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REVIEW: SEEKING PALESTINE

 

Vacy Vlazna

Seeking Palestine: New Palestinian Writing on Exile and Home edited by Penny Johnson and Raja Shehadeh is a tribute to ‘new  Palestinian writing on exile and home’ through personal reflections of 14 remarkable Palestinian poets and writers.

Raeda Sa’adeh’s cover image is a striking analogy of its contents. Amongst the cruel concrete rubble of a demolished  home where the  twisted and torn threads of metal formwork scratch the air with the lacerated history of a betrayed and broken land and people, sits, almost dreamily, a young Palestinian woman, symbolising Palestine, knitting  passionate homespun hope from a gigantic life-red ball of wool.

The personal yarns written with intelligence and feeling eloquence in Seeking Palestine knit together the unity, healing, the pain, the guilt, the longing, the heartache, the dreams and the courage of generations of internal and external exiles caught in a 64 year old inhuman Israeli occupation and dispossession.

The Arabic word, ‘sumoud’ means steadfastness. Sumoud means resilience. Sumoud is Palestinian.

One wonders at the strength of Susan Abulhawa’s steadfastness at the core of the dignity and poetry of her spirit in her searingly honest disclosure of abuse by her Kuwaiti stepfather, abandonment by her mother, and the indignities and suffering of a nomadic exile quintessentially Palestinian. For Abulhawa Palestine, Kuwait, Jordan and the USA are temporary pit-stops.

For Elmusa the refugee camp is a ‘zone of exile’ even a zone of shame and the forced Palestinian global odyssey is distinguished from homebound journeys like that of Ibn  Battuta or from the immigrants’ embarkation to a new land with its Right of Return.

Sumoud is passionate and gritty like  Doumani’s Song from Haifa sung by Palestinian  resistance fighters on the eve  the Nakba; men with “loud voices and sarcastic smiles…Men destined to die embittered and before their time.”

Sumoud is resistance in all its forms against the prison walls of the ‘unyeilding Occupation.’ Barghouti describes with lyrical warmth the taxi journey from  Ramallah to Jericho driven by the hero, Mahmoud who outwits the Israeli Cerebrus guarding the checkpoints of Palestine’s hell. In Hammami’s Home and Exile in East Jerusalem, the proliferation of checkpoints, forced evictions,  colonist house takeovers, and  Israeli flags  ‘waving at you like a bully’ are indicators of  ‘life drying up’ in the once charming and lively suburb of Sheik Jarrah and beyond.

Jean Said Makdisi who survived exile from Jerusalem in Cairo, as well as the Lebanese civil war tells of her appreciation of her foster home in a Lebanese village and  credits her father for ‘teaching us to be Palestinian embracing “division, scattering, distance, but at the same time the will to reconnect, to re-gather, to reunite and restore.”

Karma Nabulsi grapples with the need to restore unity and dignity by striking again the revolutionary  match  that would thrust the Palestine right to freedom out of the empty stasis of’ institutional. social and political fragmentation’. Nabulsi revolutionary synonyms for people power – popular sovereignty, collective spirit, sovereign citizenry “means that every time its principle is collectively asserted or reasserted, we possess the right to shape our destiny far beyond that of voting for a party or for an individual”.

Seeking Palestine offers insights into the tragedy and triumphs of the Palestinian experience both past and present and by carefully and responsibly following these compelling stories, poems and memoirs they like Ariadne’s thread lead us through the maze of zionist violence and hasbara to truth and hopefully, inevitably to a future freedom.

Dec 2012

Dr. Vacy Vlazna is Coordinator of Justice for Palestine Matters and editor of a volume of Palestinian poetry, I remember my name. She was Human Rights Advisor to the GAM team in the second round of the Acheh peace talks, Helsinki, February 2005 then withdrew on principle. Vacy was convenor of  Australia East Timor Association and coordinator of the East Timor Justice Lobby as well as serving in East Timor with UNAMET and UNTAET from 1999-2001.

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