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Ways of Being Palestinian

by Arthur Neslen

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-520-26427-4
Publisher: Univ. of California

An indefatigable journalist interviews more than 50 Palestinians about their fractured lives.

Seeking to broaden our understanding of the Palestinians beyond the usual suspects, and, notwithstanding the difficulties posed by his own Jewish religion and ethnicity, Neslen (Occupied Minds: A Journey Through the Israeli Psyche, 2006) has sought out a wide variety of interview subjects, earned their trust and allowed them to speak in their own voices about their experience. Clearly sympathetic to their grievances—he describes himself as the child of left-wing, anti-Zionists—the editor makes no attempt to argue with or modify the remarks in these recorded, sometimes very raw conversations. Although readers will recognize a few names, the vast majority of these voices would have gone unheard but for this collection. Using key events from Palestinian history to mark successive “generations,” Neslen organizes his presentation traveling back through time from the present, to the Second Intifada, the Oslo Accords, the First Intifada, the Palestinian Revolution, the 1967 war, the Naqba and the 1936 Great Revolt. From soldiers, students, dancers, models, rappers, engineers, drug dealers, lawyers, taxi drivers, policemen, psychologists, teachers and comedians, Neslen has extracted stories that, taken together, paint a complex picture of the Palestinians and their history. Unsurprisingly, in virtually all of these accounts, many of loss, dispossession, suffering, terror and torture, the State of Israel comes in for a bashing. More revealing, especially to readers unfamiliar with the tortured history, are the differences and divisions Neslen uncovers among the Palestinians themselves. Notwithstanding all that these subjects have in common, they have lived, after all, individual lives. The view from a camp in the West Bank or Gaza is not necessarily that of a Palestinian in Israel, Jordan or Lebanon.

Neslen has forged a collection of voices that forces us to rethink simplistic notions about the nature of Palestinian identity.