News & Views from Ivri-NASAWI
Week of May 15, 2000



The Transformation and Memory of Israel/Palestine
by David Shasha
Sacred Landscape: The Buried History of the Holy Land Since 1948, by Meron Benvenisti (University of California, 2000)

Throughout the 1980s, the origins of the State of Israel were examined by scholars such as Benny Morris, Avi Shlaim and Ilan Pappe. These scholars were Israel's "revisionist historians." Their basic position, though each had a bit of a different take on things politically, was that the 1948 war was not a simple "bad" Arabs against "good" Jews scenario. With Arab belligerancy in the wake of the British takeover of (then) mandatory Palestine, the Zionist leadership continued to look for ways to secure a homeland-at the expense of the native inhabitants.

     This story of the Zionist victory was always told in such a manner as to minimize the nature of Palestinian suffering. The Zionists, masters of the historical record, narrated a tale of David and Goliath. The new works of the revisionists began to place that narrative in a murkier light. In books such as The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, we learned that the Jewish army, which won the war, itself created the refugee problem. And while scholars like Morris and Pappe disagee over the facts leading to the problem, it is now clear in the historical record that Palestinians were expelled from their homes and land.  This expulsion took place in a manner that denies the very assertion that the Israelis were innocent victims of a conflict that was meant to trigger their own destruction.

    With the publication of Meron Benvenisti's Sacred Landscape: The Buried History of the Holy Land Since 1948, we now have not merely a military or political history of this crucial period in Middle Eastern history, but a clearly-reasoned biography of the landscape of Palestine/Israel.  This biography permits us to hear the very voice of the landscape, a voice that Benvenisti knows quite intimately. In chapters such as "The Hebrew Map," "Ethnic Cleansing," and "Uprooted and Planted," we acquire a clearer sense of how the landscape was transformed on the surface, yet like a palimpsest leaves traces of its past.

To read David Shasha's review in it's entirety, go to The Transformation and Memory of Israel/Palestine.

News Briefs


Painter Gloria Abella de Duncan and vocalist Vanessa Paloma Duncan have been awarded a collaborative Residency at Herzliya, Israel for September and October 2000, to create an installation and performance dealing with women, generations, immigration and identity. They will focus on their Sephardic heritage and life experiences of exile, language differences, and mother-daughter generational differences. The Residency was made possible in part by the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity, a Los Angeles-based institution which supports a variety of artists throughout the world. "The idea," says Abella de Duncan, who currently lives and teaches in Oklahoma City, "is to use the time and place to create and perform the piece that speaks of our deep roots and which we will premier in Israel." Her daughter Vanessa Paloma is a successful vocalist living in Los Angeles, who sings a range of Sephardi, Mizrahi and other musical repertoire.


Poet/writer and translator Brenda Serotte, who is preparing a memoir about growing up a Turkish Sephardic Jew in the Bronx, has just published the first fragment of her story in the new quarterly magazine, Hopscotch. A publication about Latin American/Hispanic cultures, edited by Ilan Stavans, you can read Serotte's Turkish Days online at Two of her poems appear in Ivri-NASAWI's new Poetry Anthology.

Events & Meetings

* NY Sat., May 13, 5:30 pm The Arab World Film Society & Alwan Present Premiere

The English Sheikh and The Yemeni Gentleman premieres from Yemen and the UK. The director, Bader Ben Hirsi, will attend to introduce and discuss the movie, which is in English and Arabic with English subtitles. This lyrical documentary follows London-born Bader Ben Hirsi as he discovers his ancestral home under the guiding hand of the eccentric Tim Mackintosh-Smith, who has been living in the ancient Yemeni city of Sana'a for 16 years. Cantor Film Center @ NYU on 36 East 8th St at University Place, New York. Subway: N, R to 8th St, 6 to Astor Place. General admission $8, $5 for students with valid ID and senior citizens. Hotline at (212)807-9420 or or

* LA Sun, May 14, 11 am-6 pm, Israel Festival, Pan-Pacific Park

For the fourth year in a row, Ivri-NASAWI will have a Sephardi/Mizrahi booth and activities as part of the day-long Israel Festival. The event includes a wide range of free entertainment and activities for children, along with exhibits, food booths, carnaval rides, and a special program organized Yiddishkeit L.A. Come visit the Ivri-NASAWI booth, which will include contemporary art by Lidia Shaddow, Nahid Hagigat and Dafna Shalom. Free entry, parking $5. Pan-Pacific Park is located two blocks east of Fairfax Ave. on 3rd St.

* NY Mon., May 15, 7:30 Conversations on Roots & Identity 4

Ivri-NASAWI's monthly encounter series has been successful in attracting creative intellectuals to discuss Sephardic and Middle Eastern issues. The next gathering will take place on Monday, May 15, 7:30 pm, at the home of anthropologist Gloria Levitas, 230 W. 79th St., 91S, at the intersection of Broadway. RSVP (212) 362-9074. The questions to be addressed: How do we cultivate a spiritual practice, or live only with a secular or tribal identity? And is it possible, and desirable, to retain memories, stories from the past, that are continuously meaningful to us today?

* DC-Baltimore Tues., May 16, 6:30 - Ivri-NASAWI Meeting 2

Writers, artists, performers, Sephardi/Middle Eastern activists and others are invited to participate in the founding and creation of the newest chapter of Ivri-NASAWI, devoted to producing and supporting Sephardi/Mizrahi cultures, as well as creating cross-cultural Middle Eastern encounters. Georgetown University, Intercultural Center, Room 119. RSVP, call/email Leah Harris, (703) 465-0911 or .

