Arab citizens of Israel have been on the receiving end of government discrimination with regard to funding for social programs, and they still find themselves in the most awkward of social situations in a Jewish state. For the most part, Israeli Arabs do not serve in the country’s most important institution, the army, and — like Catholics in Northern Ireland some 30 years ago — feel themselves very much to be second-class citizens, often regarded with suspicion if not outright hostility.
Yasmina Khadra (the female pseudonym of the male former Algerian army officer Mohammed Moulessehoul), author of The Swallows of Kabul , has written a brave new novel that tries to get to the heart of the Israeli Arab predicament by setting up a situation in extremis. Amin Jaafari is a successful surgeon in a major Tel Aviv hospital, a kind of poster boy for the integration of Israel’s Arab citizens into the mainstream. Thus it comes as an enormous shock when his thoroughly Westernized and wealthy wife, Sihem, blows herself up in a local restaurant, killing herself along with a number of men, women and children. In an irresistible and dark irony, Jaafari operates on some of the surviving victims (one of whom doesn’t want to be touched by an Arab surgeon) before discovering that Sihem was the suicide bomber.