An elegiac memoir, by a Palestinian intellectual and poet, of life in a land torn by war.
Then a university student in Cairo, Barghouti was denied permission to return to his native city of Ramallah, on the West Bank, following the Six-Day War in 1967. Now one of the naziheen, or “displaced ones,” he spent the next 30 years abroad, “afflicted by a Bedouin traveling, and I am not a Bedouin. I have never been able to collect my own library. I have moved between houses and furnished apartments, and become used to the passing and the temporary.” On finally returning to Ramallah in the summer of 1996, Barghouti writes, he could recognize his old city only in outline, for the place, once an Arab suburb of Jerusalem, was now scarcely more than a ghost town ringed by Israeli settlements. “How many cities have wilted?” he mourns. “How many homes have not been kept up? How many bookshops could have been set up in Ramallah, how many theaters? The Occupation kept the Palestinian village static and turned our cities back into villages.” Barghouti locates the blame for this reversal of fortune in the rightist governments of Rabin and Sharon, and his sense of aggrieved victimhood makes only a little allowance for such peace-inhibiting elements as suicide bombers and the PLO. He does suggest, subtly, that his fellow intellectuals aligned themselves too closely with the Arafat government, which has been none too democratic. (“He mends what is broken, rebuilds what is ruined, and chooses his supporters and enemies from among the people. Why, he even arrests citizens sometimes, imprisons them, and . . . tortures them.”) And he does allow that his side is not blameless: “I am certain that we were not always a beautiful natural scene. But this truth does not absolve the enemy of his original crime that is the beginning and the end of this evil.”
Neither precious nor propagandistic: for readers on both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute.