community in the United States, because I didn't, I don't know. I, we've had experiences of hatred and racism against Palestinians. And I just, I'm just cautious. The synagogue is is wonderful, and that preschool is wonderful. But there also are questions about the way that they teach children about Israel-Palestine. So we were very happy for the Jewish content. But we were also surprised that there was, from, in my mind a confusion between Judaism and Zionism. So the children were celebrating Israeli Independence Day as a Jewish holiday. And we were told that it's a Jewish holiday. So I thought Judaism was 3000 years old. I know that we had recently added, you know, a holiday that had to do with one political movement. And they basically had the children drawing Israeli flags, and talking about independence, with no mention of who was there, and who was kicked out of that land. And it would be the equivalent of asking Native American kids on Columbus Day to draw ships and show Columbus discovering America. It's just erasure. Well, we just kept our kid home. We kept our our son home from from school that day, but I think that caution exists, because I think that within the American Jewish community, there's a strong melding of Judaism and Zionism, and people don't necessarily see the distinctions. In terms of the Palestinian community. There aren't that many folks here. We did meet some other Palestinian families, but I think the community the Palestinian community here is smaller.

Ori Nir 34:33
Sari, I want to ask you a question that may be too personal and if it is, you can either diplomatically or not very diplomatically rebuff it but you know, I told you that I had experienced reporting about mixed marriages. I don't know if you like it, any way, marriages between Palestinians and Israelis, relationships, but I also know quite a few stories that did not end up in an actual relationship but in a breakup because people realize the price. And so the question I wanted to ask you was, did you ever have, since you fell in love with your partner? Did you ever have such thoughts saying, maybe love cannot prevail? And maybe I'm doing something that I just won't be able to sustain given the circumstances of the of the conflict?

Karen Paul 35:27
Oh, sorry, Sari if I could just add, because there are a couple of questions that have come in sort of, in related asking how your family responded to your relationship and your in laws. And, and so sort of the larger picture as well.

Sari Bashi 35:40
Sure. So I mean, the book contains about 16 breakups in the sense that it was a rocky road. And I actually take comfort in the fact that I think we went through the hardest time before we actually got together and had kids. And so you know, after that, it's been smoother sailing. But yeah, you know, and it's hard to pick apart, what stressors there were on us that were external, and what stressors just had to do with the fact that we came together, you know, as you know, people who'd already experienced love and disappointment and had our own baggage. And I mean, lots of couples break up Relationships are hard. I think one thing that might have helped us kind of overcome some of the external obstacles is the fact that we're both kind of outsiders by nature. And so, you know, for him, he he grew up in Gaza, in a refugee camp in Gaza, but he moved to the West Bank as a young man, and has lived there ever since. And because of the travel restrictions, he's quite isolated from his family. So he can't visit them, they can't visit him. And so it forced him, but also allowed him to forge his own way. And I'm also a bit of an outsider. So you know, I, my family, I have a lot of extended family in Israel. But my parents and siblings are in the United States. And so I've been living away from them for a while. So there was less kind of family stress on us, in terms of how I've been received. So I mean, his family is welcoming, but they're welcoming on the phone, you know, we I can't see them. My children have never met their grandmother, they haven't met their uncles and aunts, I had a chance to meet my partner's mother. Before before we kind of moved in together, when, when she had a permit to accompany her daughter for medical care. And I'm grateful for that. But you know, it, they've been very welcoming, but they also don't have to deal with us. And I think probably for my partner's family harder than dealing with with me would be dealing with him, that he's chosen a secular life. And they've become religious. And he's also chosen a more kind of liberal open life than than the one they lead. And so those all could in theory be sources of stress, but they're not because we can't see them, and they can't see us. On my family side, I think there have been some family members that have been wonderfully welcoming. My mother asked all the right questions when I I, you know, got up all my courage to tell her that I was moving in with my partner. And she said, does he make you happy? Which was, you know, exactly the question. I didn't dream that she would ask me that question. I was prepared for a lot harder questions. And there are other members of my family for whom it's been really hard, either because they object to the relationship on religious grounds, or on racist grounds or on both. And some of them have come a long way. Some of them are trying as hard as they can. And I have to give them credit for that.

