KCET has enlisted Palestinian-American comedian Aron Kader and Jewish-Israeli actress/philanthropist Naomi Ackerman to recap season two of "Arab Labor," providing insight into the cultural nuances depicted in the award-winning sitcom.
Here's their take on season two, episode two, "Moving."
This is a pivotal episode that introduces a new cast of characters that will change the trajectory of the entire series. When Amjad moves into an all-Jewish building, it adds another dimension to the show, providing more opportunities for social commentary surrounding race, culture, and prejudice.
One joke that I found very funny could easily be overlooked: The Arab movers arrive at Amjad's new apartment complex in an old, beat-up truck and complain that the address they were given didn't mention a landmark, only a street name and number. A lot of the areas where Arabs live don't use numbered addresses; they use landmarks like "green trash can." I have experienced this myself in the Arab world.
We are then introduced to the characters that will create many misunderstandings throughout the season. Amjad offers a framed picture as a gift to the building that turns out to be an insult to his new Jewish neighbors because of its depiction of the Al Aqsa mosque. Some believe that the Al Aqsa mosque is built on top of where the temple mount used to be, which is considered to be the holiest Jewish shrine from antiquity. There are people that want the mosque torn down so that they can rebuild the temple for the Jewish people. Of course, this would cause a major fight since the Al Aqsa mosque is considered the third holiest site in Islam after Mecca and Medina. All three major religions have legends attached to that spot, but one major belief is that it's where Abraham sacrificed his son Isaac.
One other thought I had watching as a Palestinian is the phrase, "self-determination." That phrase is used a lot when it comes to being able to move around as you please and not being told where and how you can live by Israelis. Self-determination is likely something Americans take for granted, as we can essentially move anywhere in the country without restrictions. In Israel, there are different territories with different rules, especially around Jerusalem, which is split between Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities.
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.
Like many other cities, Jerusalem is divided into neighborhoods. But because Jerusalem is the heart of the political, religious conflict in the Middle East, this division is taken to an extreme. There are no written rules or laws, but there is a very strong segregation of communities in the city and the suburbs. Jews live in the West and Arabs live in the East; there are no mixed neighborhoods. This segregation is not only between Arabs and Jews, but between religious Jews and secular Jews as well.
In this episode, Amjad, in his desperation for equal social services -- like water pressure, organized parking, beautiful parks -- moves his family from the familiar Arab village to a Jewish secular neighborhood in west Jerusalem. He is the only Arab in the building, if not the entire neighborhood. He wants and tries desperately to make a good impression, fit in, and not be "too Arab," but of course, the more he tries not to be the stereotype of his people, the more he becomes it.
Ironically, you will find in this building every Israeli stereotype in the book: the army vet, the one that fears Arabs and blatantly hates them, the ones who say they are evolved and enlightened but are as racist as the next, and the real friend who doesn't care if Amjad is an Arab. Together they struggle with the idea that an Arab is moving into the building, try to be civilized, and are confronted with their own ignorance and misconceptions.
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.