The discourse of oppression as expressed in writings of the Intifada.
This is not a novel occurrence. Since the invention of the word, the oppressed have located manifold ways to express their suffering: in writing novels and poetry, in singing songs, in performing plays, and in any other medium available to them. The Palestinians are no exception to this, and have persisted, on many occasions, in spite of the censor's suppression and blackening pen, in inscribing and expressing the levels of oppression and domination through sometimes simple descriptions of the daily and the mundane. It is not a prerequisite that, in order to document one's own suffering, one should write a historical or social thesis. Valuable as the latter may be, fictional, poetic, and autobiographical works are just as essential for our understanding of the experience of oppression. Those pieces of literature are often more deeply revealing and insightful than historical and social narratives. It is important to persevere in analyzing Palestinian literature, in order to elevate it to the same level as other literatures in the world, to create historicity, to express the consciousness of those under oppression and to humanize them. This is achieved through the study of the writings of those who lack political power, and who self-reflect sometimes while condemned to think and rethink their situation.
This, then, is the aim of my article: to reveal the faces of oppression as identified by Iris Marion Young in her book Justice and the Politics of Difference - marginalization, powerlessness, violence, exploitation, and cultural violence - in the Palestinian literature written during the Intifada, the period between 1987 and 1990. For that purpose, samples of literature written by women and by men whose lives were prescribed by the Intifada have been selected. Thirty years ago, Frantz Fanon, in his book The Wretched of the Earth, examined that struggle of the oppressed to establish a national consciousness. He believed that the suppression of a national culture is a basic tool of occupation and colonial domination (Fanon, 236). The destruction of a national culture is sought in systematic fashion. In the eyes of the occupier, the poverty of the people, national oppression, and the inhibition of culture are one and the same thing: "The withering away of the reality of the nation and the death pangs of the national culture are linked to each other in mutual dependence" (Fanon, 238). However, it is of capital importance to follow the evolution of the relations between the oppressor and the oppressed during the struggle for national freedom, since this will have repercussions on national literature. In fact, Fanon here pauses to define the moment at which a transformation takes place in the writings of the oppressed, whereby these writings acquire the characteristics of a national literature. For Fanon, it is the audience for whom they are written that earns them the title of "national literature." In that process, intellectuals are transformed from consumers of colonial literature to producers of their own. This literature, which begins as tragic and violent and which is directed at the oppressor, slowly becomes the literature of combat and pronounces the will to achieve liberty. In fact, two elements result from achieving this liberty: the disappearance of occupation, and the disappearance of the occupied mind. In the same vein, herein lies the challenge, according to Paulo Freire, who in his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed poses the question: when the oppressed achieve their liberty, how do they also liberate themselves from becoming oppressors? (Freire, 26).
In the case of Palestinian literature, samples of which are included in this article, was there such an evolution that transformed the Palestinians from an "occupied" to a "liberated" status? Or were those writings merely descriptive of conditions at the time? At this juncture, it is perhaps appropriate to examine first the conditions which gave rise to those writings, in order to determine the levels of oppression that eventually paved the way for the Intifada.
1. THE INTIFADA: BACKGROUND TO THE LITERATURE. The Intifada (or "shaking off" in Arabic) was a popular civil uprising that took place between 1987 and 1990 as a response to the Israeli occupation. It was also a movement that expressed anger at the structures of dependency which have tied the Palestinians to the Arabs in general and to the Israelis in particular. Hence the Intifada was, psychologically speaking, a resistance to oppression and an effort to create independent institutional structures, in order to make the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza more self-reliant and autonomous.
These expressions of freedom, which were sporadic at the outset but subsequently became organized, were met with great resistance and opposition from both external and internal sources. On the one hand, within the movement there were natural divisions among the Palestinians themselves, among the social classes, the urban and rural areas, the families and the clans, divisions that have never been bridged by any nation or state. On the other hand, externally, Israel as the occupying power relentlessly pursued a policy of suppression that was threefold in nature: 1) repression of any organization which threatened to unite the Palestinians in an effort to oppose the occupation; 2) a policy of divide and rule, inherited from the British Mandate, in which divisions were fomented between the various groups that aimed at resisting the occupation; 3) promotion of alternative structures with an accommodating and compliant leadership, in order to undermine the leaders selected by the people.
All the above policies were manifested by waves of arrests, administrative detentions without trials, deportations, intimidation, assassinations, sanctions (the closing of shops, for example), the uprooting of ancient olive orchards, the constant changing of bureaucratic procedures (e.g., for acquiring and renewing ID papers and licenses) to disrupt the daily lives of workers, the banning of youth and student committees, the demolition of houses, trade restrictions, curfews, the confiscation of land, as well as the practice of torture in prison. Since 1967, the year in which Israel annexed the West Bank and Gaza, generations of Palestinians have grown up knowing that they were under occupation. The Intifada was an attempt to change their lives. It was a turning point that produced new Palestinian leaders among those living under the occupation. It made Israel realize the high costs of the status quo of occupation, while paving the way for a peace agreement that transformed world opinion about the Palestinians as a people in control of their fate.
According to Farsoun and Landis, in Nassar and Heacock's Intifada: Palestine at the Crossroads, the Intifada represents the first sustained, mass-based popular revolt of the Palestinians. It had one clear objective: ending the occupation and paving the way for self-determination (Farsoun/Landis, 15). "It is situated in its own historic matrix of forces. Its character results from the historical development of an oppression/resistance dialectic structured by the political, economic and social realities" (16). The authors continue by providing the theoretical perspectives of the Intifada. Three major models were selected as applicable, in their view, to the Intifada: 1) the outside-agitator model, which is generally espoused by power-holders faced with a rebellion; 2) the volcanic model, whereby the Intifada is viewed as a spontaneous outburst of mass anger resulting from the sum of individual frustrations; and lastly, 3) the political-process model, with which the authors most agree, since it constitutes the exercise of politics by other means - resulting from a failure to give contending groups the means to redress grievances through the "legitimate" (my quotation marks) political structure.
