Amidst the catastrophe - a message of hope
ILAN PAPPE’S FOREWORD sets the scene for this remarkable book: “Discrete chapters in the history of the Palestinians, such as the catastrophe of 1948, are not just events of the past, but are rather part of a contemporary historical chapter… This concept of an on-going catastrophe and the struggle against it is encapsulated in the trials and tribulations of the heroes and heroines of this book who are of different Palestinian generations and come from different locations.”
Through interviews with survivors from refugee camps, villages and cities, Baroud records the oral history of Palestinians over three generations and more. The language - that of the people themselves - appears to be largely unmediated by the author. It is elegiac, romanticised, often an idealised yearning for a stolen homeland. But cut beneath the surface, and what we get is the brutal experience of oppression and the heroism of a resistance that survives despite overwhelming odds.
It is a book about the Nakba and the creation of Israel in 1948, the experiences from the Syrian and Lebanese refugee camps, from Gaza, the West Bank, the often failed attempts of Palestinians and many others to cross the sea from Turkey to Greece - all in random sequence.
This is a book about eviction, displacement, ethnic cleansing, separated families, crushed rebellions, interrogation, internment, murder, screams of pain and broken dreams. We hear directly from those in the front line against oppression - about brutality from Israel, the United States, the Syrian regime and the Free Syrian Army, the Egyptian state, Lebanese Phalangists working hand-in-glove with the Israelis, King Hussein and Jordanian gaolers, Palestinian landlords and the various Palestinian misleaders.
And yet this is also a story - or rather stories - of heroic resistance: of Umm Marwan whose spirit “represents an entire generation of Palestinian refugee women”; of Hana al-Shalabi who withstood the longest hunger strike ever undertaken by a Palestinian woman in Israeli prisons; of Ali Abumghasib, a Bedouin refugee with his poignant letters to his lost daughter; and many more.
This book, in the words of the author, “overlooks the typical elitist narrative and focuses instead on re-telling the story from the viewpoint of ordinary, poor, underclass and working class Palestinians.”
Let Noam Chomsky have the final word: “In the finest tradition of people’s history, these sensitive, painful and evocative pieces provide a human face to the painful saga of Palestinian torment and the remarkable courage and resilience of the victims.”