Palestine literature Part 2

I have now read twenty Palestinian novels in a row. Initially I thought I might struggle to find twenty, given that I had already read a few but it was not a problem.

Whether it was wise to read twenty Palestinian novels in a row is another matter. All of them, without exception, showed to some degree the sufferings of the Palestinians. A significant number dealt with the various occupations – Ottoman, British and Jewish – and in all cases the Palestinians were clearly the victims, from having their country taken away from them, their land stolen and crops destroyed to rape, imprisonment, murder, brutal treatment and being driven away from their ancestral home. None of the books avoids the ill-treatment though in most it is overwhelmingly the main theme, while in others less so.

For me the main shock was how badly the British behaved, brutalising the Palestinians and openly siding with the Zionists allowing them to take the Palestinians’ land and drive them out. Interestingly, the few exceptions to the British behaving badly are the Irish who work for the British.

Reviewing previous annual marathons I was able to comment on the varying themes and stories the authors chose. When your country has been stolen, your land forcibly seized and you and your family, including women and children, brutalised and murdered, there really is only one topic to discuss.

Quite a few of the novels quite simply tell the story of a Palestinian family or village and what happens to them. Inevitably it is not pretty and we are often not spared the details. The Ottomans, the British and the Jews do not come out well. There is the occasional exception but they are few and far between.

Some of the novels do go beyond the basic theme, dealing, for example, with Palestinians who are not devoted enough to the cause, Palestinians that face other problems, such as those living elsewhere (e.g. Kuwait, the Gulf states, Lebanon or the US) and facing violence there.

Some of the Palestinians have set up a life elsewhere and are settled into it in some cases or miss their homeland in other cases. Some are simply rootless, unsure of where they belong. Samir El-Youssef‘s Illusion of Return makes it clear from the title that there is no going back, even though one or two do try to do so.

It is Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion who gives the most interesting quote: If I was an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country. Sure, God promised it to us, but what does that matter to them?. This comes from the book that perhaps gives the best overall account of what the Palestinians went through. it follows three generations of Palestinians, starting at the end of the nineteenth century, when the failing Ottoman Empire ruled Palestine and follows the story of a village called Hadiya (which ironically means peaceful).

While some tells the story of a family or village, others get more into the national and international politics, with some combining both. We learn how the Western powers, particularly the UK and US, though France as well, continue their colonising policies and aid the Jews to take over the country, not just by supplying them with arms but by UN resolutions and the like.

Some of the books, while keeping us aware of what is happening to the Palestinians, have other stories to tell – love affairs, growing up, the usual fare.

One of the key issues is exile. Many of the Palestinians are driven into exile and we see them in exile all over the world, including but not limited to Kuwait, the Gulf states, Lebanon, Canada, the US, the UK and France. This raises the issue about those (relatively few) who managed to stay, those who would like to return and those who do return, albeit only for a brief visit, and discussion of the issue. There is even a novel called The Illusion of Return which discusses this issue.

Rabai al-Madhoun comments No fiction can imagine what has happened in Palestine and no reality could give more fiction [appear more fictional] than the reality in Palestine and that would very much seem to be the case.

You probably do not want to read all of these twenty plus the nine that were already on my website. If you are simply looking for good Palestinian novels I would recommend the works of Emile Habiby, Isabella Hammad, Jabra Ibrahim JabraGhassan Kanafani, Adania Shibli and Ghassan Zaqtan, though most of these novels are worth reading. If you want to see more of the. horriors of what the Ottomans/British/Jews did (and, of course, in the case of the Jews, are still doing, then read Ibrahim Nasrallah‘s Time of White Horses, وسفر الاختفاءتفصيل ثانوي (Minor Detail) and واية (Wild Thorns), though all the books will deal with the issue in one way or another.

Next year, after Ukraine and Palestine, I am hoping nobody invades anyone. The two most likely candidates (no, I am not going to name them) do not have twenty books translated into English or even close to that number so I hope I can get back to novels from less controversial countries.

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