‘My thoughts will be always free': Susan Nathan
Susan Nathan, the Israeli writer, mired in controversy, had a deportation notice slapped against her recently for allegedly violating visa rules. The High Court single bench has asked the Police Commissioner, G Sparjankumar, who is also the Foreigner’s Registration Officer to deport the writer to Israel. The 62 year old British born Jewish writer is currently under ‘house arrest’ at Sree Nivas, Kozhikode, Kerala. During her one and half year stay in Kozhikode, her world renowned book- “The Other Side of Israel” was translated into Malayalam by Abdulla Manima and published by ‘Other Books’.
Her book fearlessly exposed the neglect, oppression, entrenched segregation and discrimination faced by the indigenous Arab population in Israel. In a resounding, unwavering voice she revealed to the world the little known intangible wall that existed between the Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs and demanded for equality and justice for all Jewish citizens irrespective of their religious and cultural differences.
She is known to be a rebel and a non conformist who does not fear to speak her mind. She spent a few years of her life in the apartheid era South Africa where her father was born. Even at the age of 16, she questioned the rigid rules of apartheid that existed in South Africa.
After her divorce in 1999 nothing pulled her back when she left her comfort zone and lived as the only Jew amongst the 25,000 odd Muslims in the Muslim dominated and neglected town of Tamara. Critically evaluating the Jewish government’s policies she wrote about the country she loved as a land that “enforces a system of land apartheid between… two populations,” just as South Africa had. Time has taken a toll on her physical self but has failed to touch the indomitable spirit encased within.
For her stand against the Israeli government and her pro Arab and humanitarian views she has been looked upon with suspicion and skepticism and for some time she has been under the intelligence scanner. Though conspicuously, expiry of visa has been sighted as the reason for deportation, after detailed enquiries, the police revealed that her actions, movement and interactions with various individuals and groups have been considered to be ambiguous, debatable and suspicious.
Susan Nathan, who is currently working on her new book, in an exclusive, most recent, detailed interview with Niranjalli Varma, Copy Editor doolnews talks about her case, her predicament and her political views regarding Israel, Iran and the world at large.
Recently a deportation notice was issued against you. What are the charges filed against you and what do you think are the reasons behind this action?
It is because I have overstayed my visa. Perhaps the police wouldn’t have told you that it is not a criminal offense to overstay your visa. I can’t reveal or disclose much right now as I have to protect myself and my case. I am sure you would appreciate that.
We are one of the world’s fourth largest military power and we have one of the best intelligence. I love my country. I am very proud to be an Israeli but I am very ashamed of my government’s policy
Every story has a twist. Sometimes you have to hold on and wait till the truth comes out. Because then you get to see what you are really looking for. I don’t want to do or say anything that would endanger me or my case. All I would say is this – the truth will come out in the end.
I believe in the Indian judicial system. You have a very strong and good judicial system which is partly a continuation of the British legal system. The British judicial system is also known all over the world and your system is based on that. And I really do believe that justice will be done in this case.
Has the police imposed any kind of restraint or control upon you?
Yes, there wasn’t until now. The police say I am under surveillance here and that it is to protect me. But I say I am under ‘house arrest’. I am suffering from various ailments. And I need to be on regular doses of very powerful drugs. The medicines should be taken with no interruption so as to maintain and balance my health condition. I ran out of medicines and I had to go to the pharmacy to collect it. However, the police commissioner said, quite promptly, that I am not allowed to go out and get them. Excuse me! India, but in every other language around the world this is called house arrest.
Don’t tell me I am under surveillance. I am not a fool. I am a very experienced person. I have seen South Africa under apartheid, all my family live in South Africa and I have been in war stricken regions. If you are not allowed someone their life saving drugs it’s a disgrace. It’s a disgrace to your democracy, it’s a disgrace to your police system, it’s a disgrace to India and it’s a disgrace to state of Kerala. Why would tourists want to come here? Believe me, the word is going around the world.
What is going on now is nothing when compared to what I have faced in my life, be it in South Africa or Israel. This is nothing. This is like Winnie the Pooh’s tea party. There was no problem in extending my visa and there is no problem in extending my visa again. There is some kind of concoction from the side of the police.
Have you been under any sort of pressure or stress from any political or religious group?
No, not at all. All I would say is that a very eminent Prof of Psychiatry who works in Belgium has written to my lawyer stating that I am suffering from very severe post traumatic stress disorder. Which means that I don’t sleep at night, I become very nervous or afraid when I see a police car on the streets, I become hyper vigilant of people who visit my home, I am over suspicious of people and my response to very innocent questions could be at times aggressive and defensive.
