One of Palestine’s most respected writers reflects on 50 years of Israeli occupation and riven friendships.
With grieving family driven out of their Jaffa home after the founding of Israel in 1948, an event the Palestinians refer to as the Nakba (“Catastrophe”), Shehadeh (Language of War, Language of Peace: Palestine, Israel and the Search for Justice, 2015, etc.), who was born in 1951, grew up among a deeply oppressed people under the increasingly “imperial arrogance” of the occupier. In these essays, fashioned like short stories, the author looks back on five decades of occupation through the prism of unlikely friendships with Israelis and sticky crossings between the two sides. Shehadeh’s father was an enlightened lawyer who believed fervently in the possibility of peace between the Palestinians and Israelis, even bringing his son, recently returned from studying law in London, to hear Egyptian president Anwar Sadat address the Knesset in Tel Aviv on Nov. 20, 1977, an experience the author recounts in “Henry.” From this first encounter between two young seekers—Henry, an Israeli with a doctorate in psychology from Yale, and the author, who was trying to figure out his own way in life amid the “stifling, traditional society” of Ramallah—a lifelong friendship was born, though it became rocky as the two Intifadas spiraled out. Indeed, as Shehadeh immersed himself in human rights activism, “politics began to cast a dark shadow over my relationship with Henry.” In other essays, the author chronicles his return to Jaffa, the city of his father—who, we learn, was murdered in the 1980s by an Israeli collaborator—and wonders what his life would be like had his family insisted on staying. Shehadeh learned Hebrew once it became clear that the Israeli occupation was not going to end, and the border patrols and restrictions grew increasingly onerous and terrifying.
A beautifully impressionistic exploration of shared cultural understanding despite the narrowing of borders.