Catch the Jew! By Tuvia Tenenbom
By Hagit Galatzer
In the Israeli section of the Redmond library, the lower shelf is dedicated to political books, biographies and other boring books. Usually I don’t even bother giving them a second glance. To me books are a gateway to different worlds and a chance to forget my own troubles for an hour or two. But something in the cover, maybe the combination of the smiling face of Yaser Arafat and the title “Catch the Jew!” caught my attention. A closer look reviled that this is a journey in modern-day Israel, “trying to capture the inner soul of the state of Israel”…
The writer, Tuvia Tenenbom, also conducted a similar journey in Germany a few years ago. In his journey, he takes on different identities and tries to uncover the truth under the usual clichés. Tenenbom, is a former Israeli, born and raised as an ultra-orthodox and anti-Zionist. He then replaced the Yeshiva benches with the University benches and pursued a variety of degrees, from computer science to art. Today he is a journalist and a playwright in New York. His vast knowledge in History, Bible and Quran, and the fact that he speaks many languages including Arabic and German allows him to switch identities in a blink of an eye. One minute he is Tuvia, an American-Israeli visiting his home land and having coffee in a posh Tel-Aviv café, and next he is Toby, a German reporter, hopping on a cab to Ramallah and befriending Jibril Rajoub. Tuvia\Toby is also a professional nudnik, sticking his nose anywhere he can. Once inside, he makes himself at home, demands coffee and cake and maybe something small to eat if possible. Surprisingly enough, his Chutzpa seems to appeal to people who open up their heart and their home.
Tuvia spent 6 months in Israel, argued with both left and right wing activists (mainly left…), annoyed Palestinians and European volunteers and also managed to make a friend or two. Toby, as opposed to Tuvia, enjoyed visiting the west bank. He frequents east Jerusalem, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jenin, Jericho and other places we only know from news and movie names. He meets real people, some familiar names, like Jibril Rajuob and Hanan Ashrawi and some just ordinary folks. They host him in their nice homes and offices, take him on a tour of the neighborhood and shift uneasily when he chooses to ask annoying questions on the expensive renovations and huge budgets. It appears that not all Palestinians live in horrible conditions in refugee camps, just like not all Israelis live in fancy apartments in Tel-Aviv. If Israel is known as the Start-up nation, Palestinians should be called NGO nation (Non-governmental organization). Every other Palestinian is an NGO member or a human right activist in one of the hundreds anti-Israeli aid organizations. Sometime it’s really hard to find the humans having their rights trampled, not to mention get it on tape. In most cases, some editing and exaggeration is needed to make worthy news for BBC and CNN. The fact that across the border in the north there is a full blown war with daily bloodshed and no basic human rights to thousands of people is of no interest to the reporters and volunteers. They only want to come to Israel and catch the Jews being bad, preferably on HD.
Overall, this book allows for a unique perspective. Tuvia\Toby, or whoever he may be, despite being annoying and sometime chauvinistic, manages to ask thought-provoking questions and shakes the dusty old clichés of the Israeli-Arabic conflict. At the end of the book, he presents a rather depressing conclusion, consider yourselves warned. To reserve an English copy of the book from the library, click here.