That is what post traumatic stress disorder does. It affects your concentration, it would take considerable amount of time before I overcome it and I need specialist care here. I don’t want to talk more about that. But I would like to say it destroyed my family, it destroyed my children.
This did not happen as an after effect of Israel. I am here. It started since I came here. I am not the kind of person who would get post traumatic stress disorder from war. It is true that the war has broken me. But that is not what has affected me.
What have affected me are the stories about me that have been woven out of thin air and the cloud of suspicion which they can’t back up with any solid proof. This is what has destroyed me. But that doesn’t mean that I won’t fight on.
The correct title of my book is “The Other Side of Israel: My Journey across the Jewish – Arab Divide”. They have changed the title to “Israel: Athmavanchanakalude Puravrutham” (Israel: The Chronicle of Self Deception).
It is a poorly reproduced book. It is been looked up by experts at the Calicut University and by Dr M K Muneer, who would be rendering a beautiful version of the original English version, bringing out the genuine spirit with which it was written. I think, that is terribly important.
One of the things that I think all writers including me insist upon is that, their work be translated by professional translators of the highest standard. Translations should reflect the exact feeling, emotion and action. The spirit cannot be revived merely by a verbatim recreation.
The translator should translate it as I write it, retaining the true essence with which it was written. It is so important. I have learnt a lesson from this miserable experience here in Kerala. If your title is changed around it could be used to suit other people agenda’s and I would say that is what has happened here.
What is the impact that your book “The other side of Israel” has had upon the world?
This book is the first book ever to come out of the Middle East which reveals the attitude and the mindset that exists between Arabs born in Israel and the Jews in Israel. It talks about the discrimination faced by the Arabs under the Israeli law. There are many endless pages written about Gaza and the West Bank but this is the first book which tells the reality of life in Israel. The book is so highly acclaimed around the world. It is even recommended in some universities in the world as a text for compulsory reading in the Middle Eastern Studies department.
This book has been a considerable marker for the Palestinian community in Israel because it has brought them on the world map. It has caught the attention of the rest of the world. They are no longer the forgotten people. The book has already been translated into 9 languages and there are offers for more translations. I have been approached and discussions are being held for making a movie based on the book.
What most people don’t understand is that if you are Jewish there is tremendous freedom of speech in Israel. I can say, Israel- my country, is a true democratic country for the Jews. Therefore that means it is less of a democracy for the Palestinians Arab citizens of Israel. I am not harassed in Israel , there are many Jews who agree with me, write to me, call me, and there are some who even want to interview me.
The truth always speaks for itself. Whether I have written a book or haven’t written a book the truth is there for all to be seen. All I did really was to throw back the cover from people’s eyes and to let them see the truth that is there in front of them and it has made a big impact in Israel.
Of course there were some people who wanted to kill me. But you find such people anywhere in the world. You must remember that Israel is a country that has extremists, just as India has maoists and naxalities and Britain has extremist Islamic groups the same way Israel is a country of extremists. The world has become a world of extremism and we are fighting against this new world.
That is why I am so upset and sad to have been put into such a ludicrous situation by the state of Kerala and by the state’s police. There haven’t told me what the actual charges are that have been raised against me. But I think the truth shall be aired at the right place at the right time.
As I have Jewish citizenship, the Israeli and the British embassy are not permitted to interfere under the law in this case. But you can be sure somewhere along the line, at some point, something will come about.
Could you shed some light upon the book that you are currently working on?
“Thoughts have wings and no man may imprison them” the words by Ibn Rasheed are the quotes that shall appear on the first page of my new book. I am currently collecting all my notes together for my new book. The book is not about the Middle East.
You can do what you want to do with me, but my thoughts will be always free.
Would it be breaking any visa rules if you write and make speeches here in India?
I am allowed to make notes in my journal. The day I am not allowed to make notes in my journal is the day a volcano would go up here.
Oh yes, of course! But I don’t see it happening immediately and I don’t see it happening in my life time. I see it more as a generational thing. The attitudes of the people are changing. If I look at my children who are in their 30’s and 40’s I realize that their attitude is completely different from those women in the 60’s or my age group.
I am a bit of an exception to the women of my age group. There are many Israeli’s who will think like me. Many of us in Israel let our voices be heard. We will not support a fascist government. However, many people are still afraid to stick their head out as they are worried as to what would happen to them.
What I believe is that ‘if you stay silent in the face of evil then you are complicit’. It is very simple.
Will there be a major people’s protest movement in Israel or Palestine in favour of peace?
Yes definitely! Even if there is resistance from the government or even the intelligence there shall be a people’s protest movement. If you keep your mouth shut you are complicit.
Who has been your source of inspiration?