* L.A. Fri., May 19, 7:30 - UCLA's Near Eastern Ensemble Offers Annual Concert

The university's Near Eastern Ensemble, directed by Ali Jihad Racy, will perform its annual free concert on Friday, May 19, 7:30 pm in Schoenberg Auditorium, featuring guest performances by Los Angeles' greatest Middle Eastern artists. Dr. racy is also appearing will the UCLA's World Jazz Ensemble, directed by Steven Loza and Ali Jihad Racy. A native of Lebanon and one of the great Middle Eastern performers currently living in Southern California, Racy has performed with Simon Shaheen, Ofra Haza, Sting, the Chronos Quartet and Omar Faruk Tekbilek. He leads his own Ensemble this fall in the Poetry of Peace concert, September 10 at John Anson Ford Amphitheater, where he will renew a collaboration with flamenco guitarist Gino D'Auri. UCLA, Parking Lot 2 ($5).

* L.A. Sat, May 27, 7:00 - Kan Zaman Spring Concert

Cal Poly Pomona's Organization of Arab Students will present the Kan Zaman Community Ensemble, featuring Classical and Folkloric Arabic Music. Saturday, May 27. The evening begins with a reception at 7 pm; performance starts at 8. Cal Poly Pomona Campus, University Theatre, 3801 W Temple Ave, Pomona CA 91768. Kan Zaman web site at Tickets:  $30, $20, $15. To order tickets call (626) 231-7561 or (909) 862-8579, or by email: 

* L.A. Wed, May 31, 6:00  and June 8, 6:00 - Open Tent's 2nd Annual Middle East Film Fest: A Cultural ConversationForbidden Marriages

Middle Eastern cultures and identity are at the center of this public program organized by Open Tent. Sponsored in part by, Open Tent is a coalition of organizations, individuals and businesses, in Southern California and beyond. Coalition members for the second annual Middle East Film Fest: A Cultural Conversation include the Center for Near Eastern Studies at UCLA, the Los Angeles Public Central Library, Orange County Cousins Club, Casey Kasem, Human Rights Advocates International (Barry Fisher), the International Rescue Committee, Ivri-NASAWI, the Workmen's Circle and Arab Films Distribution. Films include the Los Angeles premiere of Edward Said's controversial BBC special, In Search of Palestine, and Michel Khelife's fascinating Forbidden Marriages in the Holy Land. Also included is a short comic documentary about Iranians in London, But You Speak Such Good English. For more information or to join Open Tent, please contact co-directors Natasha Khamashta (213) 486-1455*, or Jordan Elgrably (323) 650-3157. The official web page is

On May 31, the first part of the Film Fest will begin with a reception at 6 pm at the Los Angeles Public Central Library, Mark Taper Auditorium, 630 W. 5th St, in downtown Los Angeles. The event is free, parking is $5 (enter garage on Flower). Part II of the Middle East Film Fest takes place on Thursday, June 8, 6 pm, at UCLA's Fowler Museum of Cultural History. It is also free to the public (parking in Lot 4, $5; enter UCLA at Westwood Plaza from Sunset Blvd.) and also begins with a reception, followed by a screening and public dialogue. (Image from Forbidden Marriages in the Holy Land.)

*Open Tent seeks additional volunteers; please call during office hours


New and Renewing Members Join Ivri-NASAWI

A warm welcome to professional and lay members who have just joined, renewed or upgraded with Ivri-NASAWI, including writer Irena Klepfisz (New York), performer Gérard Edery (NY),  Dr. Ramon Tasat (DC), attorney Jeffrey Weinstein (DC). Welcome to new Advisory Board member Elio Zarmati (Los Angeles).  To join, contact membership co-chair Susan Chatman, email

### About Ivri-NASAWI ###

Founded in 1996 by Jordan Elgrably, Victor Perera, Ammiel Alcalay and Ruth Behar, joined by Ella Habiba Shohat in 1998, I-N, New Association of Sephardi/Mizrahi Artists & Writers International, links together a wide range of Sephardi/Mizrahi creative professionals, as well as other people from the Middle East, and those working in related disciplines. Ivri-NASAWI is an advocacy organization promoting these cultures in the mainstream and non-Jewish communities. Our members support the natural pluralism of the Mediterranean, North Africa and the Middle East. See, or call (323) 650-3157.

Copies of NASAWI News are available with membership, or you can order individual copies @ $4.95 + .55 postage, or receive a 40% discount with the order of 10 or more plus priority postage.  Annual essential members dues are $55. Professional and Associates $75/up. Supporting Members $275/up. Benefactors, $605/up.  Become a sponsor of a valuable cultural program and make a difference:  among upcoming collaborative projects are

              * Open Tent's Middle East Film Fest: A Cultural Conversation LA
              * Reading Series 2000 Bay Area
              * Conversations on Roots and Identity NY
              * Poetry of Peace: Middle East Arts Festival
              * New Sephardic Cultural Center project in Los Angeles

         New Assoc. of Sephardi/Mizrahi Artists & Writers Intl.
         1033 N. Orlando Ave., Los Angeles CA 90069
         in New York, 212.362.9074
         in SF Bay Area, 415.338.1706

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