Ori Nir 38:36
We've had quite a few questions here from people who I think are not that, you know, don't understand that well, the various problems that Palestinians have and Israelis to some extent, as well in terms of movements. And so I'm trying to find a way of asking a question that would be a little more focused, maybe a way to do it is to ask you to tell a story, one story that's in the book, and maybe then kind of zoom out a little bit and just give a few pointers so that people better understand what it takes to let's say, get a permit to, you know, one time permit to go some somewhere for a Palestinian. So maybe you can tell the story of the lost keys? And then we and then we would zoom out from that. Is that okay?

Sari Bashi 39:29
Sure. Yeah. So the story of the lost keys is that I was crossing boundaries, crossing worlds on a regular basis, and then I lost my car key. And all of a sudden I had to come face to face with the fact that I was I was trespassing these boundaries. So I went for a run in a forest in Israel. I was living in the rural area, and I I put my car key in a pocket and I forgot to close the pocket and so I lost my car key. So my car is locked. I'm in this kind of forest picnic area, and the spare key is in Ramallah with my partner, but he can't come. So Palestinians are not allowed to enter Israel unless they get rare and difficult to get permits. And he's not allowed to even enter roads in the West Bank that would take him closer to the forest because some of the roads are off limits, including a very famous road called the 443. So I what I had to do is basically like find a taxi driver who would agree to meet him. And even that was hard, because even though I was desperately trying to find a Palestinian taxi driver, Palestinian citizen of Israel, who would feel comfortable doing this, but I couldn't. So it was a Jewish taxi driver who was asked to basically meet my partner at a closed gate that blocks Palestinian villages from the road. And he didn't like it. But he agreed to do it. So he met my partner at the boundary of where Palestinians are allowed, and where Israelis feel comfortable, and took the key and brought it to me. And what I can kind of expand out is just the idea that Palestinians are excluded, not just from Israel, but also for many parts of the West Bank, through a series of checkpoints and forbidden roads and walls. In the book also includes like descriptions of what it's like to navigate those walls to run underneath a road. That's Israelis only, and it's a road that I would drive on. But when I'm coming from Ramallah, I can only I can only run underneath it, or, you know, different kinds of physical barriers. I, I'm a lawyer. So the way that I met my partner was, she tried to help him because he was originally from Gaza. The Israeli military controls the Palestinian population registry. So they they have to approve ID cards, and they wouldn't approve for him an ID card that said West Bank, so because he was originally from Gaza, even though he lived in the West Bank for decades, they, they wanted to arrest him and remove him to the West Bank. And he was accepted to a Ph. D. program in Haifa, sorry, in Tel Aviv, and so he wanted to go to that program. But he wasn't allowed because they the army wouldn't give him a permit. And even getting him out to London required a court case a court petition, because he couldn't he was trapped in Ramallah, because he was afraid to leave Ramallah, he was afraid that if he left Ramallah, he'd be arrested at a checkpoint and take into Gaza where he lose his home, his job is access to his son. So Maqluba: Upside Down also reflects that situation that he was in when when we met, he was trapped in Ramallah, because the Israeli army forbade him from being in Ramallah. And so because they forbade him from being in Ramallah, he was afraid to leave Ramallah that he wouldn't be able to come back.

Ori Nir 42:43
Yeah, and I would say a lot of the book is, is, you know, kind of gives an account of just how difficult it is to get a permit to move from one place to another places that are very, very close together, particularly if you look at you know, American terms. But the bureaucracy is such that it's, it's just the part almost impossible to navigate.

Sari Bashi 43:07
Yeah. And also, there's a couple if people are interested, there's a couple of blog posts that talk about kind of more recent attempts to get in permits, including the permit to get in here, which I lost many years of my life trying to do that. So it's both about the military bureaucracy, and then even about, you know, what happens at a checkpoint? Because even if you have a permit doesn't mean they'll let you through. So a couple of blogs from like, November, December or January, kind of addressed that, that situation, in some cases, kind of humorously I hope.

