Something Gets Lost in the Translation from English to Palestinian

Yesterday, the Knesset held a special session to mark the Israeli parliament’s birthday. Among the speakers was the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu who talked about the increasing cooperation between the Fatah and the Hamas and said: “The Palestinian Authority chose to avoid acting against extremists and has even elected to hug them, to encourage incitement against Jews and anti-Semitic calls.” He was speaking directly about Mahmud Abbas or if you like, Abu Mazen, who recently travelled the world declaring the moderate Palestinian’s genuine will for peace whilst trying to drum up support for the Palestinian demand to be recognised as a state in the UN, and two days ago became the ally and long lost brother of the Hamas terror organisation leader Khaled Meshaal when they signed their reconciliation agreement in Qatar.

Way back in the late 90’s, I had an interesting experience on a Tel-Aviv to London flight. At Ben-Gurion airport the aircraft was ready for the doors to be closed with all passengers already in their seats. A small group of two or three men and a woman, carrying many bags full of equipment on their shoulders, appeared at the aircraft’s door breathing heavily after what looked like a last minute mad rush up the stairs of the departures terminal, and sat down in a few seats that were left vacant here and there. The woman sat beside me. After take-off I noticed that she and her friends kept exchanging victory signs and thumbs up, as if they had accomplished a great achievement. She looked at me from time to time expecting me to ask her what the great excitement was all about, and when I failed to do so turned to me finally and said in English: “I must play you something. Let’s see if you could identify the speaker.” She produced a professional tape recorder out of her bag, handed me a pair of headphones and activated the machine. Into my ears came the nasal voice of Yasser Arafat who, as Mati Caspi wrote in his song ‘Gogo’, spoke English he had learnt from the movies, and explained with heartfelt emotion the genuine wish of the Palestinians for peace and fraternity, if only Israel wanted the same…

“OK,” I said with little enthusiasm “This is Yasser Arafat. What’s the story?” The woman explained that she and her friends were a B.B.C. team that managed to secure an exclusive interview with Arafat (I was not clear as to what was exclusive about that – as far as I remember Arafat was willing to blubber into the ears of whoever was willing to listen) in which the Palestinian leader stated unequivocally the Palestinians’ wish for peace. I looked at her as if she fell from the Moon. “Well – do you think that peace will indeed come soon?” she asked. “The truth is,” I said, “that peace will not come, not in fifty years and not in a hundred years.” The excited correspondent’s face dropped. “Why do you think so?” she asked with hurt. “Because that is what Arafat is telling you in English.” I answered. “In Arabic it sounds completely different.” I told her about Arafat’s speeches of incitement inside closed Palestinian forums, about his admiration of suicide bombers and about his call for Jihad and the ‘liberation’ of Jerusalem, utterings that the Israeli left always justified by saying that they were meant for ‘internal consumption’.

I ruined the young and excited correspondent’s day. I know. But both Arafat and the B.B.C. have ruined my day so many times before and after, so I do not feel too many pangs of conscience.

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