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A Drive to Israel: An Egyptian Meets His Neighbors (Dayan Center Papers, 128) Paperback – January 1, 2003
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The anecdotes, histories, personalities, locations, and laments Salem chose to include provide interesting insights into the Egyptian psyche. Though I found the translation a bit awkward in places, what I read rang true with my own experiences traveling by bicycle in these lands. Ali Salem helped fill in many random details I could never have gathered myself.
Like Steinbeck's "Travels with Charlie," "A Drive to Israel" provides a view into the Egyptian national psyche more than it provides a history, travel log, or travel guide to Israel. It's an interesting yet funny read about a deadly serious region.
In “ April 1994, Ali Salem, a portly, sardonic 47-year-old Egyptian playwright, found himself sweating as he approached the Rafah crossing into Israeli-occupied Gaza. In his sputtering, run-down Jeep, a green 1980 Niva (“the most durable legacy of the Soviet Union” in Egypt, Salem joked), he kept taking the wrong turn and missing the customs checkpoint… .
“Salem conquered his resistance and made it to Israel that day in 1994. His book My Drive to Israel, the account of his journey, sold over 60,000 copies in Egypt, but it also led to considerable trouble for its author, especially after the book was translated into Hebrew in 1995. For an Egyptian writer to visit Israel, and to say, as Salem did, that he wanted to get to know the country better, to overcome his own hatred and fear, was an unthinkable act of disloyalty. Even worse, Salem showed sympathy for Egypt’s old enemy to the north; he admired Israeli society and he liked the Jews he met there.
Salem’s book flew in the face of the overwhelming consensus among Egyptians that the Camp David deal that Sadat courageously brokered and paid for with his life, must remain a mere glorified cease-fire with the eternal enemy, the Zionist state. Under Egyptian law, newspaper editors who have “normal” relations with Israel—professional friendships with Israeli journalists or public figures, for example—risk being fired….. In 2001, he was thrown out of the Egyptian writers’ union. ….Read more ›