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a young Golda Meir
photo appearing in TheTablet

Ray Hanania
photo by Rhonda Spivak

Romeo and Juliet Set in Jerusalem: Exploring Jewish-Arab relationships-Did Golda Meir Have an Affair with a Wealthy Arab banker?

by Rhonda Spivak, November 30,2011

Steven Schipper’s Romeo and Juliet currently playing at the Manitoba Theatre Centre is not the first time that this play by Shakespeare has been set in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but it is surely the first time Winnipeggers have had a chance to consider this re-adaptation of Romeo and Juliet.

According to the MTC’s Ovation publication, in 1994, the Khan and El-Qasaba theatres mounted an Israeli-Palestinian co-production in which Romeo is a Palestinian and Juliet is an Israeli. This would have taken place within a year after the signing of the Oslo-Accords in1993.

When I first heard of this re-interpretation of Romeo and Juliet I thought of three different Jewish-Arab  whom I have encountered in Israel.

A Jewish Israeli woman I worked with many years ago when I articled as a lawyer at the Association for Civil Rights in Jerusalem had a Palestinian lover, and she spoke to him quite regularly throughout the work day, usually when she was outside the office out for a smoke. I remember hearing her slip back and forth form Arabic to Hebrew, and vice-versa. I don’t know what ever became of the relationship.

As a journalist I heard of an unusual situation of a Jewish woman who lived in Jerusalem but would travel back and forth to meet her Palestinian lover in the territories, with her children and extended family not knowing. I also had a friend who was a gay Jewish Israeli who had a Palestinian lover in Bethlehem, who would walk through the mountains to see him—that was in 1996 before Israel put up its security fence when it would have been easier to do this, but still not that easy. At the J-Street conference in Washington last year I met a Palestinian Christian from Bethlehem and a Jewish American woman who were getting married, but living in the states as it would be easier to do so than remain in Bethlehem. That is not a surprising decision since I expect that it would be more comfortable for both the Arab and Jewish partners to live outside of the Middle East.

Although the percentage of Jewish-Palestinian marriages or relationships is not very large, it does exist and my memory of the statistics are that it is more often a relationship between a Jewish woman and a Palestinian man than vice-versa.

And yes, there are even rumours that Golda Meir once had an affair with a wealthy Arab banker Albert Pharoun, who had left his family and was living in Haifa. There is a 207 paperback book I have never heard of up until I found it while surfing the net, entitled The Palestinian Lover by Selim Nassib.The book is about this rumoured affair between Meir and Pharoun. From 1929 to 1936, according to a rumours (corroborated by his family, though not her family), Golda and the Arab banker saw each, other secretly reveling in each other’s company even though they had diametrically opposed visions for what was to be the future of the British mandate of Palestine. There is a rather fascinating article in Tablet Magazine about Golda’s s rumoured affair. According to the Tablet, the Lebanese author of the novel heard about this affair from Pharoun’s grandson. The Tablet's article examines how the novel coame to be written and much of it may be true.

Palestinian comedian Ray Hanania wrote a column about his marriage to his Jewish wife Alison, entitled "The Challenges of Arab Jewish matrimony" that appeared in the Jerusalem Post.

Interestingly, Hanania wrote that every week he received an email form Jews and Arabs asking him for advice on how to make their relationships and marriages work.

As to the advice he gives, Hanania wrote:

"I tell them it’s simple. Be honest. Accept the fact that we don’t have to see eye-to-eye, and that we can differ on political issues in the Middle East, but also be able to show compassion for the other side.

"That’s the toughest thing for Palestinians and Israelis to do. We hate each other so much that we can’t fathom living together. So when we brutalize each other, we can justify it in our blindness to the reality around us.

‘We also keep a sense of humor, and use that humor to respond to the few moments that have been ugly. And there have only been a few. Some relatives ostracized us from their open house because I am Palestinian.

"On the other side, people constantly ask me if it’s true that I married "a Jew" and if so, why.

"You have to be able to recognize that we’re human beings first, and no one is perfect. That means our human frailties make us question sanity and appear to hate. Average people do stupid things when they just don’t understand.

"But that’s what our Palestinian-Jewish marriage does. It forces us to understand.

"It forces us to see the other the way we want to be seen. It forces us to be compassionate even after angry outbursts."

In sum, MTC’s production of Romeo and Juliet set in Jerusalem is a timely and relevant exploration  of an aspect of a Jewish-Arab relations which is not often examined, but certainly does exist.

MTC’s Romeo and Juliet runs until December 17. For more info or to buy tickets go to:






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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.