Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Many Lives and Languages of a Palestinian Novel

by Olivia Snaije this article can be found in Publishing Perspectives Sometimes there are heart-warming stories in the publishing world about books that are granted a second life. Susan Abulhawa’s Mornings in Jenin, just out in Arabic, is one such story. Abulhawa, a Palestinian who lives in the United States and works as a scientist published her first novel in 2006 entitled The Scar of David. The small publishing house, which was soon to go out of business, made contact with a French editor, Marc Parent, who bought the rights and brought out the novel in translation with a new name: Mornings in Jenin.  

He also believed the book had great potential and put Abulhawa in touch with the prominent European agent Anna Soler-Pont. From there on, the book took off, becoming an international bestseller, translated into 23 languages. Bloomsbury reedited the book in English in 2010, and Bloomsbury Qatar has just launched the book in Arabic. Film rights have been sold to Film Works Dubai.

Mornings in Jenin is the powerful, gut-wrenching tale of the Abulheja family that takes them from the olive harvest in their village in Palestine through the first terrible violence of the Nakba and into the present, with the struggles, irreparable losses but also tremendous love that the family experiences.

The novel has “…everything in it. One can sense that it is a book inspired by someone’s life. It’s an individual story and a collective story grounded in history,” said Marc Parent. 

Abulhawa was born in Kuwait, lived in the Dar al Tifli orphanage (immortalized in Julian Schnabel’s film Miral) in Jerusalem for three years before moving to the US at age 13.

"I did not grow up around my parents very much,” said Susan Abulhawa in an email interview this month. “In the US, I lived in the foster care system. My childhood was quite unstable and unrooted, owing mostly to family circumstances. I have mostly felt my way through life…”

This rootlessness comes across in Amal, the main character in Mornings in Jenin, who is a gifted student and earns a scholarship to study in the US. Her raw loneliness and seeming aloofness, a result of the emotional trauma she has been through, is described with such intensity that is seems impossible that Amal is not Susan Abulhawa. And yet, as with so many gifted storytellers, Abulhawa says there is only “some of me in her. ‘The Orphanage’ chapter is autobiographical. I put Amal into my life for the three years that I spent at Dar el Tifl. Some of the character names were changed and a few of the events, but most of that chapter is entirely real. There are other parallels between our lives that emerged unintentionally. Amal comes to the US alone and ends up as a single mother without any family around her. That certainly mirrors my life to some extent.”

The point of departure for the novel began in 2001 when Palestinian politician and academic, Hanan Ashrawi wrote to Abulhawa after she read an essay she had written. Ashrawi told her it sounded like she could write “a first-rate biography. We need such a narrative.” The following year Abulhawa traveled to the Jenin refugee camp after hearing reports that a massacre was taking place, and what she witnessed there spurred her to write — as she concludes in her notes at the end of Mornings in Jenin, “the steadfastness, courage, and humanity of the people of Jenin were my inspiration.” The re-edited

But publishing a novel about modern Palestinian history in the West and in particular in the US is not an easy task. There have been few fictional accounts, although some memoirs have resonated with readers and have proven to be more effective than many political essays, such as academic and medical doctor Ghada Karmi’s 2002 In Search of Fatima.

Echoing Hanan Ashrawi, Karmi said at the time that she had noticed “the Jewish narrative of persecution and suffering had been conveyed through the medium of novels, poetry, films and theater. I could understand this. But why wasn’t our story being told? So I thought I’d write the story of my life.”

Although Abulhawa’s novel has been most popular in Europe, she feels it is “slowly reaching people in the US. I think times are changing. There is a new generation of writers who have lived most of their lives in the West and we are telling our story, finally, in our own voice and in Western languages. It has been Israel’s narrative that has dominated literature until recently, which was mostly propelled by Leon Uris’ novel Exodus. It was natural that the first story be that of the conquerors, because they were mostly from Europe and spoke in the languages and nuances of western cultures. They also told the story that the West wanted to hear. It was easier to hear a story of a land without a people. It was a romantic happy ending. The Palestinian narrative was in Arabic. It was unappealing, and it didn’t reach the West in those early years. But our voice is coming of age in Western literature now and I think there is a real interest among readers to hear our story.”

Nevertheless Abulhawa hasn’t had it easy in the US as a Palestinian activist, and in one case came up against shocking verbal abuse by Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz during the Boston Book Festival, which she handled with aplomb.

“Unfortunately, there remains a taboo and active silencing associated with our story,” said Abulhawa. “So, it is probably harder to get a narrative critical of Israel published, but that is becoming less and less so, especially now that there are prominent editors, like Alexandra Pringle of Bloomsbury, with the courage and integrity to take on novels that other editors are afraid to touch because they might challenge the popular narrative that mainstream media pushes.”

When she first began to write her book, her intent was political, in order to bring the Palestinian narrative into Western literature, but she soon got caught up in her characters and became 100% novelist: “…once the characters came to life, my only goal was to be true to them – to tell their story with honesty. I did not think about the audience. I didn’t think about political correctness. I didn’t think about politics at all. It was just about the people in the story. It was about the land and the trees and what they would say if they could speak. I loved every character in the novel, without exception.”

Abulhawa recently contributed a very personal short story to a collection of essays by Palestinian writers that will also be published by Bloomsbury and she is working on a new novel, in between her full-time job as a scientist and a non-profit she founded called Playgrounds for Palestine.

The fact that Mornings in Jenin has been published in Arabic makes her feel “…elated and nervous! This was the most important translation to me, of course. Many members of my family – cousins, aunts, father, etc. – will be able to finally read it. That’s very exciting to me. I want to be accepted as a Palestinian writer, even though I write in English. That I cannot write in my native tongue is a sad condition of the ‘Shatat’ [diaspora] and ‘Manfa [exile].’”

Susan Abulhawa will be taking part in the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair on Wednesday, March 28 at 5:30 p.m. she will be interviewed by ADTV journalist Fatima Al Beloushi. On Thursday, March at 12.15 p.m. she’ll be part of the panel discussion “Where the Heart is” — on the topic of “home” and writing — along with cookbook author Sally Butcher, travel writer Tim Mackintosh-Smith and poet Tishani Doshi.

Brits and books

/ 22 March 2012 Book fair focuses on UK literature; welcomes well-known names As the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair gets set to unfold its 22nd edition, organisers have announced this year’s spotlight will fall on the UK.

Friday, February 10, 2012

susan abulhawa opened the UPenn BDS conference

Here's what Susan posted. Apparently, the recordings were not good and she had to re-record the audio and piece together the footage.

My talk at #PennBDS. Had 2 re-record and piece footage together. sorry. did the best I could with what i had.

the following articles were published regarding the Penn BDS conference:

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Figures of Defiance: Refugees in Palestinian literature

Assmaa Naguib
Wed, 21/09/2011

In Jabra Ibrahim Jabra’s largely escapist novel “The Ship,” written a few years after the Arab defeat of 1967, an infuriated refugee exclaims: “We spoke the truth till our throats grew hoarse, and we ended up as refugees in tents.”

On Friday, as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas formally requests full United Nations membership for a Palestinian state, refugees, more than 40 years after Jabra’s exclamation, watch the unfolding events with careful anticipation. Many Palestinian writers have since joined Jabra in drawing attention to the plight of Palestinian refugees, who have been repeatedly failed by the international community, neighboring Arab states and Palestinian quasi-state actors.

Susan Abulhawa’s 2010 novel “Mornings in Jenin,” written in English and published in the US, imagines Palestinian refugees in the few days after the 1948 Nakba - the displacement following Israeli occupation - gradually coming to the realization that “they were slowly being erased from the world, from its history and from its future.”

To counter this realization in the early pages of the novel, Abulhawa, who was born to Palestinian refugee parents, provides an exhaustive literary work that covers every single incident of the Palestinian Israeli conflict in detail: starting from 1948, through the Naksa of 1967 when Israel took control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the battle of Karamah in 1970, the Dayr Yasin massacre, the Sabra and Shatila massacres in 1982, the Palestinian intifada in 1987, and the massacre at Jenin refugee camp in 2002, among many other incidents. However, what is most striking about this passionate text is how the narrative is silent about the years from 1993-2001 following the Oslo Accords in condemnation of the failed peace process, which not only made the refugee question one of the final status issues, but squandered Palestinian rights under the guise of diplomacy. Abulhawa’s novel thus completely sidelines the diplomatic circus and instead highlights the steadfastness of the displaced families and their attempts at survival for over half a century.

When Abbas’s voice resounds in the corridors of the UN building, if Palestinian refugees listen cynically to the sound of the approach of another diplomatic initiative, or seem reluctant to believe that the international system would take their side, however different the circumstances are this time around, the world should understand. Abulhawa is by no means alone in her contempt for the world’s prolonged impotence in dealing with the Palestinian refugee problem; and the negative memory of Oslo is not behind us yet.

It definitely was not diplomacy that these literary creations sought to emphasize, but Palestinians' episodes of struggle and the resolve to forge stronger resistance. Written only one year after the start of the Oslo Peace Process, Ibrahim Nasrallah’s novel “Birds of Caution” powerfully carved the struggle of the Palestinian refugees in literary form from the point of view of a nameless Palestinian child. When the child observed soon after 1948 that the refugee camp where he lived in Jordan was changing - simple tents were replaced with cement buildings, narrow alleyways gradually filled with more and more children, the fences and walls grew even higher - Nasrallah was mirroring the perpetuation of the refugee crisis.

Like the famous Handalah, who at the age of 10 turned his back to the world in defiance of its handling of the refugee problem, Nasrallah’s brainchild, who attains his martyrdom at the end of the novel, also became a figure of defiance and condemnation. Both figures are artistic creations of Palestinian refugees: the late Naji al-Ali who lived in Shatila camp in Lebanon and Nasrallah who was born in al-Wihdat refugee camp in Jordan.