This political process, however, is grounded in a sociological analysis of the conflict. It is crucial to refer to the embeddedness of the conflict in sociology, because the authors of the writings reflect the oppression they felt as individuals and as a people. Thus, "As groups struggle to resolve the conflicts that arise from developing contradictions within a given structure, they continually restructure the conditions under which they are oppressed, transforming at the same time the balance of political, economic, social and ideological forces brought to bear on the struggle"(Farsoun/Landis, 18).
Much as Iris M. Young identifies the five faces of oppression - exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and violence - so do Farsoun and Landis posit four major processes of subjugation in the Occupied Territories. These are: political suppression, economic exploitation, institutional destructuring, and ideological repression. Our attention here will focus on the fourth model, since it has a direct bearing on the topic being discussed.
The repression of Palestinian culture and ideology was apparent at all levels: artists were prohibited from painting in the four colors of the Palestinian flag, curricula in the schools were interfered with, and the free flow of information was curtailed, as were most cultural activities. Schools and colleges were closed at a moment's notice, since they were suspected of being breeding grounds for the expression of a national consciousness. Yet underground literary activities never ceased.(1) Hanan Ashrawi, the Palestinian spokeswoman, mentions in an article written before the advent of the Intifada, "The Contemporary Palestinian Poetry of Occupation," that in spite of the censorship of content and despite financial difficulties and cultural isolation, "poetry reading sessions, panel discussions and seminars" were evident at Birzeit and Bethlehem Universities. Theater groups emerged with great success in the Jerusalem-Ramallah area, and one or two scholarly journals under the auspices of social-welfare organizations sprang up to celebrate folk literature. Patrick White, a Christian Brother who spent three years teaching at Bethlehem University during the Intifada, documented his experiences with Palestinian students under occupation in Let Us Be Free: A Narrative Before and During the Intifada. It is a moving account of the persistence of young men and women who continued their intellectual pursuits amid curfews, detentions, and university closures? An underground system of oral and popular communication developed to reinforce national identity. Art, poetry, and prose took on a symbolic character to avoid censorship. This deepened the consciousness of the people and was instrumental in creating the culture of the Intifada.
Farsoun and Landis describe an important ideological theme that emerged from the dialectic of oppression and resistance. This was the concept of "Al-Sumud," which denotes steadfast perseverance in Arabic. This meant that no matter how extensive the oppression became, the people would persist in resisting and would not give up. Sumud emerged in the seventies, well before the advent of the Intifada, as a means to protect the integrity of Palestinian society, which was in danger of deterioration. In the eighties, Sumud was transformed into "Sumud Muqawim" or Resistance Sumud. This was a more dynamic ideology and practice that spread self-help among the inhabitants. One of the best examples of Sumud, and one closely intertwined with the social fabric of Palestinian families, was recounted by Simona Sharoni in her book Gender and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Women prisoners were subject to torture and rape in Israeli jails. The Israeli military authorities were cognizant of the role that family honor plays in Palestinian families, and utilized these methods in an effort to break family cohesiveness. Mothers of female prisoners were regarded with respect by the general population, and announced that they would not be deterred from political activism, even if their daughters were violated. The stigma of loss of honor due to rape was removed, and it was treated as any other form of torture (Sharoni, 38-39). In the same vein, Bouthaina Shaaban in Both Right and Left Handed, based on interviews she conducted with Palestinian women, describes how Palestinian girls were congratulated if they lost their virginity or were raped by Israeli soldiers. A family whose daughter was arrested was congratulated for bringing up a fighter (Shaaban, 170). Later we will see that manifestations of Sumud are readily evident in the writings of the Intifada.
In addition, and as a conclusion to this sociological analysis of the Intifada, Farsoun and Landis list four elements that gave impetus to the ideological changes which developed during that period, and which led to the Intifada. These were: 1) the retreat of Israel from Lebanon in 1982, which destroyed the myth of its invincibility; 2) the loss of Arab oil revenues over the years, which closed off work opportunities for Palestinians, thus creating fewer resources and an increase in frustration; 3) the reunification of the principal constituents of the PLO in Algiers in 1987, which in turn led to a unification of the political factions in the territories; and 4) the declarations of the Arab summit of November 1987 in Amman, Jordan, which pinpointed Iran as the real enemy of the Arabs, while the Palestinian population was under Israeli occupation. This shifted the priorities on the part of the Arab nations and relegated the Palestinian question, thereby postponing the urgency of locating a solution.
All that was needed at this juncture was one additional spark to produce an explosion, and that took place in Gaza on 9 December 1987, when an Israeli military vehicle rammed into a crowd of demonstrators, killing several Palestinian civilians. Certainly, the events, actions, and elements described above did give rise to a literature of the moment, and Palestinians have been known to write about their problem since 1948, when the state of Israel was created. However, I do not propose to cover here the development of Palestinian writing from its beginnings, but rather to search for instances of the expression of national frustrations at a given moment in time.
