This book should be required reading for everyone. For the average American, it’ll humanize the Arabs and the tragedy that is Palestine, in a way you’d never expect – the “other side” to an often one-sided story. A side that the media has completely neglected. You will cry for their suffering, for their humiliation, for their loss. To lose your family- your parents, your siblings, your husband, your children…to lose your innocence as a child, and your dignity as an adult – it’s beyond compehension. And yet it exists. Not just in Palestine, but in many places across the globe. You’ll be engulfed in shame for being so quick to judge and malign. For looking away. For denying the horrors willingly- willfully, while supporting the oppressors in their ongoing oppression. In many ways, it’s reminiscent of what happened to the Native Americans. Forced off their land, oppressed, killed and years later, living out their days on reservations (arguably the modern-day euphemism for glorified refugee camps).
On a fundamental level, it’s not about taking sides. Not really anyways. It’s about humanity. The humanity that exists on both sides. And it’s about losing one’s humanity – for both the oppressor, and the oppressed – by denying the rights that make us all human.
In an odd way, it also made me understand the plight of the Jews and their desire to survive, although it doesn’t excuse the path which they have taken, any more than it excuses a Palestinian “terrorist” acting out of desperation. It made me realize the sheer ugliness and brutality of war. What the Jews endured in the Holocaust…it forced them into survival mode, and their desperation to survive has given them tunnel vision. Life becomes about living by any means necessary. That’s what desperation does. I fault the world and the Zionists for taking advantage of that after World War II. Dangling a carrot in front of people who have endured what no one should endure. Telling them, “You can have a home. You can have a life – a future. Here are the keys to the kingdom – just make sure you clean house – regardless of whose house it is.”
If it’s between them surviving and the Palestinians surviving…they chose themselves – and anyone in their shoes would probably do the same. How else could anyone do what was done to the Palestinians, and find the logic to justify it in their heads and hearts? That is the only way I can even try to rationalize how someone can allow such oppression because I can’t imagine anyone with any conscious watching idly as it happens. Not ONLY allowing it – but condoning it, supporting it, being a part of it. I just can’t wrap my mind around it. But then again, I live in the security of my own home, with food and water, and safety. My days are comparatively uneventful. There’s work and school and dinner. Breaking up fights over toys and making sure my kids brush their teeth. I have not experienced war or oppression. I don’t know what it’s like to have another human being knowingly take the life of someone I love. I don’t know, and I pray that I never will…
War breaks people, and so, despite my anger at Israel for chosing themselves at the cost of others, I don’t know what anyone else in their shoes would have done. I blame the world for letting it happen though. For standing on the sidelines. Heck, for making it happen. You can’t right the wrong of the Holocaust by allowing another tragedy take its place. Maybe Arab blood is worth less in the world’s eyes…maybe that’s why it’s ok. But peace can’t exist where oppression lives.
For me, I’m just heartbroken. I think about how characters remind me of relatives and family friends. There is so much I recognize that I can’t help but think my poor brothers and sisters – they are like my family. They could BE my family. What if this were me…my family, my children…my life. I can’t even begin to fathom. Between this, and the last book I read, “A Thousand Splendid Suns,” I can’t swallow how this is a reality for so many, and how the world keeps on living in oblivion – sheltered, comfortable, selfish. I’m humbled, and embarrassed and my heart aches, more so because of how easily the world looks away or casts blame as a way to alleviate any responsibility on themselves and their conscience. Here in the US, we rarely see the other side – and I think most don’t care too. Knowing means a conscience ill at ease. It means a responsibility being placed on you to do something about it.
Anyway, I highly recommend this novel. Not because, Palestinians are good, and Israelis are bad. I recommend it because you will see life, and love, as well as the humiliation, desperation and pain of other human beings that have been denied for so long. You will see yourself in some of these characters, and you will mourn them. You will learn what desperation drives people to. You will learn that people aren’t born hateful and angry. They are born like you and me. They laugh and love and dream..and you learn how the circumstances of their existence shapes them. What it means to lose one’s honor and dignity, the humiliation of not being able to protect and provide for your family. The constant struggle. The frustration. The realization that circumstances won’t change and the desperation for change, any change.
Needless to say, I pray for peace, not just in Israel/Palestine, but everywhere. Oppression is an ugly thing – it only brings out the dark side of humanity. No good will every come of it. Good can’t grow where poison lives.