Karen Paul 43:38
So I wonder if this may seem like a simplistic question, I'm not sure. In your in your in your work, of course, and then also now in your life with your partner, has this experience caused you to quit, how to phrase this? Do you boycott things? Like, would you not drive on the 443? Because your partner can't drive on the floor for three? Are there things that you won't do that you could do because of your privilege? But that you choose not to?

Sari Bashi 44:07
It's a good question. I can't not drive on 443 Because I can't get home otherwise. So there's that. I mean, I think I think it's made it harder for me to identify with even sort of neutral parts of official Israeli life. So because I, I understand, for example, how threatening the Hebrew language is for Palestinians, even the the language itself, makes them tense makes them scared. Anything having to do with Israel has a particular particular character. It's menacing in Palestine. And so for me, I've had to kind of like reclaim things. So I think for me speaking Hebrew to my kids as a way of reclaiming language, it's a beautiful language, it shouldn't be associated with an abuse of authority. Also, my association with the Israeli running community, I'm very proud of being a member of the Israeli running community. It's a beautiful, beautiful thing. And so I find myself trying to reclaim those those moments. And also angry at, you know, an Israeli government that's tainting things that are beautiful, you know, like language like culture like heritage, with an ugly, supremacist approach.

Ori Nir 45:39
Did your partner discover any of that beauty through the relationship with you? Did you have a chance to do that?

Sari Bashi 45:45
Absolutely. The language, the language, it's been wonderful for us because in our house, we speak three languages. So I speak Hebrew to the kids, he speaks Arabic to the kids, and we speak English with each other. So we both know Hebrew and Arabic, he knows Hebrew better than I know Arabic, but still, but he'll hear me say something to the kids in Hebrew, and he'll recognize the Arabic word that it comes from, or vice versa. So it's been this beautiful discovery of really how much there is in common with those languages. And also, culturally, I think, for him to realize that there's a lot of commonality between Israeli and Palestinian culture, love for children, especially, I would say, Israeli Arab culture. So Jewish Arab culture, like my family's Iraqi, so I would consider myself to be an Arab Jew. And so the idea that the language, the heritage, the food's there, there's a lot of similarities. So when I cook sometimes, or when I show him old pictures of my family, he sees those similarities. And before my uncle passed away, he loved speaking Arabic with him, and kind of trying to decipher his my uncle spoke are very distinct Iraqi Jewish Arabic that was, you know, kind of wonderful to discover for my partner.

Ori Nir 46:54
And I will just say, if you're a foodie like Karen and me, there's a lot of, there's a lot of interesting writing about food in the book. So that's one more reason to read the book.

Karen Paul 47:07
Anoter reason it needs to be published in English! Back, so frustrated, back, but I love the blog. So anybody, the blog is definitely wonderful as well, and very well worth some time. But back to actually back to the book. So how has the book been received in Israeli society? And actually, also in Palestinian society? Where's, where are the touch points? For people?

Sari Bashi 47:34
I don't think it's, there's been much exposure in to Palestinian society, it's not an Arabic or even in English, and we're far away, which was deliberate. So that's a good thing for us. In terms of reception, I mean, I, you know, I'm far away. And so it's been harder to promote the book. But we've had some feedback, that's actually been really, really nice. And here, I want to acknowledge and express my gratitude for the publisher, Asia publishers, which is a small, independent Israeli publishing house that really took me under their wing, and the editor, my two wonderful editors, Kiki Ogev, and also Afri Herlin who really just, you know, turned the book from kind of journalistic type entries to to a coherent and compelling narrative. You know, I got one response from somebody that that made me really happy. He signed it as a reservist in the Israeli Defense Forces. So he was situating himself as being somebody who's proud of his military service. And he said, you know, look, there was a lot of your book I didn't like there was a lot in your book that made that annoyed me. But you showed me something that I hadn't seen. And thank you for that. And I think there were other Israelis for whom the book was compelling, because it tells a familiar story, but from a different perspective, because they know checkpoints, they know the occupation, they know all of this, but it's like seeing the mirror image of your own experience. And there's also some writing in the book about kind of the, the dilemma the pain of, of being an Israeli who disagrees with what's going on. And how do you navigate complicity by serving in the military by sending your children to the military by enjoying privilege at the expense of others? So in that sense, I've been happy with the reception but I I'd also like to get into more hands.