2. CHARACTERISTICS OF PALESTINIAN LITERATURE DURING THE INTIFADA. When one speaks of Palestinian literature, the distinction needs to be made among three types of literature: works by writers who remained in Israel after its creation in 1948, and who eventually wrote in Hebrew as well as in Arabic; works by writers in the Occupied Territories of the West Bank and Gaza since 1967; and works by writers living and publishing in exile in the Arab world. The first two types met in 1967, and immediately identified with each other after twenty years of little or no contact. However, as far as the richness and esthetic value of the tradition, as both Ashrawi in The Contemporary Palestinian Poetry of Occupation and Salma Jayyusi in her Anthology of Modern Palestinian Literature maintain, the balance tilts in favor of Palestinian literature written in exile, since it had the opportunity for direct contact with literary developments of the Arab world.(3) Jayyusi continues by describing Palestinian literature as the most politicized among all writings by Arabs. In fact, politics imposes a great strain on the Palestinian writer that is impossible to avoid (Jayyusi, 3). Doomed to exile, writers cannot but indulge in escapism. They struggle to forge an identity, to create a social construct, and to develop modes of inquiry that will assist them in some kind of liberation of the soul - in the hope that it will lead to a liberation of the land.
Jayyusi and Ashrawi agree that Palestinian literature in general suffers from the following recurring elements: 1) similarity of themes, including identity, uprootedness, exile, and generational and gender conflicts; 2) simplistic metaphors; 3) a tendency toward the tragic and the melodramatic; and 4) an existential and stark realism, centered on hunger, poverty, unemployment, and death. In spite of all this, it seems that a new language and a new style emerged with the Intifada, a style which may be described as indigenous, appealing, dignified, and spontaneous.
In order to comprehend the facets of oppression evident in the literature of the Intifada, it is best to turn to a brief explanation of the faces of oppression as described by Iris Marion Young in Justice and the Politics of Difference. Although intended for American society, Young's book and central thesis may be applied in the international context. In her epilogue, Young welcomes an expansion of her theory to encompass international situations, and recommends further definition and rethinking of her typology. Some societies may require "their own analysis in terms of oppression" (Young, 258). Thus, although some aspects of colonial oppression in the traditional sense are to be located in the literature of the Intifada - such as description of poverty, absence of national cohesiveness, hunger, unemployment, and cultural censorship - those same aspects take on a different and more subtle character in American society. Young attempts to report on the oppressions that are embedded in the structures that project a benign image to the rest of the world. Oppression is located in the daily lives of average persons. Similarly, the daily lives of the Palestinians under occupation exemplify this kind of oppression, even as the occupying power projects a human, liberal, and democratic image to the world.
Thus, using Young's thesis on the five faces of oppression, here is how they can be applied to the Palestinian situation. 1) Exploitation, or the creation and the domination of a working class, which finds work and labors only to maintain the occupying structures. Employment is thus available only if it serves the occupier. 2) Marginalization, or how groups of Palestinians become second-class citizens and suffer from a lack of total participation, placing them in a position of dependency in a democracy. 3) Powerlessness, or Palestinians living under occupation, lacking in autonomy and decision-making authority, which affects the course of their daily lives. They are the receivers and not the initiators of political decisions that concern them. 4) Cultural imperialism, or the fact that for a long time the Palestinians were not their own spokesmen, nor could they express their needs in their own tongue. Articulation of those basic needs was formulated by others, whether occupiers or spokespersons more fluent in English. A case in point is the embracing of Hanan Ashrawi as a spokesperson capable of expressing the desires of the Palestinians in the English language rather than in her native tongue, Arabic. And finally, 5) violence, or the practice of systematic and legalized oppression, when state structures such as the military, the police, and government officials freely employ force against the occupied, in the name of maintaining order. Violence in this case need not be physical; it can be violence against the soul, such as the exercise of censorship or the prohibition of meetings that foster and encourage national consciousness. Thus, in attempting to portray Young's typology in the Intifada writings, it is necessary to cite them in order to flush out the strands of resistance which may also add to the development of a metanarrative for Palestinian literature.
3. EXAMPLES OF PALESTINIAN LITERATURE AND IMAGES OF OPPRESSION. The poems, diary excerpts, and stories/novellas which are presented below were originally published in either Arabic or English. Those written in Arabic have been translated by editors, compilers, and other authors. They have been selected for inclusion by year of publication, since they have not yet been grouped together as a body of literature emanating from the Intifada. They are organized by type of literature and will be provided in some instances in full text, in order to facilitate references to oppressive terminology. First, here are several poems, each followed by brief remarks.
By Peter Boullata
the land of Palestine shook until the very stones loosened
and were gathered up by you as other children, innocent, have picked flowers
your rocks blossomed blood-red against a conspiracy of years
of having your every breath, heartbeat observed constrained until you could not breathe, every gasp a battle
the way you suffocate under a veil of tear gas, chambers of death your own homes, streets, gardens
you said you have had enough and started an earthquake
drawing down a shower of hailstones against a sinful nation
the occupation officers have hit a stone, been struck by the steadfast hardness of a people willing to die on their feet rather than live on their knees
you love your lives enough to struggle against the constraints
bound, as you have been all your lives
you are loosening the bonds now casting off what has kept you down you are bound for glory shaking, shaking until you are free.(4)
There are few metaphors apparent in this poem. However, in its simplicity it describes the children who, having lived under occupation, have lost their innocence. They collect stones instead of flowers. The occupation is presented in a manner that is suffocating and constraining, so that homes, streets, and gardens seem like a prison (note the reference to repeated curfews). Boullata judges the occupier as sinful and blames the occupying officers for the stones thrown at them. At the same time, the stone signifies the steadfastness of the people who are cutting loose the bonds that have kept them on their knees.
