Interview with Aida Nasralla

Sometimes we have many things inside us, but we just never discover them. Look at me, I don’t know I was forty years old before I discover that I can paint. At maybe fifteen I started to write plays. But I didn’t know what kind of writing this was, and had no one to direct me. Only now do I realize that my first writing was a play. But some things are still inside us, unconsciously. Now I have returned to writing plays. I began to write for myself at home, but didn’t publish. At thirty-five I started publishing because I struggled so much against the opposite opinion. We live in a very strict society and I didn’t know any women writer s, nor any male writers in my village. But all the time I felt there was a thing that I had to put on paper. All the time I was writing. But to understand the responsibility for my words, and to decide that I must publish, that took a long time.

I began to publish in Al- Ittehad the only Arabic daily newspaper. Even now it is the most important one. Every Friday there is a special literary sectione. A few times I have been published in literary magazines in Israel. And in magazines like El-jaded and Al-48, which represents the Union of Arabic Writers. But I didn’t put together any books, until now. I have thousands of pages published here and there. But I wasn’t so clear about having a book, maybe because I am very critical of mysel, something that has prevented me from publishing all of my stories in a book. Many people say that this is wrong, some argue that certain writing reflects certain periods in life, and you just progress.

I am my own critic but one respects what other say. I care about the content of my literature. I have also worked as a journalist, a very complicated situation, for you must be aware of your writing. Not just because you are afraid to say something, but you must always be aware politically, just because of the situation. If you want to be a very true writer, say things directly and sometimes criticize politicians, you must be strong enough to carry off that responsibility. I decided to publish when I was sure that I could face any political body with my opinions

I never choose what I write about. The subject comes on its own. And I never write about something that I haven't felt. Some pieces I write about men, some about refugee camps, some articles are political. But the human being is at the center of all my writing. It’s not related to a woman or a man or children or a cat, it’s about all of them. One of my works is about a cat, killed in the camp of Jenine. I visited there at the height of the Intifada. Most of the poets who wrote about the start of Intifada wrote about stones. Stone, stones, stones. You could build a building with their poems. That was not what I look fore because that you can find in the mass media and I wanted to look beyond. So I visited the Jeanin camp of the Palestinians, and saw a grave of 20 centimeters, and on its tombstone it saaid Qurquor. I asked the children, who Qurquor was, and they said “our cat.” They said that the soldiers who visited couldn’t bear the happiness of the children. So they killed the cat. And the children said that one soldier turned his face and cried. I wrote this story and mentioned the soldier who turned away his face, to show the other side of the "enemy." This too is reflected in my writing and painting. The human subjects. You never choose the subjects if you are a part of the society. I say all the time that my writing is like a circle. Because the composition, the construction of the story or the poem starts like a spiral, a line that closes in the same place. I never plan this composition, it just happens. As for the topics, I must speak as a woman, as part of the society, and as part of the whole world.

When I am in Iowa, the writing comes form Iowa. And it is quilted with my memories from Um-El-Fahem, my city. When I am in Um-El-Fahem, I write from there, but I quilt it with what happened in the world. For me, what has happened in New York, what’s happening in Afghanistan, and what’s happening in my home, in Palestine and Israel is conncected. You can’t be single-minded. As a writer; you must be like the whole world, a circle.

I can’t imagine myself without writing. I can’t solve the problems of humanity but I can ease up the problems, open what is closed. History has proved that no art; no literature can stop the wars. But, as a writer you feel that you must say something.. If not, you can’t live. he idea of writing for a living—do you write to have money, or to feel that you are a living person?

I haven’t published to earn from my writing. I always published as a volunteer, but I feel good when I write. Just living my life. I can’t live without writing.

Art opens up problems. Rises them up. My play “The Moaning of the Subhat—A Rosaaary” is about women killed because they don’t respect the honor of the family. Every year we hear about women killedby her community because she was different. And I think that our literature doesn’t inestigate this topic deeply enough. So I feel like a witness for these women, feel their suffering everyday, and couldn’t keep silent. I intended to write " The Moaning of the Subhat " as a novel, but then wrote it as a play because it is better to be on a stage. It is stronger whn female characters teell their stories in front of people. In my eyes Theater is the strongest art because it connects with people directly.

I should speak about women in Israel, because one must speak about both the Arabic and the Jewish women. Jewish women in Israel have a situation like women in Europe, but the women eveeerywhere are repressed. A woman is not like a man. In the patriarchal hierarchy, though, Arabic women in Israel suffer a double suffering. They suffer as women in the city because of the strictures, even though many women study and reach ahigh status in the society. And they suffer because they are Arabs in the Israeli society. It is too hard to cope with this double suffeering. I think the Arabic woman is a hero, because she copes with this situation, managing her home very well, raising her children. Much feminism looks at the woean in the home as inferior, but I think that to raise children and to keep a home together is high status of work. To be a mother is high status. It's not inferior work. But the point is that you have to choose to be at home. It must be your choice. And the women who cannot choose are oppressed in their homes. Many women in the Middle East suffer from being in a jail, because they can’t choose their future.