Karen Paul 49:25
Well one of our one of our listeners asked a few if there any plans to pet to publish an Arabic as well as English.

Sari Bashi 49:32
I know I I'd love to um it's sensitive. You know, and I think the the security issues arising from the Hebrew edition would multiplied if we did it in the Arabic edition, but I would like to.

Karen Paul 49:49
So turning the lens back to to us on this side of the ocean. This question comes up in so many different ways whenever whenever there are people talking about that Israel Palestine and the United States? And how do we as American Jews, for the most part, supporting APN, and peace, best influenced the Israeli government to adopt more policies with more just policies with regard to Palestine and Palestinians.

Sari Bashi 50:19
I think it starts with the American government, because that's where American Jews have influence. And right now that influence is not being used in a very productive way, in my opinion. So the American government is providing $3.4 billion worth of weapons to the Israeli military each year, it's providing diplomatic support and forwarding efforts at the UN and other international bodies for accountability. And I think questioning that support has been had been a taboo for a long time for the Jewish community. I think things are changing, I think especially younger American Jews are calling into question, this kind of support for abusive practices. And I think there's a shift that is hard for American Jews. But I think that they're starting to make it which is to disentangle the Jewish people from the Israeli government, because the Israeli government sends the message that we are the Jewish people. And if you don't support us, you're against the Jewish people. And oh, my god, the Jewish people are human beings, they're a nation, there are people, the Israeli government is an authority, which unfortunately, like many authorities is abusing its power, and needs to be held accountable. And holding it accountable for that abuse of authority, including by withholding American support for those abuses, has nothing to do with being against the Jewish people. And that's kind of a narrative shift that I do see among, you know, new groups, I see it with APN. I see it with groups like if not now. And especially there's a generational shift, as young Jews feel less and less comfortable supporting what their parents supported, and more able to distinguish between a very real and very horrific history, Legacy of anti semitism from Europe, and the current modern day practices of the Israeli government.

Ori Nir 52:12
I think we're approaching the end of our conversation, I wanted to ask you something that came up in a couple of questions from the audience. And that has to do with the future. So, you know, I was a runner, but I was a sprinter. I know, my physique probably won't suggest that today. I would never dream of running for, you know, what, like, 12 hours or more you run?

Sari Bashi 52:38

Ori Nir 52:39
33, yes, okay. But I want to I want to use that metaphor to talk about your approach. And I think I know a little bit about your approach toward the end game, if we can call it that, or the future of Israeli Palestinian relations. And interestingly, maybe surprisingly, although you've experienced the the darker sides of the of the relationship between the two peoples, you are optimistic. So I wanted to ask you, a if just to ask you about about that. What What Why are you optimistic? What, what gives you hope?

Sari Bashi 53:17
Yeah, and I actually get a lot of that strength from running. So the year I turned 30, I did two things, I found it a human rights group. And I began running marathons. And eventually ultra marathons, my longest race was 134 miles in northern Israel. So when you when you run for those kinds of distances, you have to practice humility, and knowing where you are, even if it's not where you want to be. So if you're in kilometer five of a 216 kilometer race, you need to be restrained, you need to be cautious, and you need to be very aware of your weaknesses. And on the other hand, when you're in the 200 kilometer of a 216 kilometer race, that's the time to sprint forward as hard as you can give everything you can. And, you know, justice, human rights work, social change are not that different. So where we are right now in terms of improving things in Israel, Palestine in terms of ending the occupation, and ending the apartheid that exists there as well. It's not where I want to be, it's not going to happen anytime soon. It's ugly, it's really ugly. But if I know where I am, and acknowledge it, and then I think of what I need to do, what's the appropriate pace and method of running for that part of the race, then I can actually have a lot of strengths. And where we are right now is a place of movement building, a place of changing narratives, a place of building power, so that one day we can end the occupation and the apartheid, but I think it's helpful and useful to acknowledge that it's not going to be anytime soon. And so we should stop trying to sprint because we're just tiring ourselves out. We should be a little more strategic There's a lot of optimism in that.