A SONG FOR CHILDHOOD
By Hussein Barghouti
The moon rose over childhood And childhood was hills gathering sparrows and flowers in baskets under the moon I'll pursue it, weeping and falling on jagged stones
It is a confiscated childhood From books and oil lamps, sometimes to prison and release, sometimes, sometimes my life is counterfeit Inside a city besieged by guards.
The moon rose over childhood and childhood was a pine tree leaning across the shore of a sea and twinkling above it, in dreams, a star with many a mystery I'll spend a sleepless night in that tree in the dew and light for it an oil lamp
This is a confiscated childhood From books and oil lamps, sometimes, to prison and release, sometimes, sometimes my life is counterfeit Inside a city besieged . . .(5)
Images of imprisonment, a stolen childhood, and the uncertainty of completing a daily task without endangering one's life are clearly described in this poem. The poet expresses the wish to pursue sparrows and flowers, but falls on jagged stones instead. This is a reference to dreaming of a life free of imprisonment, but the reality is that life is counterfeit, an imitation of the life one should be leading.
Powerlessness and violence perpetrated against the occupied can be ascertained in both poems. As a result, the poems mirror a certain despair and disintegration. Other poets echo similar feelings of frustration, but express a sense of anger as well, as in the poem "Deportation" by Aminah Kazak. Kazak mentions the breaking of wrists and bones, a common practice of the occupying power, yet also issues a call to resist. The soldiers can break a person's hands but cannot touch his soul. Deportation can also take place, but the soul remains attached to its home.
By Aminah Kazak
Before they came for me I took my voice and hid it under the dawn so they found only my bleeding mouth, my broken hands, my eyes empty of vision
They traveled to every corner of my country, frustration building The sound of my voice split their heads like thunder, my agony pumped through their veins
Later they took my bleeding mouth, my broken hands, my eyes empty of vision and threw them past the horizon so I left them with a voice singing its song of love for my country which they will never understand never embrace and never possess(6)
A poem written by Ibn al-Jabal displays more hope, even though its title, "O Negev," is based on one of the main symbols of oppression: the prison in the Negev Desert where Palestinians were held under administrative detention and where torture was applied on a daily basis. The poem is too lengthy to reproduce in this venue, but here are three passages which illustrate its spirit:
O Negev O Negev The children of the stones set fire to the land their voice brought a decision Its own leadership
O Negev O Negev We are the voice of the people The sharpened sword of revolution We say no, no voice will sound Over the voice of the Intifada
O Negev O Negev You must be desire You must be honor and exploration You must be a sword You must be a lesson One of the lessons of the Intifada(7)
Hanan Ashrawi, a poet in her own right, has also written several short stories and an autobiography. In the poem "Demonstration," she captures several images of oppression: children throwing the stones, children defying the occupier, children being killed and hailed as martyrs. The latter image projects a belief that once a person dies in a revolution, his/her death is not in vain, which encourages others to follow suit.
The tire burns in an empty square One child, pockets filled with Carefully collected stones, Stares at the army patrol.
At his funeral we chanted "Mother of the martyr rejoice, All youths are your children."(8)
Ashrawi has written several other poems inspired by events of the Intifada. "Metamorphosis" describes in poignant words how mothers were not allowed to have funerals for their dead sons and daughters. Funerals were regarded by the occupier as reasons for mass demonstrations, leading to further attacks on Israeli soldiers. Raja Shehadeh, in "The Sealed Room," attests to that fact. As a lawyer in the town of Ramallah, he was called upon to mediate between Palestinians and the authorities in acquiring permits to hold funerals. Ashrawi speaks of "makeshift shrouds" for the martyrs, and of mothers' stealing bodies in the night for burial. The next day, an invisible hand would inscribe the martyr's name on a wall, as testimony to the sacrifice. Her poem "Death by Burial" recounts an incident from February 1988, when four young men were buried alive by Israeli soldiers. They were later rescued by the villagers. She speaks in the name of those buried alive: "I did not die that day - / Something else did / And it still lies in / that putrid grave / fermenting its knowledge of darkness."(9)
This poem and others found in From the Diary of an Almost-Four-Year-Old are descriptions of how the structures of oppression/occupation spared no one. Even very young children suffered from it. In the following poem, three children lose eyes to the rubber bullets used by the Israeli soldiers, and one of them, a four-year old, says:
I hear a nine-month-old has also lost an eye, I wonder if my soldier shot her too - a soldier looking for little gifts who look him in the eye - I'm old enough, almost four, I've seen enough of life, but she's just a baby who didn't know any better.(10)
Although the poetry quoted thus far sounds desperate, sad, and on occasion nihilistic, it is significant to note that an awareness of the oppression and the critical consciousness of it-to utilize Freire's term conscientizacao (Freire, 17) - leads eventually to a body of revolutionary praxis. Freire posits that "in order for the oppressed to be able to wage the struggle for their liberation, they must perceive the reality of oppression not as a closed world from which there is no exit, but as a limiting situation which they can transform" (31). In the poems that follow, a slight transformation can be detected in which there is a call to arms to fight the oppressor. For Freire, this is a normal progression in the consciousness of liberation, because the oppressed gradually take on the character of the oppressor and adopt methods similar to those that were once used against them.
