Veterans: Play it again, Pam

Pam Peled’s book examining the way Israel is treated by the world media is soon to be published.

Peled 311 (photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
Peled 311
(photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
Pam Peled, whose first novel For the Love of God and Virgins is just about to be published, is passionate about Israel. Born in South Africa, she came alone to this country at 17 and when she hears it described as “an apartheid state” she is furious and saddened.
“I grew up in apartheid and ran away from it, so I can speak with authority and refute these accusations,” says the petite mother of three daughters who lives in Kfar Saba.
In fact it’s the totally distorted version of Israel presented in the world’s media that is the theme of her book. In a way Peled feels that she has been writing her book for decades; the catalyst was the murder of her former flatmate, Eli Miron, who was one of nine Israelis killed in Sinai in 1988.
“I was living in Jerusalem working as an English teacher and he was the perfect flatmate.
He was an archeologist and tour guide and he was murdered leading a group of tourists to Egypt,” she says.
In the book the narrator is married to Eli; his death transforms the young, pregnant woman into a grieving widow. In reality Pam is happily married to Martin, but many elements in the book are based on her own life.
MAKING ALIYA She grew up in a strongly Zionist family, which in her parents’ world didn’t actually mean coming to live in Israel. As soon as she finished high school, she registered at the English department of the Hebrew University and moved to the student dormitories on Mount Scopus to begin her studies.
“The English department was world class,” she says.
It was here she developed an admiration for Shakespeare which was later to serve her well as inspiration for her doctoral thesis at Bar- Ilan University. Pam’s novel opens with the line: “William Shakespeare is buried in Jerusalem.” He is too, although there is obviously an unexpected twist.
LIFE SINCE ALIYA Even before completing her bachelor’s degree she began teaching English and has been doing that ever since. She married Martin from England in 1985, and their three daughters are now 23, 22 and 20.
Several years ago an American publisher brought out her first book, a nonfiction look at life through literature called How to Have a Husband and Live with your Lover (at the same time). Thrilled to become a published writer, she was horrified when the (Jewish) publisher told her she wanted to use her book to advertise other in-house publications on conspiracy theories (for example a book “proving” that Shimon Peres was behind Yitzhak Rabin’s murder) and she decided she could not be a part of this and let the book go.
This time her book is published by a small independent Canadian publisher, MLP (Miriam’s Legacy Publishing), an imprint of Mantua Publishers. As well as examining the way Israel is treated by the world media, the novel is an exciting and very personal account of living here and a gripping love story. The title alludes to the war cry often chanted by terrorists as they prepare to die and the hope that adoring virgins will reward them in heaven.
“There is so much of me in the book that it really didn’t take me long to write,” she says.
Like her, the protagonist is South African, loves Shakespeare, teaches English and is a feminist. She also plays a handy game of tennis and is less good at bridge. “Everything that I do informed my writing,” she explains. “In the ’90s I took groups of tourists to Stratford-on-Avon and lectured on the plays; some scenes from my book are set in this picturesque town. I teach Shakespeare and feminism at Beit Berl College and those subjects are in the book. At the IDC I teach in the communications and government departments – so I deal with those issues as well.”
OTHER WORK Recently she has found another outlet for her Shakespeare passion, lecturing about the Bard on cruise ships. In exchange for her knowledge, she and her husband get a luxury cruise, all expenses paid. “I see the cruise as an opportunity to explain about Israel,” she says.
“Many of the passengers are educated and retired, but lots have never met an Israeli. So I mention Shylock, for instance, and focus on how topical The Merchant of Venice still is. All these centuries later the Jew is still on the outside.
I examine what keeps the Jew or the black or the woman so firmly ‘the other.’ This is what makes literature so compelling.”
She also works on a voluntary basis for the English Speaking Residents’ Association magazine, a glossy bimonthly publication reaching thousands of Anglos, and she feels that her work as a reporter spills over into her novel.
BEST THING ABOUT ISRAEL “I’m just so happy to live in a vibrant country where I feel I belong. I like not being ‘the other.’”