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Home > Life & Culture > Literature
Susan Nathan: An Israeli Jew in a Muslim town
IMEU, Mar 27, 2006

To interview Susan Nathan contact the IMEU at 510-451-2600 or

Susan Nathan moved from her home in Tel Aviv to Tamra, an Arab town, after learning about the Palestinians.
Susan Nathan had wanted to move to Israel since she was 12-years-old.

Decades later, after raising her two children and enduring a divorce, the London native followed the Jewish Law of Return and moved to Tel Aviv. Nathan, who was raised as an ardent Zionist, believed that Palestinians only existed in the West Bank and Gaza - and were to be feared.

Shortly after her arrival, Nathan realized she had not been taught the whole story. She discovered Palestinians lived in Israel, but as second class citizens.

"I not only came out of my society but I came out of my find this discrimination against Palestinians in Israel. It was a huge shock," she said. "I realized that Jewish, Israeli life, was built on something fragile. It wasn't based on reality."

Nathan decided to make a dramatic change in her own life. The former AIDS counselor packed her bags and left her comfortable, middle class Tel Aviv home to live in Tamra, a Palestinian Muslim town in Israel. What emerged from her journey was a 336 page book documenting her experiences called
"The Other Side of Israel, My Journey Across the Arab/Jewish divide."

"It's a very shocking shattering thing, to see everything you believe, your life, the way you've built your life collapse before you," she said.

But, learning about Palestinians made Nathan's move to Tamra easier, despite the objections of her friends and family.

"I didn't really find that I had a lot to get used to," she said. "This whole overemphasis in the west…- that their religion is different - is nonsense. It is something that is said to put us in fear. And I think by living here I am showing every day of my life that it's rubbish."

Over the past four years Nathan has become a part of her new Palestian family and now calls Tamra home. But, living with the Palestinian citizens of Israel has given her an insider's perspective on the lack of equal rights with their Jewish counterparts.

Tamra, like other non-Jewish towns in Israel, is neglected, says Nathan. The village is grossly overpopulated and there has been no government investment in infrastructure. There are 25,000 residents living on 4,000 dunums (one dunum is a quarter of a mile) of land.

"This is (like) a refugee camp," she adds. "Refugee camps don't have proper sewage…in 58 years of the [Israeli] State there has not been one shekel spent on Arab improvement. Arab homes are self financed."

By 2020 420,000 Palestinians are projected to be squeezed onto the same amount of land, while nearby Jewish towns expand into Tamra. Nathan describes the situation as "explosive," predicting that housing and land ownership discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel means the "next Intifada is only a hair's breath away."

Learn more about Susan Nathan:

Purchase her book.

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