The Jewish Chronicle

Love in an intractable climate


Yasmine is the final part of a trilogy by Eli Amir - a social activist, political adviser and prize-winning author - about Jewish-Iraqi experience in Israel. The first, The Dove Flyer was described by Amir in a JC interview as "a book of dreams" in which "the dreams of all the main characters are broken as they go into exile". In the second part, Scapegoat, Amir attempted to demonstrate "the cultural and social conflicts between immigrant and sabra". In Yasmine, he describes a love affair between an Israeli and an Arab in the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War.

The story is largely autobiographical. Amir's protagonist, Nuri Imari, a new, young immigrant from Iraq, surprisingly finds himself (as did Amir) advising the Israeli government on Arab affairs, from an office in East Jerusalem. With little guidance, he is asked by his boss to "sniff around" East Jerusalem, and report back. Nuri (whose family also appear in The Dove Flyer) is ambivalent about his position: "I'm an Arab Jew. I listen to classical music in the morning and Arab music in the evening." In East Jerusalem, he meets Yasmine, a young Palestinian widow, newly returned from Paris and a member of a wealthy Christian family.

Everyone is reeling from 1967 hostilities. The Palestinians cannot comprehend their losses; the Israelis are waking up to a new political reality.

Nuri encounters situations and loyalties he could never have imagined. He tries to steer a humane course but soon finds himself confronting bigotry and hatred on both sides. Falling in love with Yasmine compounds his moral dilemma and forces him to acknowledge the complexities of his position. Their respective worlds are turned upside down.

Amir's own heritage and experience afford him a unique perspective on this volatile period in Israeli history. The picture he paints is vivid, sensual and full of anguish. And, though he pleads for tolerance and understanding on both sides, after four decades, his call remains largely unheeded.

Review by Sipora Levy
© The Jewish Chronicle  6 April 2012