A SEASON OF STONES by Helen Winternitz


Life in a Palestinian Village
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 From Winternitz (East Along the Equator, 1987)--an absorbing, often moving, eyewitness account of a West Bank village's growing involvement with the Intifada. In an effort to understand Palestinian concerns, the author spent a year, beginning in the spring of 1988, immersing herself in the life of Nahalin, a seemingly quiet ``backwater'' of 4,000 near Bethlehem. Concentrating on the day-to-day activities of a simple farming community while remaining alert to odd and revealing scraps of conversation, Winternitz does an admirable job of conveying the sense of entrapment that pushes her subjects into political activism. Living in a valley surrounded by Israeli outposts, the villagers have no recourse when their carefully tended olive trees are bulldozed for settlement development. At the same time, bored and frustrated teenagers, their schools paradoxically closed to stem unrest, easily drift into the ranks of stone-throwing shabab (literally, ``the boys'')--''the makeshift army of the intifada.'' Unsurprisingly, nearly every member of the village is revealed as aligned with one or the other of the two main PLO factions--Yasir Arafat's Fatah and George Habash's more militant Jebha. In a succession of vivid, alternately pastoral and troubling scenes, the narrative moves from the intricacies of native embroidery to the perfunctory justice of Israeli military courts and, finally, to an apparently unprovoked attack by restless Border Police. Unlike Michael Gorkin in his excellent study of a Palestinian village in Israel (Days of Honey, Days of Onion, p. 907), however, Winternitz too often strays from the challenges facing the Palestinians to her own concerns, and fails to offer the deeper political analysis necessary for a truly balanced account. Yet the testimony of the villagers, caught between a learned hopelessness (``...there is no future,'' notes one local leader) and a fervent desire for peace, gives the work urgency and importance. A flawed but worthwhile addition, then, to current Middle East reportage.

Pub Date: Nov. 14th, 1991
ISBN: 0-87113-514-0
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1991