Like Nasrallah and Abulhawa, countless Palestinian writers have brought the same struggle to light; many of them living in the Arab world and an increasing number now finding a voice abroad like Randa Jarrar, Abulhawa and others. These writers offer much more than romantic reminiscing for the lost home and the safety of a homeland. The voices of their different generations in both fictional and autobiographical accounts by Ghassan Kanafani, Jarrar, Suad Amiry, Ghada Karmi, the late Edward Said and Mahmoud Darwish and others attest to the power of literature to transcend the world’s consistent attempt to silence these voices within an already oppressed group. One would not be surprised to know that Kanafani’s famous account of Umm Sa’ad, the hopeful refugee whose symbolic act of planting a tree in a refugee camp in Lebanon after the 1967 defeat, still inspires activism and rebellion decades after Kanafani’s 1972 assassination.

Having watched over the past few months, the various diplomatic attempts to pursue or hinder the UN initiative, it is the struggle of the Palestinian people all over the world that we should support regardless of all diplomatic (mis-)calculations.

Back to Basic: abandoning negotiations and calls for one or two states

Back to Basic: abandoning negotiations and calls for one or two states

(The following is a condensed version of Susan Abulhawa's speech at the Al-Awda Center grand opening)

Summary: Susan Abulhawa presents an argument to abandon all negotiations with Israel and to abandon calls for the One State and Two State solutions; and in fact, to abandon academic debates on a political construct in favor of embracing the basic calls of Palestinian civil society for essential human rights. This strategy includes the need for a consensus and unified call originating from Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and agreed upon with the various Palestinian communities that make up the Palestinian Nation, including: Palestinians of the West Bank, Jerusalem, Gaza, refugee camps outside of Palestine, the worldwide Diaspora and Palestinians of 1948. She argues that the greatest and unstoppable power available to Palestinians lies in their roots, the moral authority of their struggle for freedom. Harnessing that power, to which Israel has no real defenses, is the most practical path forward and it is rests on the need for 1) a unified call for freedom and the full range of human rights and dignities 2) a point of synergy among the multitude of internal and external movements which include direct action and solidarity activities inside Palestine and around the world and 3) sustained mobilization from the bottom up, hopefully with the assistance of the Palestinian Authority, but at least without interference from them.

To try to comprehend the PA’s UN bid for statehood and to figure out what the ramifications are on many fronts, it behooves us to take a look at history because, this is, after all, not the first time that a Palestinian state was formally declared. I know there are legal differences between the declaration of state in the 1980s and the current application for recognition, but for all intents and purposes, they are both attempts to achieve statehood by seeking international recognition, which, I feel, is the wrong approach for our struggle at this moment in history and, in my opinion is also probably a cynically calculated move that has little to do with actually achieving statehood.

The First Intifada & Declaration of Statehood

In 1988, the PLO formally declared the State of Palestine, and the designation "Palestine" for the PLO was adopted by UN in acknowledgement of that declaration, even though we had no formal status at the UN as a state. At that time, as with the present, we had overwhelming popular support in the General Assembly. Also at that time, as in the present, the US did everything it could to prevent any kind of recognition or international legitimacy for Palestine.

The more important and striking similarity between the declaration of statehood in 1988 and in the present UN bid is the presence of a persistent nonviolent movement with growing international solidarity.

In 1987, the first Intifada began as a popular, spontaneous, and grassroots uprising that moved the Palestinian struggle away from guerilla warfare. It changed the way the world saw Palestinians and began to reveal the brutality of the occupation. The first intifada was nonviolent, marked by mass civil disobedience, boycotts, refusal to pay taxes, disruption of power and sewage going to illegal colonies and more of the like. Throwing rocks against tanks and armored Israeli vehicles was symbolic and few in the international community bought Israel’s claims that these rocks constituted serious violent threats.

As a result, the first intifada began to capture the imaginations and inspire civil societies everywhere, despite Israel’s best PR and hasbara campaigns. Popular international solidarity was growing and there was a burgeoning awareness of who we are and what we had suffered for decades under occupation. And for the first time, there was open public criticism of Israel in places that would not have dared to do so before. Simply, the moral authority of our cause could not be ignored.

Even though Israel was committing unspeakable war crimes to suppress the intifada, the movement only intensified and caused power to shift to the Palestinian street, for the first time. That shift was also changing world opinion, which was a major threat to Israel because it hit at their greatest weak point: their image, and I’ll touch on that more shortly.

But the first intifada didn’t just threaten Israel, it was also a threat to the Palestinian leadership, which was outside of Palestine at the time. The persistence of the first intifada spawned local leaderships that were not directly affiliated with the PLO, and although the PLO had nothing to do with the first intifada, they quickly positioned themselves at the forefront and began to take control as much as possible from the outside. The PLO’s efforts to control extinguished the intifada’s fire and culminated in the Madrid Conference followed by the Oslo Accords.

In essence, here’s what happened: after decades of suffering at the hands of a brutal military occupation whose only purpose was to displace or subjugate Palestinians under their control, we had the first bottom up movement that was full of solidarity, full of hope. And, more importantly, it was full of promise. It promised to grow and spread. It promised a path of successful nonviolent resistance with growing international attention at the levels of civil society, mainstream media, and government leaderships. This promise was seized by the Palestinian leadership. They took ownership of the movement when it started to gain momentum on the ground and abroad, they grabbed the reigns of it, and then they steered us into what turned out to be more slaughter and more wholesale theft of our lands and properties, all under the auspices of a negotiated settlement called the “Peace Process”.

Today we find ourselves in a situation bearing many of the same hallmarks and a reaction by the Palestinian leadership that looks too much like their reaction then.

The Second Intifada & UN Bid for Statehood

Although the second intifada’s early days saw violent Palestinian reactions to Israel’s sustained terrorism, it has morphed into a nonviolent struggle that is taking roots not only in Palestine, but throughout the world. The change in the 2nd Intifada’s character has spurred many to declare it over, but this is not an accurate statement. The second intifada is alive and well and growing.

Perhaps the earliest manifestations of the active nonviolent resistance came from the activites of the International Solidarity Movement. Construction of the Apartheid Wall spawned more local heroes who began leading unrelenting and regular demonstrations. The call from Palestinian Civil Society for international Boycott Divestment and Sanctions against Israel was launched was launched in 2005, pushing the movement in new directions and far outside of Palestine, whereby solidarity groups all over the world joined and have been implementing creative nonviolent resistance actions.

The results have been impressive and nonviolent resistance is once again taking hold in the occupied territories and around the world. It’s happening on an even greater scale internationally, thanks to the current communication technology that was not available in the 1980s. Among the many victories of BDS abroad, several major corporations have had their hands forced by activists. Thanks in large part to BDS affiliate, CodePink, AHAVAs flagship store in London was forced to close. Veolia, the French multinational corporation lost billions of euros worth of municipality contracts for its involvement in building infrastructure to illegal Israeli settlements and it is now facing financial meltdown. Most recently, Agrexco, a major Israeli exporter of produce, that come primarily from illegal Israeli farms on stolen Palestinian land, has been forced to liquidate its assets after being unable to pay its creditors thanks to the efforts of BDS.

These are just a few examples of the results of cooperation between civil society everywhere who have heeded the calls of BDS. This popular movement is taking a life of its own and is accompanied by similar movements, like the International Solidarity Movement that I mentioned before, the Free Gaza Movement, the flotillas, and the Russell Tribunals, to name a few. Important international figures across the world have signed on and taken action against Israel’s apartheid. These are prominent individuals in their fields – literary figures, musicians, clergy, military personnel, activists, journalists, and more – who have taken very public stands against Israeli Apartheid.

This is huge! It’s importance and impact should not be underestimated.

It hits right at what I said was one of Israel’s weakest points. Israel pours billions of dollars into creating and maintaining the image of civilized and enlightened country, and they panic when the world starts to see the reality of their ongoing campaign of ethnic cleansing; And they panic even more when they’re called out on it.

That’s why they’ve been so freaked out lately passing one fascist law after another to try to police what people say, what they publicly remember [anti-Naqba law], or what they choose to buy or not buy [anti-boycott law]. They’re freaked out by internationals bearing witness to their war crimes; so they’ve passed a series of laws to prevent non-Palestinians from going into the West Bank and Gaza. Then there’s the racist loyalty oath – the list goes on. They are absurd, fascist laws that only show how scared Israel has become of our growing solidarity movement, BDS, and nonviolent actions inside Palestine.

This ground swell should not be minimized!

Then came Arab Spring!

It caused a seismic shift in power away from the ruling elite toward the people and toward popular action and democracy throughout the Arab World. Arab Spring inspired and galvanized our movement even more. Arab Spring is now going global, as it’s not a stretch to make a connection between the demonstrations in Tahrir Square and the ongoing Occupy Wall Street in New York.

Against this backdrop of people power, the Palestinian Authority, unilaterally [and I don’t mean ‘unilaterally’ in that it excluded Israel; but ‘unilaterally’ in that it excluded Palestinians] decided to make a bid for statehood at the UN. At no time did Mahmoud Abbass address the people he supposedly represents. Even at the UN, when he made the bid for statehood, he was still speaking to everyone except us. That, to me, is a bad sign that history could be repeating itself here. It looks too much like the past, particularly when we see images of Palestinians giving Abu Mazen a heroes welcome home; it reminds me of the fanfare of the PA’s arrival in the West Bank after Oslo, which is clear to everyone in retrospect to have been nothing more than a ruse to quiet popular nonviolent action in order to give Israel the time it needs to continue its colonial endeavors in the occupied territories.

I would also add that the timing of this UN bid is questionable, as it comes when the PA is severely weakened by the damning revelations of the Palestine Papers leaked on Al Jazeera. Why, after 20 years of negotiations, does the PA make this move? I’m sure it didn’t just dawn on them that Israel was only ever just trying to buy itself time to create facts on the ground. They’re not stupid and they understood Israel’s colonial expansion and goal to take everything they could. The truth is that the PA was scared. Their power was threatened by Arab Spring and by the fadeeha el kobra (the great scandal) of the Palestine Papers. So, this move may well have been just a cynical calculation to restore the power of the PA. I hate to think the worst – that it was actually orchestrated with Israel and the US for the same purpose and what we’re witnessing is theatre.

