Palestinian-American comedian Aron Kader and Jewish-Israeli actress/philanthropist Naomi Ackerman shed some light on what you may have missed in the latest episode of "Arab Labor."
Amjad decides to go to a Halloween party with Meir and ends up being kidnapped by Palestinian radicals. Bushra is upset from the get-go that Amjad is going out to a Purim celebration since he returned home drunk late last weekend. She tells him to stay home, but he doesn't listen.
Keep in mind Amjad is Muslim and drinking is forbidden, but they are a modern, secular, non-religious family so drinking is not as huge of a deal.
Meir dressed up as a Native American for Purim and Amjad as an Israeli soldier. I wonder if that is a statement about Palestinians being the natives and Jewish Israelis being the cowboys. Amjad should have dressed up as an Arab, which is something I did as a kid since we had that kind of gear around the house. Amjad says he feels powerful in the Israeli uniform and Meir responds, "You've been pretending to be Jewish your entire life."
Some really incompetent Arab kidnappers find Amjad outside the nightclub smoking and attempt to hold him for ransom. They think they can trade him in exchange for Palestinian political prisoners and make a name for themselves in the resistance to liberate Palestine. The two men aren't even sure what they'll gain from it, but they're not doing it for the money. When they find out he isn't a soldier, but a Muslim Arab-Israeli, it ruins their plans.
Poor Amjad thinks that the authorities will take action to save him, but they don't. In this situation, Israeli authorities won't use any resources for a civilian Muslim Arab even though he is an Israeli citizen. The police even tell TV reporters that "it may be a prank" and that calling Amjad a "citizen is stretching it." This is a statement about the second class citizenship that exists in Israel for non-Jewish people. Maybe they would negotiate for a Jewish civilian, but not a Muslim.
Amjad's parents and his wife Bushra are so mad at him for going out drinking and partying that they decide to punish him by not paying a single shekel for his ransom. Even the kidnappers feel bad for him and eventually tell him to go home. Feeling worthless, Amjad tells the kidnappers that he has nowhere to go and tries to stay. In a comically ironic moment, the kidnappers literally have to put a gun to his head to get him to leave.
This episode stresses that Jews and Arabs are not physically different. They have a similar appearance and complexion, and can easily be mistaken for each other. At the end of the day, they're all sons of Abraham, cousins that descended from the same history.
Aron Kader is a Palestinian-American comedian and founding member of The Axis of Evil Comedy Tour that debuted on Comedy Central in 2007. He performs regularly in Hollywood at his home club, The World Famous Comedy Store.
Meir invites Amjad to a Purim party. Purim is kind of a Jewish Halloween where people dress up in costume and party. Amjad is overjoyed to have the opportunity to go to a Jewish event so he leaves his wife and kids behind without a moment's thought.
He decides to attend the party wearing Meir's army reserve uniform. A soldier is a common costume for small children on Purim, but adults who have served in the army and do reserves will seldom, if at all, dress up as a pretend solder. Wearing the army uniform makes Amjad feel invincible. After all, he's always looking for an opportunity to fit in. Meir tells him he's "dressed up as a Jew" his entire life. "This is different," Amjad responds. "This is real and it gives me power!"
Ironically, that source of power later puts him in an extremely vulnerable situation. He's mistaken for a real soldier and kidnapped by two Palestinians and held for ransom. When the kidnappers realize he isn't Jewish, they try to guess his ethnicity.
In Israel there are some minorities that do serve in the army:
• The Bedouins: A traditionally pastoral nomadic Arab tribe.
• The Druze: A monotheistic religious and social community. Their religion is a branch of Shia Islam. The Druze's social customs differ markedly from those of Muslims or Christians. They're known for their close-knit social community, but also for being able to integrate fully in their adopted homelands.
• The Circassians: A group native to Circassia, who were displaced in the course of the Russian conquest of the Caucasus in the 19th century. The term "Circassian" includes the Adyghe and Kabardian people. The Adyghe mainly speak the Adyghe language and Arabic.
It's very rare for Muslims to serve in the Israeli Army, even if they are Israeli citizens. In a country where joining the army is mandatory, there has been a long unsolved debate regarding civil service for non-Jewish citizens.
In the end, Amjad is not only regarded as a second class citizen by his country, but his wife and father, who aren't willing to even give a shekel for him. (A shekel is Israeli currency equivalent to a U.S. quarter.)
Naomi Ackerman is a Jewish-Israeli American. She is the founder and executive director of The Advot Project -- a non-profit organization that uses theater for transformation with incarcerated youth. Naomi draws upon her vast experience as an actress in theater, musicals, films, and television to develop programs that promote peace, change, and encourage self-empowerment.