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Bilingual collection of poems and prose joins young Arabic, Hebrew writers

Called 'Two,' the anthology focuses on daily life and love as much as on politics, offering Israeli Arabs and Jews a unique perspective into the humanity of the other.

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    Almog Behar (l.), Tamar Weiss-Gabbay (c.), and Tamer Massalha (r.) prevailed in the face of three Gaza conflicts and a deterioration in Israeli-Palestinians peace talks to bring their bilingual anthology to fruition.
    Courtesy of Almog Behar
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A first-of-its-kind bilingual anthology of Hebrew and Arabic prose and poetry has recently been released in Israel, offering an example of the potential for collaboration despite heightened tensions between Arabs and Jews.

Unlike previous translations between the languages, it is published by one of Israel's leading publishers and focuses on daily life and love as much as on politics.

Called "Two," the collection is published by Keter Publishing House, and aims to launch a dialogue between young, contemporary writers in both languages. The ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict is unavoidably present in the anthology, but it is not the dominant theme. The best poems and stories approach political questions obliquely, framing them in unexpected ways.

"Love is no less political than politics," says Rajaa Natour, a poet who has contributed two love poems to the volume. As a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship, she is part of the country's 20 percent Arab minority whose experiences are often unfamiliar to the Jewish majority.

"Through the translation, my voice as a Palestinian woman will reach Jewish women who are not in, and do not know, my day-to-day life and reveal my emotional world. If I wasn't translated to Hebrew, I would never reach them."

The project, begun in 2008, originally included Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip as well. But failed peace initiatives and three Israel-Gaza conflicts eventually led all of them to withdraw. However, the inclusion of Palestinians living within Israel still marks a significant accomplishment, especially given the heightened tensions during last summer's Gaza war.

While Arabic literature has been translated into Hebrew before, and vice versa, those translations have focused on established authors. "Two" aims to bring together a younger generation of poets and fiction writers who are unfamiliar to readers of the other language. The 70+ poems and short stories included in the collection all appear twice, in the original and in Hebrew or Arabic translation.

Hebrew and Arabic share common linguistic roots and a long history of literary interaction, but in Israel today Hebrew and Arabic readers are largely unfamiliar with each other's language and literature.

"The community of writers in Hebrew and writers in Arabic live in parallel and publish in parallel, and they hardly meet," says Almog Behar, an Israeli novelist and poet and one of the book's editors, along with Tamer Massalha and Tamar Weiss-Gabbay.

Given the difficult state of Israeli-Palestinian relations currently, Dr. Behar claims for the anthology a modest, if hopeful goal.

"We don't have any utopian idea that we're creating a shared literary community," he said. Rather, the collection can be "a kind of introduction that can generate further influences and connections."

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