Caution to the PA/PLO

So, I’m worried about this UN bid. However, I also think, that if certain conditions are met and the same mistakes of the past are not repeated, it can still be salvaged as a good thing. For that to happen, the PA (or PLO, it’s hard to know who is who anymore) must ensure that the following happens:

1. They must go forward full force with what they started, without compromise.

I hear that at least one Security Council member is trying to get the PA to alter the text of the UN bid, in exchange for voting in favor of statehood, so that it excludes the ability to take any retroactive grievances to the International Court of Justice.

If this happens, it would be a disaster for us because it would be a back-handed way for the PA to abdicate the Right of Return (which they have no right to do) under the cover of statehood.

We cannot let them do that and I think, Zahi, it’s time for another petition with 600,000 signatures to deliver to Abbass like the one Al-Awda delivered to Arafat when he was considering the same thing.

The second part of going full force forward is to take the bid to the General Assembly once the SC sends it back with the promised US veto. I’m very happy to see that the PA has been pushing for Palestine membership in various UN bodies, including, most recently, UNESCO.

2. Don’t stand in the way of popular movements. Already the PA is sending police to bust up peaceful anti-occupation protests, in essence, working for the occupier. This has to stop. The PA cannot be allowed to seize the power on the ground and tamp out the spread of nonviolent resistance.

3. Become a force that creates synergy among our various efforts to achieve our rights; make the UN bid into something that adds to the ongoing efforts instead of something that stifles them. For example, the UN bid can open up legal avenues for a whole new arena for our struggle, but don’t let that come at the expense of tamping a growing nonviolent resistance movement.

4. They should become a force of unity; not only between Gaza and the West Bank, but also among Palestinians of 1948; Palestinians still in refugee camps in other nations; and Palestinians in the Diaspora, whether in Arab nations, the Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia and other parts of the world.

5. Finally, they should not assume that they will maintain power without popular blessing, which will not remain if this UN bid stifles our efforts or gives away an iota of our Right to Return.

This is a warning to the PA that accepting statehood at the expense of retroactive grievances (i.e. everything we’re fighting for, including the Right of Return) will have terrible consequences for us all.

Time to abandon calls for Two-State Solution AND the One-State Solution

That said, I want to emphasize why I think we are living in the most opportune time we’ve had in the history of this conflict.

The kind of bottom up power we’re witnessing is fertile ground for us. This is the arena in which we are more powerful. This is the field where we win because Israel has no real defenses against us in this arena. Our greatest power lies in the moral command of our cause – we are the indigenous people fighting for freedom, struggling to live dignified lives in our own homeland. We didn’t come from Poland or Russia, or France, or Germany, or any other place. We are the natives of the Holy Land in ever sense of the word “native” – historically, ethnically, culturally, legally, and even genetically, we are the natives. If you take samples of our DNA, the results will show genetic markers specific to that region of the world. Our strength is in our roots.

It is no accident that Israel is so often so busy uprooting our olive trees or unearthing our cemeteries to cover them over with new structures. Because the truth is that there is no forensic evidence linking most Israelis to the land. So, they have been busy either destroying traces of our existence or trying to claim it as theirs. But that is really an impossible task, now matter how much they’ve already destroyed. Palestine is passed down from one generation’s hearts and memories to another. Ben Gurion could not have been more wrong when he predicted that “The old will die and the young will forget”.

But we are where we are now and they are here with us, whether we or they like it or not.

And the bid for statehood has been made, regardless of how we feel about it.

So what is the path forward?

Before we answer that, we have to decide what is the end game. What is the result we want to achieve. Unfortunately, and after 65 years of this struggle, we still do not have a truly unified call.

People often ask me which proposal do I support, the one state or the two state. It seems those are the only two proposals in people’s mind. That it has to be one or the other and we end up struggling for one or the other. We waste precious time and energy debating the merits of one over the other. Which is better, we ask: The Two State Solution - ostensibly based on the 1967 borders; or the One State Solution - which would presumably include all of Palestine for all her inhabitants.

The fundamental problem with both of these proposals is that they are concentrating on the political construct and of statehood. And I think that is the wrong approach.

If we drill down to what we really want, what we all want and all can agree on: it is to live dignified lives in our own homeland, with full human and civil rights accorded to everyone there equally regardless of religion.

I know this sounds a lot like the One State proposal; but it differs in that it is simply a call for basic rights. It is not a call for a particular political construct because frankly, it doesn’t matter what the political construct looks like, as long as all our basic human rights are upheld, and that includes our natural right to return and live in our own homeland.

This, in my opinion, is what we should be working toward. Calling for our natural rights as human beings and as an indigenous people is what unifies us all. To be accorded human rights is our rightful inheritance. It is the rightful destiny of human beings not to be subjugated, expelled or oppressed. The call from Palestinian Civil Society, which originated inside the occupied territories, is the best starting place framework. In any event, we are in great need of a consensus for a unified and uncompromising call founded on the goal of human dignity. This can form the frame of reference for whatever actions we take.

So, I would say, do NOT think in terms of a political construct; but to think in terms of human rights. In terms of human dignity and human worth that is not measured by religion. This is a goal that will unify us and will strengthen our collective efforts that pour into the same movement for freedom.

Palestinian Resistance: Failures of the past and why it’s time to abandon negotiations

For the most part, Palestinian resistance has been allowed to develop on two major fronts, and mostly exclusive fronts.

1. Armed resistance.

Although we have the right to resist foreign occupation by any means available to us, including armed resistance, I think this is not an effective strategy for us.

For starters, rocks, moltov cocktails, or even homemade rockets, don’t stand a chance against armoured tanks, warplanes and some of the most sophisticated death machines known to man. This is simply not an arena where we can gain any ground because here we are weak in this regard. We do not have a military or any necessary hardware to change this fact.

More importantly, armed resistance ultimately erodes the singul most important power we have. As I already mentioned, it is the moral superiority of the cause of justice and human rights, against their cause, which is the desire for power and an ethnoreligious pure society.

2. The second main path that the Palestinian leadership has taken us has been negotiations. This too is and always was a fundamentally flawed and moral unsound approach, because it assumes a very denigrating assumption:

That our basic rights as human beings, our rights as the indigenous people of the Holy Land, and our freedom, are things to be negotiated for; as if our rights, enshrined in all tenets of international law, and our freedom are mere bargaining chips to be traded for clean water or bread.

And yet, the PA has continued along in what every one of us knows is a sham. This peace process was never designed to lead to a life of dignity for Palestinians. It was never meant to lead to a viable Palestinian state. Netanyahu’s speech made that clear. Israel’s actions for the past twenty years have made that clear. Why else would they continue, on a daily basis, to expropriate Palestinian land and turn it over for the exclusive use of Jews being invited from all over the world to come and take what is not theirs? Why else would they continue their policy of home demolitions unabated? The Peace Process was always a ruse to buy Israel more time to take more and more and more and ultimately wipe us off the map.

You only need to look at how the map has changed over time to see the truth in that statement.

The current map proves that. How could this not be apparent to the PA? In fact, even as he submitted the bid for statehood, Mahmoud Abbas made the mind boggling statement that there was no substitute for negotiations.

He is, in fact, very wrong. In fact, there is no other instance in history where an occupied and oppressed people has been expected to actually negotiate with their oppressors for freedom and for basic human rights.

When Nelson Mandela was in prison and change began to sweep over South Africa, some of his comrades were being released from prison. Nelson Mandela too was offered a deal for his freedom. P. W. Botha offered him freedom if he would renounce violence. Mandela refused the offer, and his now famous letter, he explained that "Only free men can negotiate."

He was the only one of his comrades to remain in prison by the end of the 1980s. His uncompromising insistence on implementing the full range of human rights and freedoms to Blacks equal to Whites inspired us all and eventually culminated in bringing Apartheid to it’s knees.

Likewise, Rosa Parks did not negotiate with the white driver or white passengers to take her rightful place among the rest of humanity on that bus. She stayed put with all the force she could muster. Her insistence on being recognized as fully human, fully worthy, inspired the Civil Rights Movement.

Martin Luther King and Malcom X didn’t enter into negotiations to beg the government to let Black folk use a few more water fountains, or to be allowed to buy a house in just a few white neighborhoods.

Yet that is precisely the indignity we are accepting upon ourselves by engaging in these negotiations. By continuing to negotiate for basic rights, we are accepting the premise that we cannot be fully worthy human beings unless Israel says so.

This is Our Time

With Arab Spring, with BDS, ISM, Free Gaza, and the massively growing international solidarity, this is our time!

It’s our time to say that only free people can negotiate. It’s our time to take our seat on the bus and refuse to get up for anyone. It’s our time to boycott. To divest. To proudly link arms with every human being willing to stand with us, no matter who they are – be they Jewish, Christian, Muslim, gay or straight, Black or White or any color in between. And to remember the solidarity shown to us, as our beloved Edward Said once said.

If we continue on the path of nonviolent resistance that we started in the occupied territories and throughout the world, and with the solidarity of justice-seeking people everywhere, I believe with all my being, that we will eventually be in a position to say to the Israelis in no uncertain terms, and with a force they will have no choice but to listen to, that they are welcome to stay as our equals, but not as our masters.

You may think that that day is unrealistic. You might say that because we’ve been conditioned to see our weakness. To see how outgunned we are. How outmaneuvered we’ve been. Or how little clout we have in the halls of power compared with the intense influence that Israel wields on the most powerful countries. But focusing on these things obscures how powerful we really are.

I read an article recently by someone I very much admire and whose words I often like to read; but this particular article was one that I disagreed with because it reinforces this sense of powerlessness, which is quite harmful. The article was written when everyone was speculating whether the PA would follow through with the UN bid and the premise of the article was that no matter what happens, Israel will win, whether Abbas follows through or not.

I not only disagree with the premise, but I think that this kind of defeatist outlooks really hurts us. Yes, I know it’s true that Israel can make any US President jump when they say jump; but I don’t think Israel is feeling much like a winner right now.

How triumphant do you think Israel feels with the world turning against them? Peoples of the world are seeing them for the apartheid state that they are and their growing isolation surely doesn’t feel very triumphant to them. It surely doesn’t feel triumphant to them to essentially lose their two major allies in the region, Egypt and Turkey, within the span of one year.