I take a lot of strength from my South African friends including Nelson Mandela who is a personal friend and Winnie Mandela . In my youthful years I have been enormously influenced by Gandhi. And you shouldn’t underestimate Gandhi’s teachings which are still being practiced in various parts of the world. Gandhi’s time will never be over. He continues to have an impact on the youth.
I also take my strength from Aung San suu kyi and Shirin Ibadi, especially from Shirin because I believe as she believes that in the end the truth will be brought out. The truth cannot be eclipsed forever. If you know what the truth is and you are determined to bring the truth out you will win. If you collapse and cry and run back home then evil will win.
You have been branded by some as an anti Israeli. Are you anti Israel? Do you think Israel had a hand in the September 11 attack?
Oh! No… Good God no… I want to make it very clear in this interview that I love my country. I am very proud to be an Israeli but I am very ashamed of my government’s policy. And I make that clear. The world is at times obsessed with saying that Israel is behind this and that. It is nonsense. Do you think we have little men dressed in black scuttling around the world planning bomb attacks in this place and that?
I am very proud that I am living in a country that can protect and take care of me at the time of war. God forbid there should be a war. We are one of the world’s fourth largest military power and we have one of the best intelligence. And I am very proud that I have a country that can take care me.
Jews as a community have faced immense atrocities at the time of Hitler’s rule. Isn’t it natural for them to desire peace more than anyone else on this earth?
Yes, the Jews have faced a lot including my family which is why I reiterate time and again that war and oppression cannot be the legacy of the people of Israel. Is it not enough that we ourselves come from families that have suffered so much and that cannot be our legacy to the world.
Our legacy to the world must be peace, education, cultural exchange, sharing of scientific knowledge and the like. These are all the things that one would desire from a properly democratic country. This should be the legacy of Israel. I don’t want to see more young people die at war. No one likes to see that. I don’t want to see people die not only in Israel but also in Palestine. I don’t want anyone to suffer. I don’t approve of any kind of extremism.
When did you get involved in Middle Eastern Politics?
I remember the first time I stared writing my book I was deeply interested in Middle Eastern politics. I have always been interested in politics in general. Politics has been my passion since I was 11.
By the time I was 11 I understood there was a link between politics and poverty. You can’t show me another person in this world who would have made that link at that age. Dr Afif Safieh who was the ambassador to the Palestinian authority and who was long time ambassador to UK , Washington and Moscow had been a mentor to me. He taught me to believe and understand that in politics and negotiation you must always take the middle path.
This is why I understand India’s politics so well. India always takes the middle path be it with its relation with Afghanistan, Iran, the Middle East or the Arabs. It is very important that it doesn’t falter from the middle path and take an extreme stand. India is in a very tricky and difficult position for it is very hard to maintain such a stand and I appreciate it.
Today if I am a free person, I would say the relationship with Afghanistan and Iran is crucial. I would also say that Israel’s future relationship with Iran is also crucial. To stir up or concoct things out of thin air when you are not 100 percent certain is very dangerous. Mr Bush claimed there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that the war would only last eight weeks. The likes of Mr Bush are very dangerous.
What is your stand regarding Iran?
I am supporting Iran. I come from a country that the world knows has nuclear armaments. How can I deny the same right to develop nuclear power to another country? How do we know for certain that the nuclear power is not meant for peaceful purposes?
Prof Juan Cole, one of the world’s greatest experts on Farsi language once mentioned in a mail that many of the things that the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been misinterpreted. For example, he once said in his speech that ‘we will push the Jews into the sea’. According to the Prof this is not what he meant or said at all.
I think it’s very wrong for any government Jewish or otherwise to become hysterical over what people say. It is not what people say that matters it is what people do. Therefore I am taking it all very calmly. That’s what I suggest the rest of the world should do too.
Doolnews tenders apology to Susan Nathan and the readers
Doolnews sincerely apologizes for the error that has occurred in the headline of the interview published on Susan Nathan on March 2,2012. We tender this apology as the writer feels that the headline was ‘sensationalized and deliberately misused’. The headline “Susan Nathan revolts against Israel even in the face of deportation” has been misinterpreted. The word Israel refers to Israel government and policies and not Israel the country. It is understood that the headline has been ambiguous creating misunderstandings and misinterpretations of her views. We had no intentions to malign the image of the writer Susan Nathan. Susan Nathan has made it clear that she is not against her country Israel instead she disapproves of certain policies of her country so as to ensure equality and justice amongst all the citizens of Israel. Our intentions were to highlight her fearlessness in her fight for a just cause. If the article has hurt the sentiments or emotions of the author or the readers we would like to extend our sincere apologies for the same.