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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mornings In Jenin

Mornings in Jenin also known as The Scar of David
by Susan Abulhawa

This book is in many ways profoundly sad, but it was awesome and beautiful too. It is about time there is a book from the Palestinian perspective. It will be new territory to many, but if you're going to discuss Israel or the Middle East at all, you've got to have this perspective along with the others. It has been neglected too long.

Imagine if the Jews had to experience the holocaust several times in one lifetime and each generation had to endure such crimes- and on top of that imagine if the Nazis were able to convince people they were the victims. That is this book. That is the Palestinian experience. Massacre and loss in the past, ethnic cleansing in the future. Jews at least endured it only once, were rescued, and picked up the pieces. Palestinians have to endure it continually and many still insist they are the cause of the bloodshed.

This is the missing piece. I hope more fiction and non-fiction is written in the Palestinian narrative. Growing up, we read The Diary of Anne Frank and discuss and respect the Jewish experience- both their trials and triumphs; we graduate learning virtually nothing about the people the holocaust victims killed to make their dream come true beyond maybe some slurs and stereotypes from TV and the peanut gallery in class.

Palestinians are often spoken about, but not given a chance to speak in discussions on US-Israel relationship or the Nazi Holocaust or the Middle East in general. Even thogh the characters are ficitional, I hope this book goes a long way to educate people on the Palestinian perspective so that we remember to include that narrative (not specifically the one in the book, but of actual Palestinians) when talking about Palestine and Israel.

This book follows one family mainly and travels through time from before 1948, 1967, Lebanon 1982, and Jenin 2002.

If you want to understand the Palestinian experience like we in the US know and feel for the Jewish experience, this is the book to read. It's characters are fictional, but events and certain historical figures are accurate. Many of the things that happen to this family I have seen many times in the news and humanitarian reports. While I don't know if it is possible that all these events have actually happened to one family, it seems representative of the experience as a whole from what I have read. There is the 1948 Nakba, the truces and pacts with Jews that were violated, the feeling of temporary refugee status, the attempts to return in the years after '48, children born as refugees in the first camps and later more permanent camps, the sad realization that the tents had become concrete. Then there is 1967 with the military occupation when people are refugees a second time in their lives, the loss of much of ones family and all of ones rights and land for a second time after picking up the scant pieces after 1948. Then there is 1982 in Lebanon where unarmed civilians were brutally murdered in the worst ways after the PLO had already been chased out- women raped, people lined up and shot in the head, pregnant bellies sliced open, even babies shot- which was unbelievably declared self-defense. The book ends dramatically in 2002 with the massacre in Jenin with very few of the family we are following alive.

I thought the parallel of the Arab baby being stolen to complete a Jewish family's dream for a child was a good touch. The Jewish woman wasn't able to have kids due to the horrors she suffered by the SS and she felt entitled to this stolen child as if it was God's will or something- she refused the details of how her husband stole the child. This is a great parallel to 1948 and how Jews felt entitled to Palestinian land and were lied to that this was a "land without a people for a people with no land" and that is or was taboo in Israel to talk about what really happened- the Jewish terorrist groups that murdered and pillaged their way to a state and continue to this day. When the child grows up and finds out who he is, he feels neither Jewish nor Muslim, Palestinian nor Israeli, which brings him closer to his real Arab family and could represent Palestinian Israelis or Palestinian refugees in the literal and figurative displacement.

This book makes you think about why it was ok for Palestinians to pay for Nazi crimes, why it's not ok for Palestinians to defend themselves or have basic rights, why on earth is it considered tantamount to anti-Semitism when you compare the Holocuast to the Nakba despite the obvious similarities, or how could Holocaust survivors commit the same types of crimes against so many other humans.

Two more things stand out.

I have often thought the words thank you lacking myself and I have never known another culture or language. I have wondered what else I could do or say to express my true gratitude. Amal also noticed this upon her arrival in America from Palestine. I have to say I want to learn Arabic more now. Here are some example thank yous from the book.

May Allah bless the hands that give me this gift.
Beauty is in your eyes that find me pretty.
May God extend your life.
May Allah never deny your prayer.
May the next meal you cook be in celebration of your son's wedding ...of your mothers recovery, etc.

Also, I thought this description below was brilliant. Amal, the main character, born a refugee, tutored in West Philidelphia while in college.

"Opportunity took a detour around Thirtieth Street, and Liberty for All slouched in its chair like a lazy student."

Palestinian Solidarity Day is May 15. Read a book!

This site is a place to collect things to do with susan abulhawa, compiled by Mark Miller:

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