And by believing that we are powerless, we’ve allowed every Israeli to think they can dictate our destiny to us. Just take for example Benny Morris, who said on Cross Talk a few weeks ago, quote:

“I wish the Palestinians would return to the negotiating table to which they had been invited repeatedly, and do so seriously in good faith and negotiate in good faith. If they don’t want to do that, the Palestinians will continue to suffer.”

Translation: “Do as Israel wants or you will continue to be bombed, killed, deprived, oppressed, and systematically robbed.” In fact, that is happening even when we do negotiate as Israel wants; but the point is that you can see from this statement the level of arrogance that pervades every sector of Israeli society.

We Are Powerful & History is on Our Side

While it is true that we don’t have the military capabilities nor do we have anywhere near Israel’s clout among the ruling elite of powerful nations, we are not powerless.

In fact, we are unrivaled in our power on the ground level internationally. Our struggle for freedom is the longest running and best known around the world. Harnessing that advantage is the path we must continue to take.

Taking our case, not to the UN or the US State Department or to the UK or France; but to the populations of the world is where our energy should be focused.

- It’s to the universities that have been signing onto the academic boycotts;
- To consumers who do not want to buy blood products;
- To the churches and synagogues and other religious institutions that understand the ungodliness of ethnic cleansing and who are making sure that their trusts are not invested in Israel’s war crimes
- To the municipalities and the labor unions who are divesting their pensions from Israel in order to affirm their belief in universal human dignity regardless of ones religion
- To the artists and musicians and writers and filmmakers who do not want their names or creations associated with Israel’s Apartheid
- To our fellow US citizens who do not want their tax dollars spent in support of ethno-religious entitlement and exclusivity, especially when our school districts are teetering on bankruptcy and the unemployment is knocking on the door of 10%.

We cannot lose on this path. You don’t need to take my word for it. History is replete with examples that prove what I’m saying. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel.

And we don’t need to continue down a path of denigrating and racist negotiations. We are a native people who deserve to live in their native homeland with full human rights. It’s that simple.

And so to the new sound bite that Israel issued (which is being parroted by the Obama administration, Congress, and nearly all mainstream media commentators): “there are no shortcuts to peace”, I would like to offer these truths:

“Palestinian freedom is non-negotiable”
and “Human Rights are non-negotiable”.

Our message will resonate – maybe not with the ruling elite, but certainly with civil society and ordinary people who adhere to principles of justice and fair play. Because,

Our demands are self-evident truths that we should pursue without apology, without negotiations, without compromise, and without fear.

That’s how every freedom movement achieved its goal before us, and that is how we will achieve ours. THAT is our most effective path forward, not negotiations.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Miral, A Palestinian Disappointment

Susan Abulhawa reviews the film "Miral" in the Palestine Chronicle

I didn’t get a sneak preview nor was I among the VIPs who attended the premier of Miral at the UN General Assembly. I had to wait for its release in a nearby theatre, which luckily turned out to be only an hour away in Philadelphia. That means I had read and heard plenty of reviews of the film before I actually watched it. They were mixed and varied reactions, but I think I was able to leave them outside the theatre before I entered so I could decide for myself. There was one thing, however, that I couldn’t leave at the door: my Palestinian-ness. So, I went in wanting to like the film. I was holding my breath hoping to see a compelling Palestinian narrative, told by a Palestinian woman who lived at Dar el Tifl, the orphanage where I too had spent years of my adolescence in the early 80s.

Miral is the story of four Palestinian women of different generations and circumstances: Hind el Husseini, an unmarried heiress from a prominent Jerusalem family who founded Dar el Tifl and devoted her life to empowering young Palestinian girls; Nadia, a 1948 Palestinian (Palestinians with Israeli citizenship) who leaves home to escape persistent rape by her stepfather but was never able to outrun her own demons; Fatima, Nadia’s cellmate in an Israeli prison; and finally, Miral, Nadia’s daughter who goes to live at Dar el Tifl after her mother, Nadia commits suicide.

I knew that Israel and its various American lobbying wings had protested the showing of this film at the UN, claiming it to be anti-Israel. That gave me even more hope that I was about to watch the first honest portrayal of life as a Palestinian growing up under Israeli military occupation. By the time the film was over, however, the only reason I could fathom for such protestations was that Miral is perhaps the first semi-mainstream film to show Palestinians as something more akin to human rather than monsters to be reviled or pathetic and destitute refugees to be pitied. Indeed, Miral succeeds in showing a human face to Palestinians. Pittance and basic as that might be – to be recognized as fully human, even if only in a film – it is perhaps a feat after six decades of little more than the damaging and painful stereotypes.

My reaction to the film was mostly cerebral because it failed to pull me in emotionally. If I were to depict the film graphically, I’d draw a more or less flat line. There was one exception and it is this scene: Miss Hind is standing alone by the gates of the orphanage and then the film cuts to her funeral. The abrupt transition knotted my throat with the realization that I never got a chance to say good bye to that incredible woman who took me in when there was no other safe place in the world for me. I never got a chance to thank her, or tell her how profoundly she touched my life. So I cried in the theatre for the loss of el Sit Hind, as we called her. Although my waterworks have more to do with my own memories and regrets, credit must also be given to Hiam Abbas, whose portrayal of Miss Hind was authentic and brilliant. In fact, it was Hiam’s acting that made Hind Husseini’s story shine above the stories of the other three women.

There were a few “insider” bits in the film that only those who knew Miss Hind would have noticed. When a baby left by the mosque door is brought to her, she takes it and remarks that the name “Hedaya” might be suitable. Hedaya means “gifts” in Arabic and it happens that that baby was a real little girl whom Miss Hind later adopted. Hedaya was a headmistress of sorts when I lived at Dar el Tifl. She was a student when my mother lived there many years before me and the rivalry between the two of them meant that Hedaya didn’t like me much. I smiled and silently thanked Rula Jebreal for writing her into the script. In a way, it seemed a gift from Rula to Hedaya, who looked after us, even if she wasn’t always very nice.

In addition to Hiam Abbas’ excellent portrayal of Miss Hind, Alexander Siddig, who played the role of Miral’s father, was also believable and well-done. On the other hand, why Frieda Pinto was chosen to play Miral eludes me entirely. Every time she opened her mouth, all I heard was a Hindi accent. Her acting, too, fell far short of the role. For example, what could have been poignant or emotional points in the film – when she thanks “Mama Hind” or when she learns that the father she has known her whole life was not biologically related to her – ultimately felt insincere and contrived. The role of Fatima was even more badly done that at times it seemed she was merely reading from a teleprompter. I can’t blame the actor solely. The script was awkward and Fatima’s story seemed incomplete. The character tells us that she decided to plant a bomb in a crowded theatre to ‘make them suffer like they make us suffer.’ Yet all we see of her suffering is that she lost her job as a nurse after helping wounded Jordanian soldiers escape back to Jordan. As a Palestinian, of course, I know the suffering she’s talking about, but someone just watching the film will have no idea. Herein are the two biggest problems with this film, both of which have to do with the political aspect. On one hand, there was too much politics; and on the other, there was too little of it.

By too much, I mean that the political story overshadowed the human one such that it often felt like the characters were created to serve as mere vehicles to deliver a political message. While the use of art to illuminate a political reality is an honorable literary and artistic tradition, I feel that the artist’s or writer’s foremost loyalty should be to his or her characters, not the political, social, or historic backdrop. A writer’s mandate is to tell the story of their characters with honesty, humanity, and authenticity; in doing so, the backdrop and back stories emerge. Unfortunately, Miral gave center stage to the political situation, from which characters emerged as a supporting cast. That said, I do understand how easy it is to fall into that trap as a writer. When the political reality has defined your whole life, created wounds and kept them bleeding for as long as you can remember, that is the part you want the world to know about. You want to scream about a system of oppression that sees you as less than human. It’s hard not to and I can understand this shortcoming of the film. But it’s the reason the film does not succeed as a work of art.

This brings me to the worst and most unpalatable, even unforgivable, aspect of this film. I’ve saved the bad for last; it’s the ‘too little’ part. Someone with no background on the realities of this wretched conflict will walk away from Miral with the sense that it’s a dispute between two essentially equal sides who simply don’t see eye to eye. There was no real hint of the gross imbalance of power or the racially motivated destruction of life that inches deeper and deeper every day into what little remains of Palestine to Palestinians. No hint of the apartheid system employed as a means of slow ethnic cleansing. Even when it came to the bloody orphans of Deir Yassin, we are told that “soldiers” killed their parents. Anyone with knowledge of history or the social circumstances of the time would have known that the residents of that village would have likely been screaming warnings to others to run because “the Jews are here”. The word “soldier” then referred to the British and I can’t help but believe that the use of that word was meant to tiptoe around the fact that terrorist Jewish gangs butchered civilians in home after home in that village. At one point we see the British flag lowered and the Israeli flag raised, perpetuating the idea that Palestine was never there. These are just some examples of a fundamental dishonesty that underpins Miral.

Moviegoers watching what little is shown of this reality will likely judge Israeli actions as justified, however distasteful. In other words, the minimally negative light in which Israel is shown is contextualized. Not so for Palestinians. Take for example Schnabel’s treatment of what could have happened to Israelis in a movie theatre when Fatima leaves a bomb under the seat [it never goes off, btw]. We see their innocent faces, one by one. They’re just like us, ordinary people just going to see a film. We see an unsuspecting couple making out, kissing in their seats. It’s not an emotional scene at all. But it does set the stage to give soldiers justification later on to beat Miral. The actions of the Israeli soldiers thus have context. On the other hand, Fatima seemingly decided to blow up a theatre full of people because she lost her job.

Another striking failure of this film is the scene of a home demolition. Schnabel shows us a random family being told to leave their home and then we see the walls of that home crumble as an unseen soldier demolishes it. Racially motivated demolition of Palestinian homes is a constant and lately accelerated reality for Palestinians. There are plenty of real footage of these evictions and subsequent destruction of homes that could have been rendered in the film. The reality of this monumentally traumatic racist policy is that children are often seen scrambling to save what little they can of their books and toys. Israeli soldiers rip people from their homes kicking and screaming. Neighbors come out to help and are met with brutal suppression by soldiers. Women cry, they raise their prayers to the heavens for mercy. The despair of the families contorts their faces into expressions that shatter a human heart with outrage and sadness. There was none of this in that in Schnabel’s interpretation. His treatment of what could have been an immensely emotional scene was nearly comatose. We see the stoic patriarch of the family clearly upset and the viewer possibly feels pity for him. There are no scattered personal belongings. The home seems empty when it’s destroyed. There are no traumatized children and next to nothing of the true human reaction to the intentional destruction of one’s home, one’s only refuge.

