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Hanoch Levin’s “How to Spot an Arab Terrorist”

A friend from Israel sent this quotation from Israel’s most brilliant political satirist, Hanoch Levin.  It was quoted in Uri Blau’s latest Haaretz article about a poor Palestinian family whose land is cut off from its native village by the Separation Wall.  This fact has also caused the family to lose their water connection to the village.  The Israeli settlement of Har Adar, which is only meters away from the family home refuses to allow it to connect to the settlement water supply because it wants to make life as miserable as possible so it can snap up the land if the family leaves.

It’s not hard to believe that this was written in the 1980s and remains as relevant politically as the day it was written:

“A man passses by in the road looking nervously to both sides and behind himself—he’s suspected of being an Arab terrorist. A man passes by in the road and looks forward contentedly—he’s suspected of being a cold-blooded Arab terrorist. A man passes by in the road and looks toward the heavens—a religious Arab terrorist. A man passes by in the road glancing downward—a bashful Arab terrorist. A man passes by in the road with eyes closed—a drowsy Arab terrorist. A man does not pass by in the road—a sick Arab terrorist.

All those [terrorists] mentioned above will be detained. In the event of an escape attempt, you will fire a warning shot in the air. Then transfer the corpse to the coroner.”

עובר אדם ברחוב ומעיף מבטים עצבניים לצדדיו ולאחוריו – ייחשד כמחבל ערבי. עובר אדם ברחוב ומביט קדימה בנחת – ייחשד כמחבל ערבי קר רוח. עובר אדם ברחוב ומביט השמימה – ייחשד כמחבל ערבי דתי. עובר אדם ברחוב ומבטו מושפל – ייחשד כמחבל ערבי ביישן. עובר אדם ברחוב ועיניו עצומות – ייחשד כמחבל ערבי מנומנם. לא עובר אדם ברחוב – ייחשד כמחבל ערבי חולה. כל החשודים המנויים לעיל ייעצרו. במקרה של ניסיון הימלטות תיירה יריית אזהרה באוויר. הגופה תועבר למכון הפתולוגי

{ 16 comments… add one }
  • mary March 10, 2013, 3:13 AM

    How to spot an Israeli terrorist? Better question is, how to avoid them?

    • Marc March 10, 2013, 1:54 PM

      Flame bait. In effect, you are pandering to a spirit so precisely examined by Mr. Levin.

      • mary March 12, 2013, 1:37 AM

        I don’t pander, especially to a ‘spirit’ of anything. But I see you enjoy non sequiturs.

        I’m also not sure what “flame bait” is. Perhaps if you would explain, I could respond. But I suspect you are not really intereted in responding to the substance of a comment but would rather critique the commenters, which gets us nowhere.

        • Marc March 12, 2013, 8:45 AM

          You are using an inflammatory tactic that, alas, adds nothing to the usefulness or informativeness of the argument in Richard’s post. Thus – flame bait.

          Israeli terrorists, real or imagined, are not to be avoided. Israelis are, alas, not terrorists. What they are is something significantly more pernicious.

          And the illegal settlers – they also are not to be avoided. They are to be confronted, they are to be addressed with the weightiest possible civic and legal arguments, in the Israeli courts, in ICC, anywhere there’s legal recourse. Pandering to violence with violence will give the illegal settlers what they want – a sense of righteous victimization.


          • mary March 13, 2013, 4:58 AM

            The government of Israel engages in terrorism on a daily basis. If you want to argue the semantics of the word “terrorism,” go right ahead. But the fact remains.

  • Marc March 10, 2013, 1:54 PM

    Your translation is – imho – not very good. The future tense “יחשב” should be translated as an imperative. There, a much more correct, both in spirit and in succinct delve, would be:

    “A man walking and looking nervously to the sides and behind him is to be considered a nervous Arab terrorist. A man walking and looking serenely ahed is to be considered a calm Arab terrorist…” (etc).


    • Marc March 10, 2013, 1:58 PM

      I – of course – mean not “delve” but “delivery”…. Apologies.

    • Richard Silverstein March 10, 2013, 2:25 PM

      Fair enough. But I don’t like the passive voice which you’ve adopted in your translation. Also, your translation of yaychashave as “considered” completely loses the sense of “suspicion” which the Hebrew word carries.

      Though one could argue that the bureaucratic tone of the passive voice may be what Levin was satirizing & intended.

      But saying my translation wasn’t “very good” is silly. It’s just as valid as the one you’ve done. Just different.