Samiha Khalil, president of the "Society of the Welfare of the Family," is a well-known figure on the Palestinian scene. The organization she directs assists and feeds thousands of women and children on the West Bank. She is also a political figure who wields influence on many levels, including the political. Samiha is a poet as well. Her poems were found in a raid on her house, in an unpublished document titled "The Literature of the Intifada." These poems, unlike those mentioned earlier, are indicative of anger and rebellion. For example:
FOR THE PALESTINIAN UPRISING 1987-1988
By Samiha Khalil
I took a gun and I attacked them I found myself among vague images Shaking from fear of the rebel I hit with one hand and I sprayed gunshots with the other An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth Our Koran tells us that the Jihad and the defense of our Motherland Is the first commandment in Islam(11)
The same mood reigns in the following untitled poem by Samiha: "I turned the milestone into my slingshot / And the refugee camp into my jungle and into my ammunition / And I wrote in blood and blood / And this is the land of the Arabs."(12)
The final poem I have selected reflects the same battle cry. It too was written by a woman, Rema Nasser Terrazi.
Open fire Beat our bodies Our souls will continue to be proud Kill the men Put the women in jail Our souls will continue to be proud Our death and our imprisonment will realize the freedom In stone and in will we will reach freedom In sound and in death we will reach freedom By hatchet and by scythe we will build freedom And in our heroics and our determination we will build freedom.(13)
SELECTIONS FROM SHORT STORIES AND NOVELLAS. These stories, although strongly political, also cover the gamut of human emotions. A mixture of themes is detected which demonstrates the tensions between personal obligations and a larger responsibility to cause and nation. In an effort to be equitable, I have selected two short stories by male authors and two others by a female writer.
"Hunger" by Ghareeb Asqalani reflects Young's thesis of marginalization and powerlessness in dramatic fashion. Sa'id is an unemployed laborer, his children are hungry, and his wife has sold her jewelry to buy food. He goes to the city to find work among the Arabs, only to discover that there are many like him, offering their services. He is advised to search for a job among the Israelis. Sa'id is portrayed as a patriot who refuses to look for work in enemy territory, particularly when it involves the construction of new settlements. Desperate, he finally lands a job at a construction site, but not for long. He is fired along with a fellow laborer after they try to save the life of a Yemeni Jewish co-worker. The supervisor is not interested in the details. He accuses them of wasting time and fires them all.
Asqalani's story demonstrates certain social divisions in Israel: the Yemeni, who is also Jewish but belongs to the class of laborers, is treated as an Arab worker. He is as powerless and as marginal as they are.(14) For Sa'id and for the author, this is oppression and powerlessness at its worst: to be employed by the occupier at a job that actually sustains the occupation structures.
"Hunger and the Mountain" by Riyad Baydas did not appear during the Intifada, but was first published several yers earlier, in 1980. However, its spirit is that of the Intifada: desperation, the will to resist, and a glimmer of hope at the end. Baydas's story is a vivid description of unemployed males who spend time dreaming of freedom. The mother of the main character pushes him to get out of the house and look for work. She has a vegetable garden and wants him to tend it. The hero and his friend Ibrahim spend their nights drinking and speaking of a mountain they must conquer. The mountain symbolizes the state of Israel. The protagonist thinks to himself, "I'll not surrender to the mountain. It's either the mountain or my nausea, hunger, aimlessness, misery, and sorrow" (Baydas, in Jayyusi, 422). Ibrahim and the hero challenge each other to climb the mountain. As they do so, images of food parade through their subconscious, as though the victory will satiate their hunger and all will be well.
The protagonist fails to conquer the mountain, and Ibrahim, who represents the Arab world encouraging the Palestinians to continue the struggle, offers him some money as a gift instead. The story ends with the statement, "A difficult life . . . we must continue living it, moment by moment. There's no one solution. Why not just go on?" (427).(15)
Two stories by Hanan Ashsrawi offer a clear demonstration of this ambivalence. The heroine of "The Gold Snake" is a young woman who is preparing to fling a stone at a soldier. On her wrist is a gold bracelet in the shape of a snake, a bracelet which was part of her dowry, along with other gold jewelry. She was forced to sell a portion of the dowry when a drought caused the olive harvest to fail and the grapevines to wither. The rest went to pay for her only son Walid's schooling. The snake bracelet is all that remains of her dowry. It fits so tightly (a symbol of the occupation) that she is unable to remove it. The ruby eyes of the snake stared at her on her wedding night, reminding her of her loss of blood and of her virginity. She goes on to talk of the pain of childbirth (symbol of the Intifada), which she endured at age fifteen. Now eighteen years have gone by since Walid's death, and the memory of that death from a soldier's bullet is still vivid. She had held his head with the arm that bore the bracelet, and she had wanted to remove it at that time, because it was cold against his wound. Now her husband sits at home staring blankly into space, while she goes out and throws stones at the soldiers. With a stone, she pounds on the snake bracelet until she breaks it, and it is with that same stone, now mixed with her blood, that she takes aim at the armed soldiers.
In this short story, set in rural surroundings, we are shown failed harvests, men who are unemployed, women who have taken over most of the duties and responsibilities of daily life, and children who have become victims. In only a few lines we also gain a glimpse of social history, early marriage, a dowry, the wish to have a son, and the will of the women to be free.(16) Writing in English, Ashrawi provides a striking freshness of style, which she employs to depict women as heroines during the Intifada and to symbolize the experience of Palestinian women in the Occupied Territories and in Gaza. Women were an important sector of the grass-roots movement that preceded the Intifada. In Eyes Without Country Souad Dajani identifies women's groups as a vital component in maintaining a viable social structure under occupation.(17) As far as oppression is concerned, women under occupation are all too familiar with their subjugation. On the one hand, they feel an obligation to participate in the national struggle, and on the other their search for personal identity and liberation becomes absorbed in the former. Women's groups are observed working to create the infrastructures necessary to support their families, while the men are either unemployed, imprisoned, or deported. We also witness women's attempts at self-expression and articulation. It is a state that fluctuates between liberation, marginalization, and powerlessness.