Footage of the first Intifada looked like street rioters faced with good police doing their job to restore order. There was nothing of Israel’s “break their bones” policy, or of their specific targeting of children, who were left with nothing to do but roam the streets when Israel enforced a “no school” ignorization policy for Palestinian children. This context – of the sheer brutality and racism of Israeli policies toward Palestinians – was largely missing. I’m not saying that a Palestinian film must incorporate all of these elements. But if you’re going to include it, do it with honestly, not obfuscation. To the extent that any of the realities on the ground were shown, it seemed almost like a preemptive framing of Israel’s ethnic cleansing, which is increasingly being recognized around the world. Ultimately, Miral is a Zionist’s cinematic rendering of a Palestinian story, replete with leftist Zionist messages. And this reviewer is frankly tired of other people telling our story for us, especially of Zionists framing who we are and what our motivations might be. I haven’t read the book or the screenplay to know how much of the film was Rula and how much was Schnabel. But I do know that there are Palestinian films that far exceed Miral in artistic expression, honesty, and authenticity. Salt of the Sea, by Annemarie Jacir, comes immediately to mind.

Finally, watching Miral was an important lesson for me personally because I am now looking at a contract that will potentially turn Mornings in Jenin into a film. I feel more strongly now that I must have a greater role in writing the screenplay.

All we have now is our story, our heritage and history, our humanity, and the truth of how we are being wiped off the map as a people. It is not appropriate to compromise our truth so the West might inch closer to seeing us as fully human. I feel this is what happened with Miral. It compromises our collective narrative to appease and it lacks the essential human dimension we expect to compel and provoke emotion. The excellent acting of Abbas and Siddig, the new ‘human face’ of Palestinians, and the inspiring life if Hind el Husseini just aren’t enough to redeem Miral.

A Voice for Her People: Susan Abulhawa's Writing Life Interview

by Matt Rees

Susan Abulhawa is a unique voice in contemporary fiction. She’s a Palestinian, born in Kuwait to a refugee family. She spent some years in an orphanage in East Jerusalem, her ancestral city, before university education in the US and she now lives near Philadelphia. She’s the founder of a wonderful charity, Playgrounds for Palestine, which aims to bring merry-go-rounds, slides and see-saws to the children of the West Bank and Gaza, as well as to refugee camps in Syria and Lebanon. As you’ll see from this interview, Susan’s writing life revolves around a leap she made at which many would balk. So that she could write her wonderful novel Mornings in Jenin, she mortgaged her house, went to a war zone, and returned with a passionate drive to write. What she wrote is a wrenching portrayal of a Palestinian family from 1948 – the foundation of Israel, which Palestinians call the “nakba,” the catastrophe – on through the civil war in Beirut and the second intifada. Mornings in Jenin is a bestseller whose poetic prose carries the resonance of the best Arabic fiction (writing which, due to the relative paucity of translation into English, we rarely get to enjoy; Susan wrote her novel in English). This many-faceted book has at its heart the most profound and tragic love-story imaginable. As a depiction of a violent history and of the bonds between lovers and siblings, Abulhawa’s novel gives a human voice to a people so often cast as a stereotype. How does she do it? Here’s what she has to say:

How long did it take you to get published?

It felt like forever. There was an 8 years span from the time I started writing Mornings in Jenin until it was finally published in 2010.

Would you recommend any books on writing?

I’ve never read a book on writing. I’m told that I should and I probably will one of these days. When I was writing Mornings in Jenin, I did get one as a gift. But I didn’t get beyond the first chapter. I don’t think my hesitation had anything to do with the book’s merits though. I just put it down when it talked about developing an outline or sketch of the story. I knew that I would never do that – write an outline or think ahead. So I just didn’t invest any more time in something that was going to lead me in a direction that my brain would not appreciate. I’m not a planner by nature. I follow my heart, usually into disasters and heartaches. But sometimes it takes me into miracles. Regardless, I’m just not very good at following instructions. The book I got was more or less that, or at least that’s how I perceived it and that’s why I put it down. That said, I just read Tony Parson’s answer to this exact question and he mentioned writing at least 1000 words a day. Apparently he got that advice from a book and I’m taking it from him. It’s a good bit of advice and has served me well for the past few days since I read it.

I’m sure Tony will be glad to hear it. What’s a typical writing day?

I would get up at 5am, make coffee, and sit at my keyboard and write straight through until it was time to wake my daughter up for school at 8am [she was in elementary at the time; now she’s up at 6 so that timing doesn’t work as well]. Then I’d start again from 9:30 until noon. The rest of the day I spent helping out at my daughter’s school, running or yoga, and a million other things single moms do.

That was then, when I had mortgaged my house for its full value so I could afford not to work and concentrate on writing. Now I’m paying off that mortgage and have to work a full time job as a medical writer, putting those biology degrees to some use. So I write when I can. Usually in the wee hours of the morning, in rare moments of blissful quiet and solitude, on trains, or when I’m depressed and therefore don’t care if everything else piles up.

How would you describe what “Mornings in Jenin” is about? And of course tell us why’s it so great?

It’s a story of love, and how that love is shaped by violence and persistent oppression – Love between a farmer and his land; between siblings; between a man and a woman; a mother and her children; a father and his children; love between friends. I think it’s up to readers to decide if it’s great or not. I’ll say that I put my heart into it. That ultimately my intentions in writing this story distilled to a single purpose – to be true to the characters by telling their stories with honestly, authenticity, and humanity.

“Mornings in Jenin” was written in English, but the style is much more poetic than a typical American novel. Were you aiming to capture something of the style of Arabic prose?

I wasn’t aiming for that at all, but I do think that it seeped in because Arabic poetry was my first exposure to literature. Arabic was the first language I learned to read and write and my early writings were Arabic poetry. I came to the US at the age of 13 and from then on, my education and social environment was all conducted in English. Now, my command of English is more sophisticated than my command of Arabic; but it seems my “literary foundation” is Arabic poetry; and that came through my English writing.

What’s your favorite sentence in all literature, and why?

There are so many sentences that I read and re-read just to savor and contemplate their beauty, both in English and in Arabic. I don’t have a single favorite. But when I read this question, the first thing that came to mind was a passage from One Hundred Years of Solitude. So I looked it up to quote it accurately, and here it is: “…and that is how in the ripeness of autumn she began to believe once more in the youthful superstition that poverty was the servitude of love….Madly in love after so many years of sterile complicity, they enjoyed the miracle of loving each other as much at the table as in bed, and they grew to be so happy that even when they were two worn-out old people they kept on blooming like little children and played together like dogs.”

What’s the best descriptive image in all literature?

Again, while there are many perfect and beautiful descriptions, what comes immediately to mind is a line from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. He describes the austerity of Puritan society as “accomplishing so much precisely because they imagined and hoped so little.” In that same novel, when Hester Prynne is standing on the scaffold, Hawthorne writes that “the world was only the darker for this woman’s beauty, and the more lost for the infant that she had borne.”

There are profound truths in each of these sentences. You can follow them straight into the human soul.

How much research was involved in your book and how did you carry it out?

40 years of life. A lot of books, oral histories, documentaries. A lot of watching people, observing, contemplating. And of course, the internet.

Where’d you get the idea for your main characters? Is there an autobiographical element to Amal’s life?

Although Amal is a very different person than I am, I suppose there are some parallels between Amal’s life and mine. She attends Dar el Tifl orphanage in Jerusalem and that chapter is essentially autobiographical. I put Amal in my life for the three years when I lived there. Amal also ends up in the United States, alone with a daughter. That is another aspect where our lives are similar. Otherwise, she is not me.

You’re also an activist. What makes you want to write a novel, rather than devoting the time purely to activism? Does creative writing make you a better activist?

I’ve been called an activist and may have even accepted that label at times, but I’m not entirely comfortable with it because it’s a word that resonates with others in vastly different ways. I’m a person who opposes injustice when I see it. I write about it, expose it, and work against it however I can. I’m also a person who looks for beauty. I write about it, expose it, and work to promote it. I think we’re on this planet to lift each other up and leave gentleness in our place when we leave. That’s how I would describe my “activism”. Both that, and my first novel are made from love. Both are true expression of who I am. I don’t know if one aspect feeds the other, nor do I think it matters. What matters to me is that I continue to learn, grow, and give to others through both ‘activism’ and literary endeavors.

What’s the best idea for marketing a book you can do yourself?

I’m really not very good at marketing at all. I suppose some book sales have come from my activism, specifically from people who knew of me through a children’s NGO that I founded years ago, called Playgrounds for Palestine.

Most of the book sales have been generated by word of mouth, I think. I do make it a point to write back to any reader who takes the time to write to me. I’m also happy to add them as Facebook friends when they request it. So, I suppose being more accessible to readers is a plus. Sometimes readers learn of my book when I write an opinion piece online or op-ed in a newspaper on current affairs. Other than that, I’ve not done much myself to market Mornings in Jenin. That might explain why I still have to keep a day job. 

What’s your experience with being translated?

Mornings in Jenin is now in 26 languages. Arabic is due to be released in October of 2011. That’s the only one I can personally verify. Overall, I have a lot of respect for translators – the good ones who really make an effort to render the intended meaning of a text and not just the literal translation, which as you know can be very different. I heard a funny thing about the Dutch translation. When Amal is in the orphanage, the girls warm their hands on a steel pipe that vents steam from the kitchen. It was their only source of heat and the girls would scramble just to put their hands on it. The scene was: dozens of girls reaching over each other to get a moment’s worth of heat. The translation was literal; so the “hot pipe” that girls clamored to touch ended up having a very phallic connotation that had nothing to do with the meaning of that passage in the book.

