תגית: etc | Exiled from Babylon | Neri Livneh

Samir Naqqash – Exiled from Babylon | Neri Livneh

Naqqash in 1985: Despite winning prizes for his work, he still felt frustrated and discriminated against. CC: Haaretz.com

Israel was a bitter disappointment to Jewish-Iraqi author Samir Naqqash, who lived most of his life in Petah Tikva – writing brilliant works in Arabic and dreaming of a return to his native country.

Last month, writer Samir Naqqash died in Petah Tikva at the age of 66, after suffering a heart attack. Naqqash was an Iraqi Jew who wrote in Arabic, an author whose greatness was recognized by researchers and by the literary world, but he had few readers. Two weeks before his death, he returned here from Manchester, ostensibly like any good Zionist, and was buried in Israeli soil. But Naqqash was never a Zionist; he spent most of his life full of longing for other countries, and yearned to flee from here. He considered Zionism a racist movement, anti-Mizrahi (referring to Jews of North African or Middle Eastern origin), and saw Israel as a state that turned its back on those who don't belong to, or support, the Ashkenazi establishment, comprised of Jews of European origin.

"All his life, he struggled to find readers for himself," says writer Sami Michael, a native of Baghdad. "A struggle that was doomed to failure from the start, because of his stubbornness and his insistence on continuing to write in Arabic." Naqqash's good friend and teacher, Prof. Shmuel Moreh, says that "Samir used to send his books – by registered mail yet, and of course without a request for payment – to any Arab who greeted him on the street, and that's how he found readers for himself."

Naqqash, who lived most of his life in the Amishav neighborhood in Petah Tikva, very close to the site of the ma'abara (transit camp) tent to which he was brought at the age of 13 with his family, never wrote in Hebrew. All the 13 books that he published, most of them on his own, were written in Arabic, and not simply in standard literary Arabic, which any reader of the language can understand, but in various dialects that had already begun to disappear from the world when Naqqash was a boy. That is why even now – after the Arabic press and Internet sites have become filled with eulogies and praise of his work, repeatedly citing the Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz's description of Naqqash as "one of the greatest artists in writing in Arabic" – we cannot expect his literary output to enjoy a revival after his death.

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