"A Pair of Shoes," also by Hanan Ashrawi, is the account of an urban woman who has lived in comfort all her married life. Her husband's import-export business has supplied her with Italian shoes and French hose. Her house is equipped with modern appliances, so that she does not have to spend her time cleaning. Her soft hands are accustomed to arranging food on trays as she receives guests for dinner. The heroine (Ashrawi provides no names for her women, perhaps to denote Everywoman) is collecting stones in a mound, alongside her intellectual friend, who has a Ph.D., lives alone, and wears "sensible" shoes. This friend is, of course unmarried, having scared off several suitors with her situation.
Why is the heroine on the hilltop collecting stones? She is remembering her daughter, who used to do this on her way home from school. That fateful day, the woman had allowed Lina, her daughter, to walk instead of driving her to school. On the way, a soldier had raised a truncheon and struck Lina on the head. Lina survived, but in the process became mature beyond her years; now she draws only the Palestinian flag, below which a young girl is standing as a soldier prepares to strike her. The mother decides to leave home and join the Intifada, without informing her husband of her whereabouts.(18)
The Intifada erased for a while the class lines that separated women, and also assisted in freeing women from the shackles of an oppressive social structure. Ashrawi captures those fleeting moments eloquently. The message is that all social classes need to connect to the struggle and that traditions must not prevent women from joining the quest for national identity.
Not all Palestinian literature is utilized as a vehicle for exposing oppressive conditions. In certain works, writers and poets have expressed hope that the oppression will soon end. They look to the oppressor to realize that the occupation cannot continue indefinitely. In what follows, significant questioning and reflection is apparent, in an attempt to find solutions.
In "The Sealed Room," a personal account of those turbulent days that followed the uprising and continued during the Gulf War, Raja Shehadeh provides a mixture of personal and national failures. Shehadeh was powerless both in locating the assassins responsible for his father's murder and in helping his clients claim their rights against the occupying authorities. His tone is low-key and sometimes muffled, as though coming from a sealed room. The title refers to the practice of sealing rooms against expected missile attacks from the Iraqis. It is also symbolic of the intellectual limits that one assumes in one's mind against solutions which have been termed treacherous. Shehadeh's father, a well-known Palestinian lawyer, had advocated a two-state solution since 1967 and was among the first to call for peace with Israel. "The Sealed Room" is an imagined dialogue with the father, as though Raja were seeking the latter's approval.
The daily practices of the occupation and the frustrations of ordinary citizens are presented in a very personal and convincing style. Marginalization and powerlessness are manifested when Raja visits the ID office in Jerusalem, waiting in line and never receiving answers to his queries. Russian emigres, however, are treated differently and have their IDs expedited. Raja's anger is tempered by his father's voice, reminding him that he cannot live on his own terms: "Society will not let you. Those in power will work to put you down. You will seem like a threat to them. You will be wasting your time and energy. It will be like pouring water into the sea. This is how things are here. You can only survive if you become a part of it. This is the reality" (Shehadeh, 9).(19)
The question that Shehadeh poses at the conclusion of "The Sealed Room" recognizes Freire's notion that "in order for this struggle [i.e., the struggle against the dehumanizing of the oppressed] to have meaning, the oppressed must not, in seeking to regain their humanity, become in turn oppressors of the oppressors, but rather restorers of the humanity of both" (Freire, 26). Similarly, Shehadeh remarks: "I know that not all Israelis are brigadiers, nor do they follow the establishment as blindly as those whose pronouncements we now often hear; I know there are those who are doing their best to fight the racists, extremists, and fundamentalists in Israeli society" (Shehadeh, 180). He goes on to say: "I want to break out of the isolation of my sealed room. I don't want to confirm their victory over me by becoming their mirror image" (Shehadeh, 181).
There are additional signs that some of the literature of the Intifada does express a desire for change, empathy, and a more profound dialogue. Witness the following poems, for example:
By Hanan Ashrawi
(An Israeli soldier on the West Bank) It's not the sudden hail of stones, not the mocking of their jeers, but this deliberate quiet in their eyes that threatens to wrap itself around my well-armed uniformed presence and drag me into depths of confrontation I never dared to probe
I refuse to be made into a figment of my own imagination. I catch myself, at times, glimpsing glimpsing the child I was in one of them?
IN SEARCH OF YACOVE EVED
By Fawaz Turki
Yacove Eyed was an Israeli. In the summer Yacove Eyed always sat on the rocks in the park at Mount Carmel. Yacove Eyed loved the harbor and the boats and the colors as the sun set on the horizon. Whenever I saw Yacove Eyed on the rocks whenever I passed him in the park I always said Salaam Yacove and Yacove Eved always waved both his arms and said Shalom Shaaer [poet in Arabic] Yacove Eved is like me he knows all the stabbed dreams all the ones who died and who now keep company with their gods, so Yacove Eved and I we sit and talk about this and we watch the harbor. Sometimes Yacove Eved sees me at the port fishing for the sunken images and Yacove Eyed says Salaam Shaaer and I say Shalom Yacove. Yacove is like me he knows all the lonely travelers all the ones who never returned whose ships are lost at sea. Now I do not know where Yacove Eved is and I do not know where to find him. I have never known anyone by that name but these verses are for him.(21)
In April 1988, a few months before the advent of the Intifada, Ibrahim Souss, the PLO representative in Paris at the time, published a book titled Lettre a un ami juif (Letter to a Jewish Friend). It is fashioned after Camus's Lettres a un ami allemand (Letters to a German Friend). Souss is addressing a Jewish acquaintance and expressing a desire to meet so that the two might begin to understand each other's suffering. He mentions visits he has made to the concentration camps of Dachau and Bergen-Belsen, in order to discover his own and his friend's respective identities, that of a Jew and a Palestinian. "That day, facing you," Souss explains, "I expressed my conviction that Palestinians and Israelis cannot live indefinitely separated by barbed wire, and that the land of Palestine is too narrow to remain divided and partitioned for such a long time" (Souss, 16).(22) Silence meets Souss when he confronts his Jewish friend with the realities of the oppression of the Palestinian people. At the end, Souss implores his friend to include and to gather members of the new generation of Israeli youth, which does not consider itself victimized by the world, as a harbinger for peace between the two peoples.