Did you write other books or published fiction before “Mornings in Jenin” was published?

No. I had contributed to anthologies and a scientific textbook. Other writings were single publications of literary nonfiction, political commentary, and scientific or medical papers. Mornings in Jenin is my first novel. It actually marks the first time I even thought of myself as a writer.

What’s the strangest thing that happened to you on a book tour?

A local orthodox Jewish community in New York protested and harassed the bookstore into canceling my book signing. When they did, other members of the community held a counter protest and lobbied the bookstore to honor their invitation to me. So the store “compromised” and asked me to come, but only for a signing, not a reading. I was downgraded.

What’s your weirdest idea for a book you’ll never get to publish?

A book on the relationship between Muslim people and dogs. I come from a Muslim family and I love dogs. These two identities can be irreconcilable because the dominant belief among Muslims is that angels do not enter a home where dogs dwell. While there are scriptures and Hadith to back this up, there is also evidence that Muslims have it all wrong…or at least they don’t have the whole story, according to history. That said, the risk of being misunderstood is quite high compared to the low chance of actually changing attitudes toward dogs – those loyal, self-sacrificing, love machines.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

رواية " صباح في جنين" , لسوزان ابو الهوى

باللغة السويدية للروائية الفلسطينية- الأمريكية سوزان أبو الهوى

اراب نيهيتر-ستوكهولم


للمرة الأولى تطل على القارئ السويدي رواية مفعمة بالأحاسيس الإنسانية والسياسة لما مر به الشعب الفلسطيني منذ تشريده من بلاده عام 1948 وحتى اليوم، مرورا بحرب 1967, ومعركة الكرامة وحرب أكتوبر والإنتفاضة الأولى والثانية. قصة " صباح في جنين" الرواية الأولى للكاتبة الفلسطينية – الأمريكية سوزان أبو الهوى تحكي قصة عائلة، من قرية عين حوض، تمتد لأربعة أجيال تذكرنا بقليل أو كثير برواية الشهيد غسان كنفاني "عائد إلى حيفا"، والمسلسل التلفزيوني " التغريبة الفلسطينية" للدكتور وليد سيف.

تبدأ الحكاية بعائلة يحيى أبو الهيجا، صاحبة كروم الزيتون في قرية عين حوض منذ عام 1940 التي تعيش بأمان وسلام وهناء , إلى أن أتت حرب 1948 فتحطم السلام وعلى المدى الطويل، وهُجّر أهل القرية وقرى ومدن كثيرة، ولجأ يحيى وأبنائه، حسن ودرويش إلى مخيم جنين. خلال تلك الحرب وتحت زخات الرصاص والقتل قام جندي إسرائيلي بسرقة الحفيد إسماعيل من حضن أمه داليا زوجة حسن، وهكذا تخسر داليا وطنها وابنها الرضيع.

أخذ موشي أفرام الطفل ليقدمه هدية غالية لزوجته التي فقدت والديها واعتدي عليها من قبل جنود النازية ونجت منهم، بعد أن فقدت القدرة على الانجاب.

أراد موشي تعويض ضعف زوجته بطفل فلسطيني تتبناه، وبذلك ينشأ إسماعيل، تحت إسم دافيد آفرام، الذي يخدم فيما بعد كجندي إسرائيلي في جنين منكلا بعائلته الأصلية, فيضرب ويعذب أخيه المقاوم يوسف عند أحد الحواجز. يوسف الذي قدر بأن معذبه هو أخيه إسماعيل الذي أصيب وهو رضيع بجرح ترك ندبة على وجهه الذي يشبه وجه يوسف.

ترزق داليا بفتاة تسميها آمال، الشخصية التي تنقل الأحداث في الأبواب ال 48 من الكتاب المؤلف من 380 صفحة. تصاب أمال في حرب عام 1967 بطلقة في بطنها وهي مختبئة في حفرة في مطبخ المنزل، ويختفي أبوها حسن،ربما استشهد، الأمر الذي يفقد داليا زوجها وعقلها، ومن ثم تصارع المرض لتتوفى في عام 1969.

بينما تتابع آمال حياتها بعيدة عما تبقى من أهلها في مدرسة داخلية، دار الطفل العربي" في القدس، حيث تحصل على بعثة دراسية في أمريكا. و يتزوج يوسف من فاطمة التي أحبها وينتقل مع المقاومة الفلسطينية إلى الأردن وبعدها إلى بيروت ويرزق بطفلة يسميها فلسطين.

يتصل يوسف عام 1981 من بيروت هاتفيا بأخته آمال التي تهرع لتسافر إليه وتقابله في مخيم شاتيلا. وهناك تقع آمال في حب الطبيب ماجد، صديق عائلة يوسف، وتتزوجه وتحمل منه، وتعود إلى أمريكا لمتابعة إجراءات السفر لماجد ويوسف مع عائلته.

أثناء ذلك تغزو إسرائيل لبنان، عام 1982، فيخرج رجال منظمة التحرير الفلسطينية من بيروت بوعود أمريكية لحماية من تبقى من الفلسطينيين هناك. في تلك الحرب تخسر آمال زوجها الذي أحبت بقصف على بيته، وتقتل فاطمة ببقر بطنها وإخراج جنينها, وتذبح ابنتها فلسطين في حضنها. أما يوسف المفجوع فيقوم بتفجير نفسه بالمقر العسكري الأمريكي في بيروت فيقتل ويجرح عشرات الجنود، ويتهم بالإعلام الأمريكي بالإرهاب. ويتم على إثرها ملاحقة آمال في أمريكا مخابراتيا من جراء فعلة أخيها يوسف .

تتابع آمال حياتها مع ابنتها سارة في أمريكا جسديا بينما روحها وقلبها وعقلها و جذورها في وطنها فلسطين، الأمر الذي انتقل إلى الإبنة سارة، التي أرادت العودة للوطن والتعرف عليه وعلى من تبقى من أفراد العائلة. في هذه الأثناء يشارف موشي على الموت ويبوح بالسر لإبنه دافيد " إسماعيل"، الذي يبدأ التفتيش عن عائلته ليصل إلى آمال، طرف الخيط في أمريكا.

تعود آمال وسارة إلى مخيم جنين ويلتقيا بإسماعيل، الذي طلقته زوجته بعد معرفتها بأنه عربي، ولحق بها أحد أبنائها وتركها الآخر ليعيش مع أبيه ،دافيد. يهاجم الجيش الإسرائيلي مخيم جنين عام 2002 ، ويرتكب المجازر هناك، أثنائها كانت آمال وسارة في زيارة إحدى صديقات الطفولة في المخيم. وجه أحد الجنود الإسرائيليين بندقيته إلى سارة ليقتلها فسارعت الأم بحماية ابنتها فتلقت الرصاصة التي أسقطتها على الأرض التي أحبتها. قام اسماعيل بدفن أخته آمال. في ظل تلك الأحداث تظهر شخصية البروفسوراليهودي آري، الذي كان صديق الطفولة للجد حسن.حيث كان حسن قد أنقذ حياته في حرب 1948، ليصطحب أري سارة إلى عين حوض ويدلها على بيت عائلتها هناك , يطرق الباب على العائلة اليهودية التي أتت من بقاع الأرض، مستعمرة لتسكنه، ويتم طردهم من هناك.

يبدو أن هذه الرواية، التي ستترجم إلى 19 لغة، وهي رواية تتصدر الأدب المهجري المقاوم، وحسب تقييم نقاد وأدباء سويديين، ستكون من روايات الأدب العالمي، رغم أنها التجربة الأولى لسوزان أبو الهوى، الباحثة في علم الادوية والكيمياء الحيوية .

يقول فيها الروائي السويدي الكبير هينينج مانكل: لم أقرأ في حياتي رواية جذبتني عن فلسطين كهذه. لقد زودتني بالإدراك وهيجت أحاسيسي وعواطفي، كما يمكن للروايات العظمى أن تفعل.

وكقارئ فلسطيني للرواية فقد رأيت نفسي في عدد من المشاهد التي صورتها لنا أبو الهوى.

وأكثر ماتطابق في الرواية مع سلسلة حياتي هو

أولا: صورة الغلاف التي تظهر سيدة بثوب فلسطيني تحمل على كتفها طفل بعمر سنتين تدير وجهها مغادرة موقع تنتمي إليه. صورة تتطابق مع حمل والدتي لي على كتفيها وكان عمري سنتين، وكانت تحمل في رحمها إبنها الثالث، وجائها المخاض أثناء مسيرها على الطريق من صفد إلى لبنان ليتم نقلها إلى مشفى في حلب لتضع طفلها الثالث.

وثانيا مسيرتي في العمل الفلسطيني في المخيمات وفي الشتات.

وثالثا زيارتي التي قمت بها إلى صفد، عام 1989، حيث وقفت أمام بيتنا ومنعت من الدخول إليه من قبل العائلة اليهودية التي جاءت من أصقاع الأرض واستولت عليه.

ورابعا إصرار الفلسطينيين جيلا بعد جيل على حمل القضية في قلوبهم وعقولهم ونقلها إلى الرأي العام الدولي لمتابعة النضال، وكاتبة الرواية السيدة سوزان المولودة في الكويت عام 1970 خير برهان على الأجيال التي ولدت بعد النكبة بعقود,

لكنها تفهم القضية كما هي بتفاصيلها الإنسانية الدقيقة.

قراءة وتعليق رشيد الحجة

صحافي فلسطيني مقيم في أوبسالا - السويد

Sunday, February 6, 2011

We Are All Egypt!

In the Huffington Post, February 4, 2011

Rightly proud of their history, Egyptians like to announce, especially to other Arabs, that Egypt is the world's mother. The Arabic version is far more tender and poetic "Misr Um el Dounia"! Lighthearted banter will often ensue between Egyptian and non-Egyptian friends when that statement is brought into the conversation.

Today, I think every Arab will concede that, indeed, Misr Um el Dounia!