Yet many are educated and reach high status. There is a new generation. The new generation looks to handle their lives independently, without depending on their brothers and their fathers.

We are still a traditional society. We are Muslims. Islam gave woman many rights that she hadn’t had earlier. Still we keep many traditional principles. I’m proud of these principles. The positive principles. The family, the warmth, the support, the generosity. You cannot feel alone in our society. If you are sick, everyone comes around you. If you are poor, if you have no money, people will support you. You don’t have that feeling of being alone. Here I see people all the times in places with TV. Many TV’s though nobody is watching it. People feel empty inside, alone. You can feel it. It's good to be independent, but its good to be wrapped by warmth. All of us try to get love, and when you are with your family, you aren’t worried, because your family supports you. If I get sick here, what will I do?

But we have social norms which are very strict; laws that don’t belong in the real Islam; they are social norms, which the society has installed.

My attitude to writing is not like a job. Many writers write every day. I can’t do that. I live the ideas for many years before I start putting them on paper, and let them come alone. Some time I write many pages in three days. Sometimes, if an idea comes up even if I’m doing the dishes at the kitchen, I drop everything and go to write.

The poems that I have read at the panels here in Iowa are all about politics, about what’s happening in Palestine, about the attack of New York. After that happened I felt like it is the same disaster everywhere, that innocent people are victims for no reason, with no logic. I wrote a poem linked to all the people, not only the Americans, not only to my people. It is like to take a drop of reality and to individualize it,and then to generalize it onto all humans. I wrote about the children killed in the Intifada. I wrote a dialogue between a Jewish man and Arabic women, talking about very silly things: about food. They quarrel about Arabic and Jewish food. The play begins with silly things and moves on to higher levels until they reach politics. If two different groups, not just political groups, but even a man and a woman, black and whites, can live together, it is the small things between them that must be understood. I f you can’t have a dialogue about small things, you can’t talk about big things.

I have a very good friendship with my teacher, a Jewish man. Yet sometimes I say something and he doesn’t understand me; at other times I can’t understand his mentality. This was the inspiration for the play. But in understanding the daily life, how one behaves at home, one’s rituals, one’s habits, you can understand the big things, and then deal with politics. All of their lives, these past 50 years, the Jewish and the Arabic peoples within Israel only talk about the conflict; they haven’t made these steps to understand each others` literature, culture. If they’d begin with these things most of the conflict would be released. This is what my play aims to say.

I don’t write about only one thing at a time. The Jewish people are represented in my writing, as are the Arabic people. The Palestinians, my people. The many things that are happening in the world. We are quilted together.

I wrote this after the attack in New York:

Just a moment ago they were here
Still hearing their steps running in the place
Their laughter still slips into the walls
Just a moment ago
I hear their music
Their cigarettes still burning
The coats of men, of women, baby’s dolls still whispering their songs
Still there
Still here
Before a final scream covered their dreams

The situation in my home is so hard. Yet you can’t live without hope. I believe there will be peace someday, because if I wouldn’t have this belief, I couldn’t live. But we must work to have this hope, this peace. And many women in Israel-- Arab and Jewish woman together--demonstrate every Friday. They are mothers, Arabic and Jewish women who keep on demonstrating against the war. It will take along time to get peace, but peace will come. How much suffering can people endure? In science, everything that reaches the top and must come down. The Palestinians and the Jewish people are tired …I can’t speak about justice, or about who is guilty because that is a long story. But here are two nations in conflict for 50 years. It is enough. It is time for peace. Sometimes the people want peace, but the politicians are the problem. But as a people we want to live together, we want to live in peace.

I have many Jewish friends. This is one of the paradoxical things expressed in my writing. I am a Palestinian, and emotionally I must support my people; on the other side, I live with Jewish people and have many friends and teachers there. It is because of their help that I am here. And they are Jewish. I feel emotionally connected with them. Within this paradox you must find a way to achieve an emotional and logical balance. Work hard to create a situation in which we can live together. Many times you feel torn, like myself-- an Arab Palestinian living in Israel as an Israeli citizen. As if I didn’t belong to either one. So one way to make a connection between the two is to understand each other, and to love each other. Because there is no other way except living together without losing the pride of a nation with its own culture and its own history.

Iowa City, Fall 2001.
Interview conducted by Frances Peebles