  • Marc March 11, 2013, 3:57 AM

    “Silly” is a value judgement. Just like “not very good”. Except that one is less polite than the other ;-). But I am sure you know that, it is just your mode de jeux.

    I disagree that “יחשב” carries an undertone of suspicion. On the contrary, it does not carry such an undertone. It is rather a very common a neutral 3rd person passive (by the way, grammatically passive) which is one of the things, as you correctly identify, Levin was satirizing. And it means “will be considered”. And, in modern Hebrew, the future tense is often used as an imperative, c.f. “תלך מפה” (literally, “you will go away”) for “go away”.


    • yariv March 11, 2013, 10:54 AM

      Levine wrote “יחשד”, that’s no undertone of suspicion, it’s straightforward suspicion. I would think “is to be suspected of being” might be a proper translation, though it does seem cumbersome. I believe the bureaucratic tone is intentional, so it might be proper to translate to whatever term is used in formal directions in English speaking security organization.

      However, I think the bureaucratic tone should be preserved at the end as well. Not “you will fire” but “a warning shot will be fired to the air, the body will be passed to the coroner”.

      Also, “all the suspects above”, not “all those mentioned above”.

      • Marc March 13, 2013, 12:51 PM

        Yariv – you are absolutely right. Mea culpa. Not sure what possessed me to decide it is “יחשב”…

  • Daniel March 11, 2013, 7:57 AM

    Thank you for this highly poignant passage by Levin, Mr Silverstein. Its iciness reminds me of the late Harold Pinter, another great critic of state injustice, who is sadly no longer with us.

    Anyone who is interested in Pinter’s work on this subject should first of all watch “Art, Truth and Politics”, his scintillating Nobel Lecture delivered upon recieving the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2005, before it became “fashionable” to openly lambast American foreign policy in general, and the Iraq War in particular, as the catastrophe it would prove to be — let alone in such an elite Western setting as the Nobel podium. The Lecture, which shocked many and outraged the friends of Anglo-American adventurism, is currently available to watch or read at the official Nobel Foundation’s website. (Link: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/2005/pinter-lecture.html )

    Next, one should watch, or read, Pinter’s perhaps most scathing critique of the authoritarian police state, his short play “One for the Road”, a work written in 1984 and inspired by his disgust with popular assent at the cruelty and brutality of one’s government towards “those who deserve it”. At the time I am writing this comment, there is an excellent production of this play available to watch on YouTube (in two parts), dating from 2001 and with Pinter himself in the lead, antagonist role. (Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nY9tGDXoIfA for part 1, and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AjvjREGX1tk for part 2)

    I rate these works highly and I warmly recommend them to yourself in particular, Mr Silverstein, if you haven’t seen them before.

  • Nimrod March 11, 2013, 8:37 AM

    @Richard, this translation does not do justice with the original text.

    for example:
    “All those [terrorists] mentioned above will be detained. In the event of an escape attempt, you will fire a warning shot in the air. Then transfer the corpse to the coroner.”

    should have been
    “All suspects mentioned above shall be arrested. In the event of an escape attempt, a warning shot shall be fired in the air. The corpse shall be taken to the pathological institute”

    • Richard Silverstein March 11, 2013, 6:00 PM

      Wow, readers who dispute my political viewpoint AND consider themselves professional translators! How impressive. I would never translate the original Hebrew literally as you have done. Very few people know what a pathological institute is. That’s an Israeli term. In English & in America it’s the coroner.

      My view is that translation should give readers a close approximation of the original Hebrew and convey it in terms the readers will grasp easily. That’s why your literal translation is not effective.

      Stop wasting everyone’s time with nitpicking and deal with substance. I want to hear about translation errors, not stylistic quibbles.

    • Paridell November 15, 2013, 6:41 PM

      Since the persons and events described are entirely hypothetical, the verb form should be “should”, rather than “shall”:

      “All suspects mentioned above should be arrested. In the event of an escape attempt, a warning shot should be fired in the air. The corpse should be taken to the coroner.”

      Contrast these examples, where the circumstances are defined and specific: “The body corporate shall impose a quarterly levy”, “The corridor shall be two metres wide”, “There shall be no further encroachments on the public land.”

      Apparently, the morgue is bypassed in this case. But the morgue, rather than the coroner, would normally be the first stop for the body of a shooting victim. The coroner/pathologist/pathological institute associated with the morgue would then conduct the inquest.

  • Barry Hirschfeld April 30, 2013, 12:04 PM

    [comments that are anti-Musim racism violate the comment rules and will not be published. Read the comment rules before publishing another comment here. If you do not respect the rules, you will not publish here.]

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