Can poetry and literature, then, play a role in promoting coexistence between Palestinians and Israelis? I believe it can. Emile Habibi, the Palestinian author who received prizes from both the PLO and the Israeli government in 1990 and in 1992, declared that a dialogue of prizes is better than a dialogue of stones and bullets.(23) In this vein, and in the long run, the promotion of certain structural changes may be recommended. Such changes can assist in bringing these two peoples closer to understanding each other's oppressions - for example, the establishment of a unified cultural commission that would include among its representatives a number of intellectuals and writers from both sides and would attempt the following: 1) to introduce the learning of both languages, Hebrew and Arabic, for all children; 2) to develop summer institutes in which Israeli and Arab youth would read each other's writings and search for common strands; 3) to translate literary works from and into both languages; 4) to provide similar literary awards for prizewinning works by both Israeli and Palestinian writers; 5) to hold literary conferences that would celebrate works which reflect peace and coexistence; and 6) to publish anthologies that include works from both cultures.
If the above sounds idealistic, it is because one is forced to consider several questions. 1) How democratic is the process in the new Palestinian entity, and will it embrace and implement freedom of speech and expression? 2) The same applies for Israel. Will its democratic tradition extend to include Palestinian intellectualism on the same level as its own? 3) When and how will the content of books and other materials change in order to accommodate the new realities and to foster cooperation and empathy? 4) Since the two-state solution has proponents among both Israelis and Palestinians, will this mean total separation on all levels, including the cultural? 5) If the two-state solution should become a reality, then will English continue to be the common language of communication? For Palestinians writing in Arabic, a rich intellectual support system among other Arab intellectuals is already in existence, whereas for Israelis writing in Hebrew, will the outcome be cultural isolation in the region?
This quick survey of two Palestinian literary genres reveals that there is no lack of writings which decry the occupation and vividly portray oppression. But is there a role for this literature to play in the promotion of coexistence, now that there are two peoples sharing the same space, side by side? Or should literature remain a vehicle to express feelings only as a means of venting frustrations? And in the same vein, does Hebrew literature on the Holocaust - an expression of oppression in its own right - resemble Palestinian literature on dispossession and the search for identity? In a speech delivered recently in Washington, D.C., Edward Said, the renowned Palestinian American literary critic and professor at Columbia University, advised, "We must think seriously of the bases of coexistence." He called for an Arab intellectual understanding of how the Holocaust has warped the Jewish people, and indicated that Arab writers are to blame and must share the burden for the lack of awareness of the historical realities and burdens borne by both peoples, Israeli and Palestinian. There is a need, Said continued, to admit the universality and the integrity of both peoples' experience and suffering.(24)
In the long run, perhaps only certain structural and psychological changes can bring about a deeper and more intense comprehension of both types of experience. Whereas this article has dealt with only one period in the history of the Palestinians, there is a whole body of literature that still awaits investigation for the purpose of exposing it in order to humanize it and to examine it for locating a language of peace and coexistence.
Flint Hill School, Oakton, Va.
1 For a detailed account of the underground literary movement, see Hanan Ashrawi, "The Contemporary Palestinian Poetry of Occupation," Although Ashrawi's article covers the period preceding the Intifada, it provides a meaningful historical background to the literature written during the revolt.
2 Patrick White's narrative Let Us Be Free records a personal encounter with the daily experiences of Palestinian students who frequented Bethlehem University, where White taught for a number of years. Many of the students came from the nearby refugee camp of Dheisheh, which was a center of upheaval and resistance On campus, the students felt they were free to articulate their suffering, and White describes the exchanges he had with them.
3 The Anthology of Modern Palestinian Literature (hereinafter abbreviated as AMPL) spans the period 1858-1990. It contains an excellent eighty-page introduction, which discusses both the external forces and the internal dynamics that influenced Palestinian literature. The book includes translated works which read very well The editor, Salma Khadra Jayyusi, does not identify the literature of the Intifada per se, but my selections fit the designated period through their dates of publication.
4 This poem was published in Intifada: The Palestinian Uprising Against Israeli Occupation. The volume is interspersed with resistance poetry by both Israelis and Palestinians. Kamal Boullata is a writer born in Jerusalem and currently living in Canada.
5 Hussein Barghouti is a Palestinian songwriter. A Song for Childhood was released in 1988 in Palestine. It also appeared in the anthology Intifada.
6 This poem was selected from the AMPL. Although the poet lives in the diaspora, she describes one of the most violent aspects of the occupation: the deportation of Palestinian males, to empty the land of its inhabitants and to break the basic family structure.
7 Another representation of oppression is the prison and detention without trial. "O Negev" combines the essence of resistance rising out of despair. It also appeared in Intifada.