Ori Nir 55:03
Some people say that we're running back, some people say that we are losing whatever, you know, whatever gains we've made in the past toward that goal of Israeli Palestinian peace or harmonious relations between the two peoples in the future, where do you see the progress being gained?

Sari Bashi 55:23
I think actually that taking a step back from focusing on the peace process is progress. It's actually one of the most important things we can do. I don't consider the framework of peace to be particularly helpful or accurate. Right now, what we have is a case of one authority, the Israeli government exercising control over 7 million Jews and 7 million Palestinians in the space of biblical Israel or historical Palestine. And the problem is that that authority is oppressing people, and that needs to stop. And we can talk afterward about what kinds of political arrangements we'd like one state two state five states, that's all fine. But this focus on the peace process, as if this were a conflict between two states, and once we get together and sit in a room and negotiate it and go away, has been devastating for people on the ground. So I'm glad we're taking a step back from that, because we have to, we have to step back from that, to start to move forward to what I think needs to be a focus on ending abuses and ending a situation of military control. And, frankly, military abuse.

Ori Nir 56:31
You call it decolonization?

Sari Bashi 56:34
Yeah. I mean, look, I think that, you know, for many Zionists, this raises hard questions, because they would prefer to say, we can just, you know, end the occupation and then everything will be fine, and not look at what happened in 1948. And not recognize the right of return of Palestinian refugees. And, you know, people in Israel look at America, and they say, well, the US did it. And the US didn't do it, the US committed genocide against the native peoples who are here. And so they're so few of them left, that it's not a problem for the United States anymore. So thank God, that didn't happen in Israel, Palestine, thank God, refugees are fled, or were forced to leave, but for the most part, were not killed. And so decolonization means you have to also recognize their right to return. And I think that's something that's hard. I think a lot of it has to do with this idea that, you know, Jews, Jews can't be saved unless we're in control. And that's why I would encourage people to just see if that's consistent with their values, especially American Jews. Is that Is that consistent with your values? Why? Why is it different in Israel than it is in the United States, in the United States, we say people should be saved, because rights should be respected for everybody, majority and minority.

Ori Nir 57:47
So Sari, I know that you're working on an English version, and we're all patiently, impatiently, waiting for you to come out, has writing this book, given you appetite for another one, a follow up?

Sari Bashi 58:03
I would need a lot of help. You know, this, this book went through so many phases of editing. And I realized now even in working on the English version, which needs editing, it needs adaptation to an English audience. It's hard. It's hard because the material is so so close. And I'm so personally connected to it. And it's hard because the topic is so fraught, so I'd love to, but I need to first anyway, I need some time.

Ori Nir 58:28
Yeah. And meanwhile, you're continuing with Um Forat, on Haaretz's website, people can can access it there. Right?

Sari Bashi 58:35
Yeah. And there's also if you don't want the paywall, there's also a dedicated website. It's So u m, m f o r Got it.

Ori Nir 58:46
Thank you very, very much for joining us. I want to also thank Karen and to thank Claire Davidson Miller, my colleague who's been helping us behind the scenes. This has been, I think, really fascinating, and a good break, I guess, from the more kind of hardcore policy or focused webinars that we've had recently. So again, thank you very much, everyone for joining us. I'm reminding you that the recording of the video is going to be on YouTube sometime soon, probably tomorrow. And the audio will be on our podcast later today and God willing. And with that, we've reached the end of our webinars. So thank you again, sorry.

Sari Bashi 59:32
Thank you for having me.

Ori Nir 59:35
Bye, everyone.

Transcribed by