The Israeli Consulate in New York recently released a video of 11-year-old American children reading a book written by Gilad Shalit – The Israeli solider held captive by Hamas in Gaza. The short story, composed by Shalit when he was 11, and entitled, “When the Shark and the Fish First Met”, tells a tale of a shark and fish who despite their parent’s instruction befriend one another. At the end of the story their friendship leads to peace between the two species.
The video shows an ethnically and racially diverse group of 5th graders reading the story bestrewed with uplifting illustrations while accompanied by melancholic music. According to David Saranga, Consul for Media and Public Affairs, one of the people who helped organize the Video project, the purpose of the video is to “raise awareness of this humanitarian issue in the United States and around the world. A multiethnic selection of students reading this story of peace and reconciliation sends a powerful message that cannot be ignored.”
My comments, published in France 24’s The Observers:
I find both the story and the video to be really interesting. The story conveys a type of innocence, optimism, imagination, sweetness, and child-like naiveté that is beautiful.
I think that naturally, given what happened to the author 8 years after writing this story, we all assume that Shalit/Israelis are represented in the story by the fish and the Palestinians by the shark. And yet, what is interesting is that if you would read this story to a group of Palestinian children, they would identify themselves with the fish and the Israelis with the shark. In a way, this is one of the main problems in the Arab-Israeli conflict, both people see themselves as helpless fish fighting against ruthless sharks.
I also found interesting that there is a religious messianic element to the tale – in the Jewish tradition it is said that when the messiah will arrive the world will be radically transformed to the degree that swords will be turned into ploughshares, and the wolves shall dwell with the lamb. In this story, instead of the wolf dwelling with the lamb, we have the shark playing with the fish.
Yet such utopianism is what makes this tale so very painful: Reading this story with grown-up eyes, we know that fish and shark will never be friends. At the end of the story with its happy ending, realism kicks in. We see a picture of Shalit with a caption that says: “Two Years have passed and Gilad Shalit is still held in captivity”. It seems that the shark, whom ever he may be, has in the end eaten the fish.
Finally, what I found peculiar and somewhat distasteful about the video is the fact that it is made for Americans. Why are the kids American and not Israelis and Palestinians? It seems to me that this is a video that should have Israeli and Palestinian kids in it. They should be the ones reading the story. They should be the ones watching this video. Why is this the business of the Israeli consulate in NY? Is the Shalit story really lacking in awareness?
It obvious that this has to do with image as with anything else. Israel is trying hard to win minds and heart of the American public. If they only put this type of creative energy into coexistence at home, maybe the shark will eventually play with the fish.
The french version is here.