Born in Baghdad, Prof. Sasson Somekh was a prominent expert on Arabic literature, and a notable author and activist. He passed away this week.
By Raanan Shemesh Forshner
Prof. Sasson Somekh, one of Israel’s most prominent experts on Arabic literature and a lifelong proponent of peace, passed away this week in Tel Aviv. A winner of the Israel Prize, Somekh was a notable poet, author, translator, and activist.
Born in Baghdad in 1933 to an educated, secular family, Somekh developed an interest in Arabic culture at an early age, publishing Arabic poetry as a pupil. At age 17, he was forced to leave Iraq and arrived in Israel. The formative encounter between Arabic and Hebrew culture, and his decision to maintain loyalty to both, led him to form a connection between the two. “The task of mediating between the two great cultures, the two sister languages, has become his life’s work,” wrote Mizrahi poet and literary critic Almog Behar.
Somekh’s storied academic career often overshadowed his political biography. Shortly after arriving in Israeli, during one of his visits to the impoverished neighborhood of Wadi Salib in Haifa, he saw posters for the Israeli Communist Party (Maki). “Those posters astonished me,” he would say years later. “Although I knew that the Communist Party, whose representatives were already in the first Knesset, also participates in the elections, seeing such posters, and in Arabic, filled my heart with joy. I am from a country that not only prevents the left from acting openly, it also occasionally sends some of the leaders of this party – members of various ethnic groups, including Jews – to the gallows.”
On joining the Communist Party, Somekh wrote: “There was discrimination in every party aside from Maki, so I joined the party out of the belief that treating Arabs as second-class citizens is not the way to solve their problem.”
Alongside other Arab Jewish authors, poets, and artists who were also connected to the Communist Party, including Sami Michael, David Tsemah, and Shimon Ballas, Somekh continued to write in his mother-tongue in Al-Ittihad, Maki’s Arabic newspaper. Somekh also published in the Arabic literary journal Al- Jadid, which included other prominent Arab Jewish writers as well as Palestinian writers and thinkers like Emile Habibi, Tawfiq Ziad, and Mahmoud Darwish.
Like many other Arab Jewish writers who belonged to Maki, Somekh left the party during the 1960s, yet continued...Read More