Book review: Palestinians narrating.

It’s an axiom in my field that “Arabs aren’t allowed to narrate” — and it’s a pretty accurate one, at that, at least in the West (or: It was until last Friday. Perhaps the Egyptians are now ushering in a new age for the Arab peoples [with, of course, an important h/t to the Tunisians]).

I would submit, however, that nowhere is this axiom more true than with regard to the Palestinians.

The story of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has long been seen in the West almost exclusively through the the Israeli lens. For many decades, this meant that the Israelis were the brave, besieged ones, whereas the Palestinians were the craven, evil ones — “Palestinian” often serving as something of a synonym for “terrorist.”

The good news is that last ten years or so have seen a certain re-focusing of the lens, as Western intellectuals, leaders, and the occasional Jew have rediscovered that other, rather more universal, axiom: There are two sides to every story.

The bad news is that we still have a long way to go. Because the truth is: Both sides have done evil. Both are victims. Both have been badly misunderstood and unfairly maligned. Both have stories of horror and heroism to tell the world.

But one side has a state. One side is supported by the world’s one remaining superpower. One side has tanks and a functioning economy, and one side is actually — literally — besieging the other. One side, the Israeli side, is still writing the history.

Into this breach, then, come two new Palestinian authors daring to narrate their own history, in beautiful, telling memoirs. I was lucky enough to review both for the Dallas Morning News yesterday:

… Sami al-Jundi’s The Hour of Sunlight (co-authored by Jen Marlowe) and Izzeldin Abuelaish’s I Shall Not Hate . Both men were born into Israeli occupation, but on opposite borders — al-Jundi grew up in Jerusalem , Abuelaish in the Gaza Strip — and the near-simultaneous publication of their memoirs creates an unusual opportunity to deepen the understanding of the conflict’s human cost.

Each author has spent his adult life dedicated to coexistence efforts, and the books deal at length with questions of nonviolence, mutual compassion and the search for Israeli-Palestinian peace — but as with all really good memoirs each also brings a great deal more to the table.

Yet for all that, Abuelaish’s convictions were unable to protect his family during the 2009 Gaza war: Two days before the cease-fire, the doctor’s residence was targeted by an Israeli tank — a shell ripped through a wall, killing his niece and three of his daughters.

Abuelaish recalls running to the shattered room: “Schoolbooks, dolls, running shoes, and pieces of wood were splintered in a heap, along with the body parts,” he writes. “There was brain matter on the ceiling.”

Yet somehow, he also writes of “the potential good that could come out of this soul-searing bad” — the possibility that the sides “might bridge the fractious divide that has kept us apart for six decades.”

Both authors are scrupulously honest (about their own limitations, as well as those of the peoples they long to see live in peace), their books heartfelt, moving and beautifully written, each in a distinctive voice, telling separate and equally important stories.

To learn more about/order these two marvelous books, please click here: Hour of Sunlight and here: I Shall Not Hate.

To read the rest of my review, please [UPDATE] click through to after the jump.

Book review: “The Hour of Sunlight,” by Sami al Jundi and Jen Marlowe, and “I Shall Not Hate,” by Izzeldin Abuelaish

By EMILY L. HAUSER Special Contributor

There’s undeniable truth to the axiom that history is written by the winners.

Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it could be argued that there are no “winners” (people still die on both sides, fear still informs civilians’ daily actions), but one side may at least claim one clear victory: Israelis have a state; Palestinians don’t — and, in fact, their lives are micro-managed by the Israeli government.

Thus, it’s easy to find books written from a variety of Israeli perspectives (whether or not the authors agree with Israeli policy), but it’s much harder to come by Palestinian viewpoints.

Into this breach come Sami al-Jundi’s The Hour of Sunlight (co-written by Jen Marlowe), and Izzeldin Abuelaish’s I Shall Not Hate. Both men were born into Israeli occupation, but on opposite borders — al-Jundi grew up in Jerusalem, Abuelaish in the Gaza Strip — and the near-simultaneous publication of their memoirs creates a unusual opportunity to deepen the understanding of the conflict’s human cost.

Each author has spent his adult life dedicated to co-existence efforts, and the books deal at length with questions of nonviolence, mutual compassion and the search for Israeli-Palestinian peace — but as with all really good memoirs, each also brings a great deal more to the table.

Al-Jundi peppers his tale with childhood recollections that are universally accessible (the chaos of dropping a neighborhood cat onto an old man’s al fresco dinner, for one) as well as many that are painfully specific to a boy living with war (the excitement at seeing real Israeli soldiers, quickly lost as they made his mother cry).

Enraged by the loss of their homeland, al-Jundi and two friends joined the PLO as teenagers, but their first real bomb exploded as they built it, killing one boy instantly and severely wounding the others. Al-Jundi was arrested in the hospital, underwent Israeli interrogation and torture, and was sentenced to a decade in prison.

It was in the course of a prisoner-directed study program, however, that al-Jundi began to feel his way out of violence and toward reconciliation, and while his subsequent life of activism has often been one of frustration, he remains dedicated to the effort: “The circle of blood is continuing,” he writes. “It is not acceptable… to just sit and watch it.”

Abuelaish, on the other hand, recalls that even as a child in a refugee camp, he knew that the only way to resolve the conflict was for Israelis and Palestinians to work together.

Hired as a teenager to work on an Israeli farm, ultimately becoming the only Palestinian physician to work in an Israeli hospital, Abuelaish has spent years arranging Palestinian-Israeli meetings, sending his children to co-existence events, speaking publicly, and caring for Israeli patients.

Yet for all that, Abuelaish’s convictions were unable to protect his family during the 2009 Gaza War: Two days before the ceasefire, the doctor’s residence was targeted by an Israeli tank — a shell ripped through a wall, killing his niece and three of his daughters.

Abuelaish recalls running to the shattered room: “Schoolbooks, dolls, running shoes, and pieces of woods were splintered in a heap, along with the body parts,” he writes. “There was brain matter on the ceiling.”

Yet somehow, he also writes of “the potential good that could come out of this soul-searing bad” — the possibility that the sides “might bridge the fractious divide that has kept us apart for six decades.”

Both authors are scrupulously honest (about their own limitations, as well as those of the peoples they long to see live in peace), their books heartfelt, moving, and beautifully written, each in a distinctive voice, telling separate and equally important stories.

Battered by decades of continuous conflict, failed diplomacy, and, in Abuelaish’s case, almost incomprehensible loss, what is most remarkable is that each man is able to convey not only a baseline faith in the human spirit, but hope for the future.

Emily L. Hauser is an Israeli-American freelance writer. She has studied and written about the contemporary Middle East for close to 20 years.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.

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