Some Palestinians you should meet – my latest on Open Zion.

My every-other-week column at The Daily Beast’s Open Zion is now up!

Many Israeli and American Jews hold strong opinions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We study it, attend conferences, and are often told to expect only violence from the Palestinian side—yet there’s one thing many of us have never done:

Met a Palestinian.

On a very practical level, this is perhaps understandable: For some, there’s an ocean to be crossed; for others, walls and barbed wire. Possibly more difficult to cross are decades of fear and mistrust.

Yet it cannot be argued that human conflict is best resolved in the absence of information. Whatever one might think about this long war, surely Jews would be served by greater familiarity with the people on the other side of it

Memoirs offer a small but powerful way to begin to bridge the gap, allowing a kind of intimacy between reader and writer that’s otherwise hard to find, and in the week in which Nakba Day was commemorated, it seems more appropriate to recommend the works of Palestinians speaking for themselves:

One such memoir is The Hour of Sunlight: One Palestinian’s Journey from Prisoner to Peacemaker, by Sami Al Jundi and Jen Marlowe, the remarkable tale of a wannabe terrorist turned coexistence activist….

You know the drill: Please click through to read the rest!

And, BTW, you really should be reading Open Zion on the regular – there’s good stuff going on there, my friends. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow us at @open_zion, and if you’re on the Book of Faces (a thing I hear is quite popular with the kids), we have a page:

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.


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