While Palestine continuously battles through ongoing conflicts, the country’s fraught story is narrated through the medium of biography
Part One: The Biography
‘Life is certainly harder here on the Palestinian side. Everything takes longer, things unravel more quickly, and people do not expect the best outcomes.’
- Mark Thomas
Around the time I started university, I became immersed in the politics of Palestine, but I soon found that the constant diatribes, protests and fuelled student council meetings which centred on Israel and Palestine were not for me. Ever since I became interested in the politics of Palestine, I have immersed myself in its people, its history and its struggles, through literature. Nothing speaks more to me than a good bunch of words. Thankfully, I have found plenty of those.
My bookshelf is lined with the words of writers, activists, journalists and historians who have shed their experiences and shared their humbling ventures in the conflicted land. They have walked the wall, changed their religions, been held for several hours at check points and yes, have almost been arrested. Their stories have deepened my urge to understand why the country is, and always has been, such a volatile place.
I’d like to share some of the words I’ve read about Palestine. These books have helped me build a picture of the conflict in my mind. It’s a picture under construction. Although I never expect to not be shocked by the appalling injustices happening to those living under occupation, the following books have taught me new things, challenged some of the views I originally held, and put a fresh perspective on familiar facts.
Extreme Rambling by Mark Thomas
This book is for anyone who doesn’t think it’s possible to scream with laughter and burst into a fit of rage at the same time. Read it – it’s possible. Mark Thomas is a comedian, and boy does he have a talent for churning humour out of terrible moments. Keen on doing ‘normal things in abnormal situations’, he takes his walking boots, his BBC licence, and a quirky camera man named Phil; and decides to walk the entire length of Israel’s barrier, for fun.
As a British rambler, Thomas is fuelled by the notion that he can walk anywhere he wants. But this is Israel and Thomas’s ramble is as far from normal as you can get, and in all honesty his experiences aren’t that fun. As an open supporter of the Palestinian cause, Thomas’s hobby teaches him a lot about the injustices of living under occupation. He meets Palestinian workers who are forced to queue up from 1.30am to get to work, children who walk through sewage tunnels to get to school, and fathers who can’t get their sick kids to hospital. He also meets the man who drew the wall, Israeli lobby groups trying to create new settlements, and Zionist estate agents who think they’re working for God.
Overall the book contains many troubling moments which are not softened by Thomas’s humour, but there are some surprising moments too. While Thomas does not shy away from stating his position as a supporter of the Palestinian cause, he learns a lot about the complex dynamics of living in Israel. His journey leaves him frustrated at the best of times, but often wistful and perceptive. For readers, this book has its emotional bumps. Although it’s somewhat disconcerting, it is certainly well worth the read.
Jerusalem the Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore
This number one bestseller is based on a recent TV documentary series by Jewish-born Simon Montefiore. Watch out – it’s a whopper of a book. Its 650-plus pages concisely cover the history of the holy city of Jerusalem, the many wars, the bloodshed, and religious changing of hands from Judaism to Christianity to Islam. It covers the Crusades, the many empires that ruled over it, and finally, Zionism.
One great benefit of the book is that you will gain a much better understanding of how Jerusalem acts as a catalyst for current conflicts happening today, but the historical claims to the City (and parts of the City) are so diversified as to diminish the hope for sustained peace.
This book is perfect for anyone who likes history. It also addresses a wide range of themes other than just being a pure chronological, historical narrative, namely religion (encompassing the rise of faiths and their battles over the city), politics, trade, population booms and declines. I enjoyed it, but must admit that I haven’t completely reached the end just yet…
Click here to read part two: Palestine’s Imagined Voices
Image from: http://snippits-and-slappits.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/whilst-searching-for-photographs-of.html
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