Sunday, March 29, 2015

Mornings In Jenin

A review of the novel “Mornings in Jenin”
by Susan Abulhawa, published by Bloomsbury

While we see news from the Middle East almost every day, rarely do we see a description or a history of the people known as Palestinians.  Susan Abulhawa has dealt with this problem in her novel Mornings in Jenin.  This is the story of a Palestinian family from before the formation of the state of Israel in 1948, all the way up to the present reality.   

The title of a previous edition of this book was, The Scar of David.  David is the brother of the main character of the book, Amal Abulheja.  David, who’s initial name was Ismael, had a scar on his face and was kidnapped by an Israeli soldier in 1948.  This is when Ismael became David and was raised in an Israeli family.

This story starts out in the Palestinian farming village of Ein Hod.  Like farmers from around the world, the people of Ein Hod had a special relationship to the land.  They knew all the work that is required to raise animals and to reap the harvests of olives as well as several other crops.  Although they had a long history of subjugation from the Ottomans and the British, their ancestors farmed the land of Ein Hod for 40 generations. 

Then, in 1948 Israel became a nation.  Palestinians refer to this time as “el Nakba” or the catastrophe.  This is how Susan Abulhawa describes what this meant to the people of Ein Hod.  Yeya is Amal’s grandfather.

“Thus Yeya tallied forty generations of living, now stolen.  Forty generations worth of childbirth and funerals, weddings and dance, prayer and scrapped knees.  Forty generations of sin  and charity, of cooking, toiling and idling, of friendships and animosities and pacts, of rain and lovemaking.  Forty generations with their imprinted memories, secrets and scandals.  All carried away by the notion of entitlement of another people, who would settle in the vacancy and proclaim it all--all that was left in the way of architecture, orchards, wells, flowers, and charm--all of it as the heritage of Jewish foreigners arriving from Europe, Russia, the United States, and other corners of the globe.”

While we see how the theft of Palestinian land was a horrendous act, this is only the beginning of the story.  We see through the course of this book that there were more Israeli invasions in 1967, 1982, 2002, and an invasion not included in the book that occurred just last year. 

However, this is only one part of the story.  We also see how Amal’s brother was raised in an Israeli family.  How his mother experienced the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp.  We see how David was forced to serve in the Israeli armed forces, and how he and the person who claimed to be his father felt shame for the atrocities they committed.

This is the background to the meeting between Amal and her brother David in, of all places, the suburbs of Pennsylvania.  Amal and her family had endured atrocities, while David, and the man who pretended to be his father, committed some of those atrocities.

Here is where, out of the ruins of the nightmare of the Middle East, we can see some hope.  David and Amal learn to care for one another.  At first, neither wanted to accept that they were of the same family.  Then, when each learned the reality of the other, they would accept that they were brother and sister.

Clearly this is not the whole story and perhaps I’ve divulged too much already.  However, while the media routinely portrays Palestinians as mindless terrorists, the novel Morings in Jenin tells a completely different story. 

Understanding this story forces the reader to question the fact that every year the United States government gives Israel billions of dollars as an outright gift.  How can a government give so much money to a nation that has committed the horrors outlined in the book Mornings in Jenin?

Well, we might keep in mind that the native people of the United States were also forced off of land they had lived on for centuries.  In the year 1830 the United States government adopted a piece of legislation called The Indian Removal Law.  All Native Americans who lived east of the Mississippi River were forced to move to the Indian Territory in Oklahoma.  This land was also stolen from Native Americans after the Civil War.

Recently the US government built a wall to prevent immigrants from Mexico from entering this country.  This wall is similar to the wall that separates Israel from the Occupied Territories.  However, the native people from both the United States and Israel continue to experience systematic discrimination.

In other words, the story Mornings in Jenin isn’t just about a family living half way around the world.  This story is similar to the reality of what continues to transpire in a place called the United States of America.                   

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