Let’s start from the beginning. What’s the meaning of the title of your book “No sex in the city”?
The title has different meanings. The first is directly related to the story of 10 Palestinian women at the menopause age. We try to meet once a week in a restaurant in Ramallah, and a lot of the talk is normally about men and sex. Then, there is a second level of meaning. The book is a combination of our personal life and the history of the PLO, of which we are the generation. So “No sex in the city” refers to the PLO that I feel -as many of my age do – is going through the menopause. Palestine is in a very critical period because the main political party, Fatah, has lost power. And, of course, I played on the “Sex in the city” TV programme, shot in New York, which is very popular in Ramallah and in Jordan.
In the preface of your book, you write that a certain number of western people say to you: “You don’t seem like a typical Arab woman”, then you add that “western countries are the perfect places where political stereotypes are made up”.
You know how many people ask me: “Are there restaurants in Ramallah? Is it true that a woman can go out in the street? Do you have TV?”.
I don’t really blame them. But stereotyping is a big issue, a political one, I mean. “No sex in the city” is about breaking the stereotypes and nowadays, the problem is such a big one. I really felt the need to write it. Stereotyping consists of how you see the other, not how the other is. The point is that, especially after 9/11, Americans and Israelis have manipulated the vision of Palestinians by saying that they are all terrorists, killers, bad people. At this point there is a deep break. Due to the fact that someone from the outside does not recognise their real identity, Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims, become more and more Palestinian, more and more Arab, more and more Muslim, because they feel threatened by the world.
In your book there is an empty page dedicated to your Israeli friend. You wrote: “Her life, as far as I am concerned, never took place”. Why did you make this choice? Weren’t you afraid of being misunderstood and being considered anti-Israeli?
I’ve noticed that one empty page has aroused lively curiosity. So I’ve decided that my next book is going to be 200 empty pages! I’m joking, of course. I know that it’s a powerful statement. The reason is because I speak of her positively in the introduction so the reader knows that this woman is progressive, she’s part of the “Woman in black” anti-war organization (it was formed by Israeli women in 1988 after the outbreak of the first Intifada), she is a personal friend of mine and one of our “menopause friends”. I actually thought that I accomplished my mission by saying in the introduction that I was doing this purposely because the Israelis deny the existence of 3.5 millions of Palestinians. Then I realized that people were shocked, but I feel comfortable because I do have many relations with Israelis, and Judy is the person to whom I dedicated my previous book “Sharon and my mother-in-law” in the Hebrew edition. So I thought I could afford such a joke. I tell you something: many times I think that Europeans have a very complex relationship with Israel. We -Israelis and Palestinians- sometimes understand this complexity more than Europeans, in Europe there is a guilty feeling and that makes the issue very sensitive. The point is that your relationship with Israel goes through the Holocaust, ours doesn’t.
You had to make up the names of your girlfriends to protect their private life. In Palestine and, more in general, in the Arab world, sex is more a taboo now or in the past?
I think it is more a taboo now than in the past. In the Middle East from the 70’s until now, Muslim fundamentalism, and later Christian and Jewish fundamentalism in the world, has risen gradually. There is a tendency to create a more religious society and there is always a connection between religion and social conservatism related to women. Most of the time, religion interferes with sexual behaviour, as is the case in Palestine and in the Arab world. In the 60’s or 70’s, we were young students at the American University of Beirut, many of us had left their families because they didn’t want us to be politically active, but there was a social openness in the Arab world which was part of a communal world in the international liberation movement which gave us freedom which I think the young generation, today, in Palestine and in the Arab world, has not been exposed to. I think, in general, the point is that the leftists, the socialists, all the open-minded people, haven’t been able to talk to and teach the young generation; the only people that talk to them are the fundamentalists. In the 70’s we were part of the Arab world, whereas now, the young generation is secluded. Look at what’s going on in Gaza, the more a society is isolated the more it becomes conservative.
Travelling in the West Bank you can easily notice boys of 14, or even less, reading newspapers and debating passionately in bars. In Palestine young people seem seriously interested in politics, whereas in Western countries, more and more often, adolescents are bored and detached.
Politics is our life. That’s the truth of the matter. But now there is no leadership, the PLO really doesn’t talk to the people, doesn’t direct them. When I was their age, there were many political parties or movements: Fatah, the Democratic Front, the Communist party, the Popular Front, and they all bombarded us with discussions about one or two state solutions, being pro or anti violence, on the arms struggle, on social liberation, on the role of women, who had a very strong position remember, in particular, in the popular and democratic front; we were approached and taken inside the political parties. Now, I know this from my job as a professor, nobody talks to them, the only one that does this job is Hamas. We have to realized this: right now Hamas is the only real grass root organization in Palestine.
Hamas is considered by the US and the EU a terrorist organization. It is not a reliable interlocutor. What do you think?
I don’t like the Hamas political programme, but they are the only ones who speak to people…and you know what, to be frank, at this point, we should give Hamas the opportunity to govern, in Palestine we are making a great mistake not allowing Hamas to get into power. Let them govern and then let people realize that Hamas will fail with their unrealistic politics of isolation. Yes, of course, they are able to open a kinder-garden, but it’s very different to be responsible for the economy, for the unemployment. Hamas should be given a chance…to fail.