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Five Books on Palestine to Read this Spring

posted on: Apr 20, 2017

By Khelil Bouarrouj
Palestine Square

Homeland by Wolfgang Strassl

The Israeli occupation of the West Bank is an Orwellian world. While there are numerous statistics that expose Israeli discrimination, only bearing witness to the patchwork of illegal settlements, walls, and checkpoints can convey the true extent of Israeli apartheid. German photographer Wolfgang Strassl’s Homeland (Kerber Verlag) is a photographic sojourn into the heart of the occupation. In one photograph after another, Strassl documents how the occupation engulfs the Palestinians’ daily lives: Israeli settlements and barriers do not just surround them at a distance but often confront Palestinians right outside their homes. In one illustrative photograph, a Palestinian boy plays with his three-wheeler bike in the village of Beit Ijza “surrounded by the Giv’on Hahadasha settlement and caged-in by a fence and security gate, which can be closed to disconnect it from the rest of the village.” Strassl dramatizes the apartheid exemplified in the more affluent settlers’ houses that dwarf modest Palestinian homes. They are a stone’s throw away from each other but operate under completely different legal regimes controlled by Israel that couldn’t be further apart. Homeland’s photographs each tell a story, including an Israeli industrial zone that employs captive Palestinian labor and resembles something out of Oliver Twist. This is what settler colonialism and occupation looks like and it needs to be seen to be believed.

No Country for Jewish Liberals by Larry Derfner

Five months into the first intifada, journalist Larry Derfner recounts, the Israeli public grew inured to the Palestinian uprising against the occupation, and the “peace camp” protests dwindled away as Palestinian deaths attracted less coverage. Then, on April 6, 1988, a 15-year-old girl was killed in the first Israeli civilian death. A group of hiking teenage settlers were attacked by rock-throwing Palestinian villagers from Beita and one of them struck the girl. At her funeral, rightist Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir echoed the thousands shouting for revenge: “The heart of the entire nation is boiling.” But an IDF investigation found that one of the hikers’ security guards, a violent ultra-nationalist, got into an argument with a Palestinian and shot him dead, which provoked the townspeople. It was the guard, aiming at Palestinian youth hurling rocks, who killed the Israeli girl. The Palestinians actually came to the defense of the Israeli youth. IDF chief Dan Shomron stated: “It’s a fact — the youngsters, apart from the girl, got out of there alive . . . because some villagers did not allow them to be harmed.” No matter, the “political climate in Israel was such that the army destroyed 14 houses in Beita, bulldozed acres of almond and olive orchards, deported 6 villagers to Lebanon, and killed a Palestinian boy during the action.” The Palestinian death toll surpassed 140 next to 2 Israelis, but, still, “the heart of the nation was boiling.” Derfner’s indicts his adoptive country’s moral failure through this memoir, No Country for Jewish Liberals (Just World Books).

The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine by Nathan Thrall

In a series of essays, International Crisis Group analyst Nathan Thrall smashes one pro-Israel orthodoxy after another with lucid precision and logic. Thrall’s mastery of detail and brevity makes him one of the most astute commentators on the subject. In a devastating takedown of liberal Zionist apologia, “Feeling Good About Feeling Bad,” Thrall takes aim at the vanity of Israeli writer Ari Shavit whose My Promised Land was widely praised in the U.S. Shavit put forward the self-serving proposition that liberal Zionists can absolve their conscience by acknowledging the expulsion of Palestinians in 1948, all while maintaining that it was necessary for the birth of Israel as Jewish State. With characteristic colonial insolence, Shavit demands that the Palestinian have the moral obligation to forgive and forget, and insists that Western criticism is hypocritical, given worse deeds against indigenous people in North America. This is too clever, Thrall argues, as no White American would get away with stating that it’s the moral obligation of Native Americans to forgive their tragedy simply because it was “necessary” for the colonizer whose sole reciprocal obligation is a begrudging admission of past crimes. Thrall ably discredits other pro-Israel bromides (e.g., the myth of Israel as a peace-seeking nation: in fact, it has spurned numerous Arab offers) in a great primer for non-specialists and a handy reference for pro-Palestinian advocates.

Palestine on a Plate: Memories from My Mother’s Kitchen by Joudie Kalla

Food is one of the most powerful ways to communicate a people’s heritage and presence, and Joudie Kalla has done just that with her essential Palestinian cookbook. Stuffed with healthy recipes and a “Sweet Tooth” chapter for every occasion and beautifully appetizing photography, Palestine on a Plate (Interlink Publishing) is an endearing tribute to the Palestinian people’s bountiful culture. This isn’t your typical chef’s cookbook: Kalla writes from the heart. Take her recipe for Yaffa Orange Cheesecake: “Yaffa oranges are probably the most recognized oranges in the world. They come from Yaffa, a beautiful town in Palestine where the orange groves are worth writing poetry for. This is where my grandmother Najla originally came from. She absolutely loves it there and had many memories of playing by the sea with her friends and picking oranges, so this recipe is for her.”

The recipes are rooted in family history, and the spirit of Palestine shines on every page. Kalla adds her contributions to the family canon as culinary culture blossoms with every generation, such as her decadent Lemon & Rose Doughnuts where “the essence of the Middle East really shines through here with the fragrant rose water, tangy lemon icing drizzled across the surface, and the dried rosebuds crushed on top.” This isn’t a cookbook that’s fun to look at but intimidating to attempt: Palestine on a Plate’s easy-to-follow recipes for everyday cooks is part of its beauty.

Activestills: Photography as Protest in Palestine/Israel edited by Vered Maimon and Shiraz Grinbaum

“The role of the camera was important in many things. For example, there were instances when Palestinians were accused by the army of striking soldiers, and that was a lie, and they were released after five or six days in prison because of the documentation. Also international and Israeli activists, after being falsely accused by the Israelis, were helped through our photography. I think that it will be possible to benefit from these photographs in claims to the International Criminal Court in The Hague about human rights violations that took place here.” Those are the words of Nariman Tamimi, one of the leaders of the protest movement against land confiscation in the village of Nabi Saleh. One-third of the illegal adjacent settlement of Halamish occupies privately-owned Palestinian land. During the second intifada, the IDF declared additional farming lands and the main spring belonging to Nabi Saleh a closed military zone. While Palestinians were denied access to their lands, the settlers were permitted to take over their fields. After two and a half years of weekly demonstrations, the villagers of Nabi Saleh were finally able to reach their fields and spring. The victory was short-lived, however, as the IDF expelled them once again just a few hours later. The entire affair was documented by the  photographers network Activestills. Photographs alone cannot efface discriminatory power or end the injustices of the occupation, but they create an archive that offers the potential for righting wrongs. This is the story of Activestills that’s presented in several photoessays in this inspiring eponymous book that’s part legacy and part blueprint for the ongoing struggle.