8 Hanan Ashrawi, the political activist and Palestinian spokesperson, writes in English. This poem was selected from the anthology Intifada.
9 "Death by Burial" is taken from the AMPL.
10 The complete text of this poem is also in the AMPL.
11 "This poem (like the two subsequent footnoted items) has not been published, but appears in the book Still Small Voices, which profiles twelve men and women who lived the daily violence of the Occupied Territories. The poems were found in a book written by Samiha Khalil and titled Literature of the Intifada. The volume was confiscated by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) when they stormed Khalil's house and declared it as well as other publications to be inflammatory and inciting to resistance.
12 See note 11.
13 See note 11.
14 This is from the AMPL. Ghareeb Asqalani lives in Gaza and is a novelist and short-story writer. He has collected and published two anthologies of Palestinian short fiction, in 1977 and 1982.
15 From the AMPL. Riyad Baydas is a short-story writer whose main concern is exploring the problem of human existence through social relationships
16 Souad Dajani's book Eyes Without Country, written after the signing of the Declaration of Principles (DOP) in 1993, provides an excellent analysis of the social structures during the Intifada. It also has a pessimistic tone, as when it describes the achievements of the DOP. Dajani feels that the struggle is far from over, that the facts on the ground indicate different realities from the content of the DOP. She calls for a continuation of the nonviolent struggle to achieve a two-state solution.
17 Both this and the subsequent short story by Hanan Ashrawi first appeared in the Palestinian weekly Al-Fajr in 1989. They belong together under the title "Women on the Hilltop." Both describe the experiences of women during the Intifada.
18 See note 17.
19 "The Sealed Room" should by no means be considered the only example of personal-account literature. According to Jayyusi, this genre bears the greatest witness to the age of catastrophe. A mix of the personal and the political marks these writings, and they define social structures. The problem of identity always lurks in the background. This particular book is likened to an earlier one, published in 1955, rifled "Such Am I, O World," by Khalil Sakakini. Ashrawi's book "This Side of Peace" is another example.
20 Both this and the subsequent poem are taken from the AMPL and are reproduced in part to demonstrate expressions of empathy and the search for peace.
21 See note 20.
22 The translation from the French is my own.
23 Emile Habibi died recently (2 May 1996) in Nazareth. His works have been translated into several languages, including Hebrew. His novels explored the identity conflicts of the Palestinians who remained in Israel after 1948. His best-known novel is The Secret Life of Said the Pessoptimist.
24 Said's speech was delivered on 2 November 1997 at Georgetown University, at the annual convention of the Arab American University Graduates. A summary of the speech was reported to me by the free-lance writer Laurie Irani.
Ashrawi, Hanan Mikhail. "The Contemporary Palestinian Poetry of Occupation." Journal of Palestine Studies, 7:3 (1978), pp. 77-101.
-----. This Side of Peace: A Personal Account. New York Simon & Schuster. 1995.
Dajani, Souad R. Eyes Without Country: Searching for a Palestinian Strategy of Liberation. Philadelphia Temple University Press. 1995.
Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth: The Handbook for the Black Revolution That Is Changing the Shape of the World. New York. Grove. 1963.
Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Rev. ed. New York. Continuum. 1993.
Gellman, Barton. "Unable to Punish Dead Bombers, Israel Hits Palestinians at Large" Washington Post, 25 March 1996, p. A10.
-----. "With Passport, Palestinians Seek Passage to Nationhood." Washington Post, 25 February 1996, pp. A1, A24-A25.
Hoffman, David. "The Making of a 'Martyr.'" Washington Post, 12 March 1996, pp. A1, A9.
Jayyusi, Salma Khadra, ed. Anthology of Modern Palestinian Literature. New York, Columbia University Press, 1992.
Lockman, Zachary, and Joel Beinin, eds. Intifada: The Palestinian Uprising Against Israeli Occupation Boston. South End. 1989.
McLaren, Peter L., and Colin Lankshear, eds. Politics of Liberation: Paths from Freire. London. Routledge 1994.
Nassar, Jamal R., and Roger Heacock, eds. Intifada: Palestine at the Crossroads. New York. Praeger. 1990.
Rigby, Andrew. Living the Intifada. London. Zed. 1991.
Sabbagh, Suha. "Palestinian Women Writers and the Intifada." Social Text, 22 (Spring 1989), pp. 62-78.
Shaaban, Bouthaina. Both Right and Left Handed: Arab Women Talk About Their Lives London. Women's Press. 1988.
Sharoni, Simona. Gender and the Israeli Palestinian Conflict: The Politics of Women's Resistance. Syracuse, N.Y. Syracuse University Press. 1995.
Souss, Ibrahim. Lettre a un ami juif. Paris. Seuil. 1988.
Wallach, John and Janet. Still Small Voices: The Untold Human Stories Behind the Violence in the West Bank and Gaza. New York. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. 1989.
White, Patrick. Let Us Be Free: A Narrative Before and During the Intifada. Clifton, N.J. Kingston. 1989.
Young, Iris Marion. Justice and the Politics of Difference. Princeton, N.J. Princeton University Press. 1990.
Zeidan, Joseph T. Arab Women Novelists: The Formative Years and Beyond. Albany. State University of New York Press. 1995.
SAMIRA MEGHDESSIAN was educated at the American University of Beirut and at Columbia University and George Mason University. She has worked as a consultant in Lebanon, Thailand, the Central African Republic, and Rwanda and is the author of a sourcebook on the status of Arab women, published recently in London. Currently she is pursuing studies in gender and conflict in the developing world.
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|Publication:||World Literature Today|
|Date:||Jan 1, 1998|
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