The culture that is a pillar of history itself is, once again, unfurling a new era and, as one revolutionary protestor said, "the world before January 25th is not the same after January 25th." With such spectacular passion, courage, endurance, and undaunted will, the people of Egypt are ushering in a new world order in the Middle East. Everyone, apparently except Hosni Mubarak, knows that Hosni Mubarak is finished. But his ousting is not merely the end of one Arab tyrant. The awe-inspiring unity of voice and purpose of Egyptians is the realization of an old Arab dream, one for which songs, poems and anthems have been written and sung in every Arab home for generations. It is the dream of liberty, an end to colonialism and its aftertaste that lingers throughout these ancient lands. It is the dream of self-rule and unity among peoples of the Middle East who share a common destiny.

The people have always been fundamentally united. This is evident by the demonstrations in other parts of the Middle East in solidarity with Egyptians. It is evident by past demonstrations throughout Arab streets in opposition to attacks upon Palestinians and Lebanese Arabs. The revolutionaries packed into Tahrir Square are many of the same who have in the past carried placards reading "We are all Palestine." As a Palestinian, I now march the streets with a placard that reads "We are all Egypt."

Incredibly, now we are seeing footage of confessions from the so called "pro-Mubarak" crowd who admit to having been paid to create chaos and violence in what had been an orderly and peaceful assembly of millions of human beings. We already knew that many of those who came on camels and horses wielding whips, knives and swords, were part of Mubarak's central police. It is clear now that others were prisoners who were released with small amounts of money on the condition that they join the forces of disruption.

El Abtal, the revolutionaries, did not budge and their nonviolent demonstrations have resumed with the same awesome unity and order. Even some of those individuals who were paid to rally for Mubarak have changed sides to join their countrymen in Tahrir square. Millions without work or school, of all faiths, of all economic backgrounds, are standing shoulder to shoulder, sharing food, water, praying together, listening to Egyptian songs between calls of the Adan, chanting, and restoring their dignity as a free people.

There's another saying in Arabic that doesn't quite translate into English. But I'll give it a try: The people of Egypt have raised the collective Arab head. "Awlad Misr byirfa3o ras el Arab kolohom!" In other words, Egyptians inspire us all and fill our hearts with pride and love and hope.

Susan Abulhawa is the author of Mornings in Jenin and founder of Playgrounds for Palestine.

Mubarak: Destroying Egypt to Stay in Power

In the Huffington Post, February 2, 2011

In the face of a spectacular and inspiring people's revolution, Hosni Mubarak's first tactic to hold onto his despotic post was to send his police thugs into the streets as looters and rioters to provide him with an excuse to do what he does best: clamp down and terrorize Egypt's citizens. But thanks to the incredible solidarity of the people, this subversion was unsuccessful. Neighborhood watch groups repelled and 'arrested' those looters and turned them over to the army.

When demands for Mubarak's departure grew louder from from an even bigger crowd, he dug his nails in deeper, staking his claim to the few remaining months in his tenure of torture and intimidation of the Egyptian people.

As his intransigence stretched out, so did the protests and the risk of chaos grew. It was easy to predict, as I did in a Twitter post, that Mubarak was waiting for mayhem to ensue naturally, due to the inevitable food and fuel shortages, so he could step in to "restore order".

But the people's resolve for freedom, civil liberties, and government transparency could not be conquered by exhaustion or hunger.

Now we see that Mubarak's latest tactic is to send in armed gangs, mostly from his notorious police force, to ignite riots.

Mubarak is intentionally trying to provoke a bloodbath in Egypt, his own country!


In a pathetic speech to his people, he claimed to hold onto power for the sake of maintaining security and order. In fact, the protests, involving millions of people were entirely peaceful and miraculously orderly. It was Mubarak who actively changed that and any bloodshed from this moment forward will rest entirely on his shoulders. He should be tried and punished for the violent consequences of his maniacal ego that will not accept the clear, definitive, passionate, and unified voice of the people to rid Egypt of his tyranny.

There is little doubt that some in the US and Israel are quietly pushing for Mubarak to maintain power. We have heard and read statements that confirm this in one way or another. Nearly every American network has counted Mubarak's contributions to Israel's interests as his crowning achievement, as if Israel should be the priority of every Egyptian.

What arrogance! What hypocrisy for the West not to stand, unequivocally, behind a people's undaunted cry for freedom!

In truth, few in the West want Arabs to have such freedom or democracy. People who hold the reins of their own destiny are more difficult to deal with because they tend to demand fair play, justice, and respect for themselves. They also might not sit silently, for example, the next time Israel decides to rain the death of bombs, missiles, and white phosphorous onto the already battered, hungry, and besieged people of Gaza.

May God give the Egyptian people the strength to hold their ground and may their revolution for democracy and freedom spread like a brushfire through the Arab world.

Make no mistake, it is only a matter of time, and especially if Mubarak employs more terror against his own people in order to stay in power.

A Defining Moment for President Obama's Leadership

In the Huffington Post, January 23, 2011

A UN resolution is being circulated among the fifteen members of the Security Council and it is likely that all but the United States will accept it. The language of the resolution affirms what previous UN resolutions and international law have already established: That Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, namely all territory beyond the 1967 borders, including East Jerusalem, are illegal.

Although President Obama has made it clear that he opposes these settlements and considers them an impediment to peace, it is expected that the Obama administration will, nonetheless, follow previous administrations in being the only dissenting voice on the Security Council when it comes to resolutions that hold Israel accountable to internationally accepted standards. And by "dissent," I mean veto.

On one hand, a veto by the US can be regarded as nothing new. The US consistently provides this kind of political cover for Israel's crimes. Sometimes an international uproar follows but it dies out without discernible repercussion. But there are reasons to think that a veto of this resolution might not pass so easily. Consequences might be apparent on both the national and international front for the US.

For starters, Obama has been publicly humiliated by Prime Minister Netanyahu's rebuff of an unprecedented American bribe in return for a pittance and temporary adherence to international law to stop settlement construction on confiscated Palestinian land -- partially and for only 90 days. This public rebuke of the President of the United States came not long after other slights, including the announcement of new illegal settlement construction on the eve of Vice President Joe Biden's arrival in Tel Aviv last year.

Israel's public belittling and disregard for its only ally and chief benefactor amounts to biting the hand that feeds it. For Obama to now step in and give sanction for something he openly and repeatedly opposed will further expose his weakness and inability to stand up to a tiny country that arguably owes its survival to the US. A veto will also further increase the isolation of the US from the consensus of the rest of the world, which is increasingly less tolerant of Israel's unrelenting crimes and its lack of accountability.

While the US could withstand such isolation in previous times, there are several reasons why this may not hold true now. For starters, the US is embroiled in two losing wars in the Middle East that make the ire of the "Arab street" (which is sure to be spurred by yet another veto) more relevant. The repressive Arab dictators, who routinely suppress displays of mass political dissent and unrest, might be more apt to hear popular anger at a US veto and press matters more vigorously with the UN given the sweeping popular revolution we are witnessing now in Tunis. Furthermore, Israel's harm to US interests was underscored last year by unprecedented political commentary from the highest echelons of the US military, when Commander General David Petraeus made it clear to the White House that Israel's intransigence was jeopardizing American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The proposed UN resolution merely affirms previous UN resolutions (some of which were even authored by the US), basic tenets of international law, and the already articulated position of the Obama administration regarding Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land. It is a minimal recognition of the right of the indigenous population of Historic Palestine to exist as a free people in their own homeland. For Obama to veto this resolution now would surely corroborate the perception of him as a cowering and ineffectual president who cannot withstand the political pressure that Israel exerts domestically in the US. The risk of igniting more popular movements in the Arab world that could overthrow US clients in the region is more real now than ever, given the inspiration from Tunisians. Finally, Obama would risk further harm to American troops in two already damaging and draining wars. Republicans would surely exploit all of the above, which, given the current economy, could easily translate into a one-term presidency.

But what if he allows the resolution to pass?

It is well known that standing up to Israel carries great political risk, including a one-term presidency, as in the case of Jimmy Carter and George Bush Senior, both of whom merely threatened or tried to withhold American tax dollars and loan guarantees for Israel to curtail its flouting of international law. However, rewind a few presidencies to Dwight Eisenhower, the first American president who stood on principle against Israel despite enormous domestic pressure, withheld US tax dollars and even threatened UN sanctions if Israel continued to occupy the Gaza Strip and the Gulf of Aqaba it had invaded and captured in 1956.

On top of that, this all occurred during the home stretch for reelection, a risky time to incur Israel's ire, and Eisenhower's advisors were begging him to back down lest he lose the election. But President Eisenhower had had enough of Israel's trickery and flouting of the law and his resolve was echoed by his Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, who said: "I am aware how almost impossible it is in this country to carry out a foreign policy not approved by [the Israelis]...but I am going to have one. That does not mean I am anti-Jewish, but I believe in what George Washington said in his Farewell Address that an emotional attachment to another country should not interfere."

The rest is history. Ben-Gurion, Israel's Prime Minister, was forced to turn and leave Gaza. Eisenhower, of course, was reelected. There are many differences that can be cited between the circumstances of Eisenhower's stand and that of Carter's and later Bush, Sr. Eisenhower took his case directly to the American people. On a radio address to the nation, he said:

We are now faced with a fateful moment as a result of the failure of Israel to withdraw its forces behind the Armistice lines, as contemplated by the United Nations Resolutions on this subject.

I would, I feel, be untrue to the standards of the high office to which you have chosen me, if I were to lend the influence of the United States to the proposition that a nation which invades another should be permitted to exact conditions for withdrawal... We cannot -- in the world, any more than in our own nation -- subscribe to one law for the weak, another for the strong .... There can only be one law -- or there will be no peace.

Such is the language of leaders. Rather than back down from a politically inconvenient principled stand, Eisenhower appealed to, and trusted, his people's basic sense of justice and fair play, by revealing the moral clarity of his position. No president since has displayed that kind of leadership vis-à-vis Israel, and our nation continues to pay a heavy price a result. It is for this reason that the US position on this UN resolution may well be a defining moment for President Obama's leadership.

