Book Review: I Saw Ramallah

Five days ago, Palestinians and those among us who are concerned about the Palestinian cause remembered Deir Yassin’s massacres. It was a good reminder to those, centred on what’s happening in Syria or Mali, who didn’t notice the recent escalation in Gaza. But what to do, it is not easy to keep the press’ interest in a 64 yo conflict which became the normality.

So, because I am not eager to write about Algeria’s upcoming elections, I take this opportunity to write about a book by Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti.

The author was studying in Cairo during the 1967 war and since that day Israel didn’t let him go back home. He had also to leave Egypt and his wife and little boy (poet Tamim Barghouti), expelled by Sadat in 1977 after the president’s visit to Israel which announced Camp David. Many Palestinians could go back live or visit Ramallah and Gaza after Oslo (probably the only positive outcome of these accords), and Barghouti relates his own “return” in 1997, 30 years after he had left his mother land.

The story, which starts from the bridge between Jordan and Palestine, is kind of a biography as the author relates some past events along with what he sees and feels during his actual stay in Ramallah.

Barghouti describes his life away from his country and family, the Palestinian diaspora which in many ways is very similar to the Algerian or Arab one for the matter. Living abroad for X or Y reason but keeping one’s thoughts in their mother country. Spending one’s time on the phone and fearing that phone call which comes one day or another to announce a relative’s death. Barghouti tells us about how he heard of his cousin’s death:

Mounif spoke from Qatar with me in America about Fahim’s martyrdom in Beirut and burial in Kuwait, and the necessity to tell our grand-mother in Dir Ghassana and his other grand-mother in Nablus and our own mother in Amman. I and my wife booked a plane ticket to Cairo via Rome.

And related to exile and ghorba are nostalgia and the strange and sad feeling one gets when they go back home and find themselves in a very different country, different from their souvenirs, and nobody knows them any more.

Another similarity with Arab countries is the way power corrupts the leaders who “care more for their personal sovereignty than their country’s national sovereignty.” The example of the PA which doesn’t control anything whatsoever as everything is decided by Israel, but at the same time controls too much the Palestinians themselves, puts them in jail, tortures them, etc. The National television that says that every thing’s great, and the common discourse about how the people are great and how unique they are, flattering the masses ego in order to keep them away from the real issues. You are unique just like everyone else.

Mourid Barghouti also speaks of his people in Palestine. Those who, under Israeli control, do their best to survive, protect their lands and culture, and never give up. The example of Birzeit university and the strong will of its students and teachers is telling. This is probably one reason to be hopeful for the future.

The book ends with a critique of Israel which not only deprived the Palestinians of their country, of their right to go in and out of it, of their right to go to Jerusalem as they wish, of their right for development and prosperity, but also of their status as the victims of the conflict. Israel does indeed picture itself as the victim of those Palestinian barbarians who attack their humanitarian and kind IDF. Barghouti wrote this:

It is easy to blur the truth with a simple linguistic trick: start your story from ‘Secondly.’ Yes, this is what Rabin did. He simply neglected to speak of what happened first. Start your story with “Secondly,” and the world will be turned upside-down. Start your story with “Secondly,” and the arrows of the Red Indians are the original criminals and the guns of the white men are entirely the victim. It is enough to start with “Secondly,” for the anger of the black man against the white to be barbarous. Start with “Secondly,” and Gandhi becomes responsible for the tragedies of the British. You only need to start your story with “Secondly,” and the burned Vietnamese will have wounded the humanity of the napalm, and Victor Jara’s songs will be the shameful thing and not Pinochet’s bullets, which killed so many thousands in the Santiago stadium. It is enough to start the story with “Secondly,” for my grandmother, Umm ‘Ata, to become the criminal and Ariel Sharon her victim. …
The houses built on top of ours gallantly declare their willingness to understand our odd predilection toward living in camps scattered in the Diaspora of gods and flies, as though we had begged them to throw us out of our homes and to send their bulldozers to destroy them in front of our very eyes. Their generous guns in Deir Yassin forgive us the fact that they piled our bodies high at the sunset hour there one day. Their fighter jets forgive the graves of our martyrs in Beirut. Their soldiers forgive the tendency of our teenagers’ bones to break.

I saw Ramallah“, for which Barghouti was awarded the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature, has been translated to many languages. A recommended read. Here is a discussion with Mourid Barghouti on the book, and here is Edward Said‘s introduction to the English edition.

PS: As there is something to remember everyday, on this day, 10 years ago, Sharon’s security cabinet approved the plan to build the racist separation barrier.


5 thoughts on “Book Review: I Saw Ramallah

    • Thanks Oumelkheir 🙂

      I didn’t know of that new book of Atzmon’s. It’s added to the list and I’ll write something about it when I am done with the pile of books I started reading and couldn’t finish, inshallah 🙂

      Being against both Zionists and anti-Zionists is not commonplace so it is just normal that they do not like him…

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