Susan Abulhawa is the author of Mornings in Jenin and founder of Playgrounds for Palestine

Susan on Al Jazeera's Listening Post about "Breaking the Silence" group in Israel

Susan on Al Jazeera's "Listening Post". On this link, the story beings at minute 15:00; susan's part begins after minute 23:00

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Susan on Blogtalk Radio with Barbara Howard

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The AntiSemitism to Come? Hardly

(In addition to the Huffington Post, this essay was also published in el Pais in Spanish and Aftenposten in Norwegian)

Bernard-Henri Levy, the French pop star of philosophy and intellectual elitism, authored an essay that featured my novel, Mornings in Jenin, as one of three distressing developments that led him to ask "is there no end to the demonization of Israel?" It was titled: "The Antisemitism to Come." The other two happenings that concern him, he says, are the growing boycott of Israel and an acclaimed documentary film called Tears of Gaza.

First, a look at Mr Levy's targets:

1) Mornings in Jenin is a work of historic fiction, where fictional characters live through real history; and I encourage anyone to do their own research to verify the accuracy of the historic events that form the backdrop for the novel. 2) Tears of Gaza is a documentary film by Vibeke Lokkeberg, in which she reveals the horrific impact of Israel's bombing of Gaza in 2008 to 2009, especially on children and women. 3) The activists participating in and encouraging an economic boycott of Israel are ordinary citizens all over the world who are heeding the call of their conscience to take a moral stand against a grave injustice that has gone on far too long against the indigenous population of Israel and Palestine; namely, the Palestinian people.

Rather than offer an intelligent analysis of any one of these three things that trouble him, Levy essentially resorts to name-calling. He simply slaps on the word "antisemitism" to discredit any negative portrayal of Israel. This word -- with its profound gravity of marginalization, humiliation, dispossession, oppression, and ultimately, genocide of human beings for no other reason but their religion -- is so irresponsibly used by the likes of Levy that it truly besmirches the memory of those who were murdered in death camps solely for being Jewish. And I thank Kurt Brainin, a Holocaust survivor who wrote a touching letter expressing exactly that in response to Levy.

Nowhere in Levy's essay does he identify anything truly antisemitic in any of the three elements to which he refers. Because he cannot. If he could, I think he would. In fact, the people who today are being marginalized, humiliated, dispossessed, and oppressed for the sole reason of their religion are Palestinian Christians and Muslims. That is the real antisemitism of today.

Israel has been wiping Palestine off the map, expelling us and stealing everything we have. All that remains to us is less than 11 percent of our historic homeland, now in the form of isolated Bantustans, surrounded by menacing walls, snipers, checkpoints, settler-only roads and the ever-expanding Jewish-only settlements built on confiscated Palestinian property. We have no control over our own natural resources. The amount of water one receives is based on one's religion, such that Palestinians must share bathing water, while their Jewish neighbors water their lawns and enjoy private swimming pools. According to Defence for Children International, in Jerusalem alone, Israel has imprisoned 1,200 Palestinian children this year, who are routinely abused and forced to sign confessions in Hebrew, which they do not understand. Israel routinely targets Palestinian schools and has created a full generation of lost souls in Gaza, who are growing up knowing only fear, insecurity, and hunger. Documents pertaining to Israel's brutal siege of Gaza and its merciless attacks on that civilian population show the cold mathematical formulas designed intentionally to produce food shortages and hunger in Gaza. Christian Palestinians have all but been wholly removed from the place of Jesus' birth. And on goes the inhumanity -- the constant expulsions, home demolitions, systematic theft, destruction of livelihoods, uprooting of trees -- especially olive trees which are so precious to Palestinian culture -- curfews, closures, institutional discrimination, and on and on.

Instead of upholding the best of Jewish ideals that champion justice and the uplifting of the oppressed, Mr. Levy rushes to Israel's defense, repeating the tired mantra of "the only democracy in the Middle East." Apartheid South Africa, too, called itself a democracy, while it mowed down little boys in Soweto (with arms, incidentally, supplied by Israel). So did the United States, during a time when at least 20 percent of its population lived as slaves, bought and sold like cattle.

Equally outrageous is Mr. Levy's wholesale labeling of anyone who criticizes Israel as "antisemitic". For exposing Israel's extensive crimes, we must face the defamation that we are immoral, racist, and hateful. In the case of Vibeke Lokkeberg, Levy makes it a point to inform the reader that she is a former model, ignoring her accomplishments as an experienced filmmaker and author. Apparently, in addition to suggesting she is racist, he perhaps wants readers to think she is also not intellectually qualified to create anything of merit. This tactic of attacking and trying to discredit the messenger rather than address the actual message is an age-old propaganda method.

Mr. Levy accuses us of "demonizing Israel", when in fact, all we do is pull back the curtain, however slightly, to show a dark truth he wishes to keep hidden. I suspect that Mr Levy feels, as most Jewish supporters of Israel do, that he is more entitled to my grandfather's farms than I am. After all, that is really the foundation of Israel, isn't it? The question that should be asked is "why?" and "how?" Why should Jews from all over the world be entitled to enjoy dual citizenship, both in their own homeland and in mine, while we, the natives of Palestine, languish in refugee camps, a diaspora, or patrolled ghettos and bantustans? How is it that a country with one of the most powerful militaries in the world, that has been committing well-documented war crimes against a principally unarmed civilian native population for six decades now, is depicted as the victim? And worse, the real victims, who are trying to resist their own extinction, are depicted as the aggressors?

Nelson Mandela once said: "We know all too well, that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians." Now, in addition to such notable personalities speaking out, people all over the world are slowly joining the struggle for justice and freedom for Palestinians; and it seems inevitable that Israel's systematic ethnic cleansing will at last be opposed by a critical mass of people that will compel Israel to abandon its institutional racism, such that the native non-Jewish population might at last live with the same legal and human rights as Jews in the Holy Land. This is clearly what really worries Mr. Levy.

Monday, November 1, 2010

My Encounter with a Zionist in Crisis with her Beliefs

By Susan Abulhawa

I received a lovely letter from a reader who identified herself as a Jewish American. To preserve her anonymity, I’ll call her 'Sally'. She wrote that she loved Mornings in Jenin, even though the historic backdrop of the narrative did not reconcile with what she learned about Israel growing up. It seemed a heartfelt letter and thus worthy of a similar response. I did not see Sally as a Zionist or even as a Jew. I saw her as a woman, a mother, and a fellow writer. So, I was delighted when she came to my panel debate with Alan Dershowitz at the Boston Book Festival, and when she asked if we could talk more after the event, I was happy to invite her to lunch with a group of friends. She was soft spoken, with a gentle demeanor and through the course of the table conversation, I realized that we also shared similar beliefs regarding some matters of spirituality.

Sally and I continued to correspond occasionally, both privately and with a group of people who were at lunch that day. Soon, she let me know that one of her friends was now questioning her own Zionist beliefs because of something she heard at her Temple. As a result, Sally’s friend had chosen a list of documentaries to watch. Naturally, I asked what those documentaries were and she sent a list of about 12 or so films that were made 1) to show how awful Arabs are, 2) to present rosy pictures of normalization of Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, 3) to show what Israel’s aggression against Lebanon was like from an Israeli paratrooper’s perspective!, or 4) to depict mixed Arab and Israeli towns as a paradise where everyone is equal.

I find that when people are truly searching to understand, they can find the right sources, especially in this information age. Likewise, when people are confronted with an uncomfortable reality that jars an existing belief, they can turn around and find what they need to prove that they were right all along. Reading the list that Sally sent to me, it was easy to see what category she fit into. Here is the response that I sent to Sally:

If I were trying to get a better view of something, i'd at least look for ones made by third party sources who don't have their own personal beef in the situation. Although with this list, she'll be able to put her head back in the sand and say she did her research and it all proved she was right before.

Sally’s response was immediate and indignant. I’ll spare you the full email, but suffice it to say that she was offended that I had “insulted” her dear friend, and she closed with this:

I know you are much, much more invested in all of this than I and therefore more passionate than I, but please give me the benefit of the doubt before writing words that insult my friend. You may not realize it, but we are two people who will spread our knowledge with others and that can only help you. I am also getting ideas for my next book that can include this message as well.

Let me start here: I know you are much, much more invested in all of this than I and therefore more passionate than I.

It is true that I am “much, much more invested” in “all of this” than she is. How much more? I’d say at least a few centuries more, several generations of grandparents more, many acres of family property more, and one shattered and dispossessed family more. And what is “all of this”? That would be my country. My history. My family. My countrymen. My only heritage and only inheritance. The place where I belong. The place to which I am not allowed to return because of my religion. “All of this” is a collection of refugee camps where people have lived their entire lives in destitution – honorable people, of nobility and peasantry alike, who have been stripped of everything for the sole crime of being born into their own skin.

Now: but please give me the benefit of the doubt before writing words that insult my friend.

As if it is not insulting to me that an American woman, with absolutely no ancestral, historic, cultural, or biological ties to the land, should announce to me that she needs to do more research to determine whether or not I indeed have a right to inherit my grandfather’s farm, reserving, of course, her own right to my grandfather’s farm.

But the most egregious insult is this: You may not realize it, but we are two people who will spread our knowledge with others and that can only help you. I am also getting ideas for my next book that can include this message as well.

I suppose she misunderstood my intentions in corresponding with her in the first place. Perhaps she thought I was trying to win her over, to “help [me]” spread the word. So let me make one thing very clear, to her and to anyone who isn’t sure if they should maintain that they are entitled to keep Palestine as their summer home away from their own home. You are standing on the wrong side of history. That’s why the ground feels shaky beneath your support of Israel. You are standing on the side of a military occupation that daily strips people of their belongings, of their livelihoods, of their dignity and cuts off the very food they eat, the water they drink. You are on the other side of Nelson Mandela’s legacy. The other side of every native people’s struggle for self-determination, for human rights and for basic human dignity. It is not for me that you educate yourself. It is for your own soul. For your own conscience. I am comfortable on solid ground. It is physically defenseless, but morally impenetrable ground. Whatever research you chose to do and what you choose to learn is for you and only for you. My correspondence was with you, as a woman I thought I could be friends with. I was not asking for your help. But one day you will be asked for something else. Perhaps your children or grandchildren will want you to explain what you did when Palestinians were being wiped off the map so you and every Jew around the world could have dual citizenship, a summer home, if you will, on top of my grandparent’s graves.