Refaat Alareer, Editor, Just World Books (2013)
What do you do when one of the best-equipped militaries in the world focuses their planes, tanks, drones and weapons on your family?
What do you do when a government deploys its slick lobbyists and spin-meisters around the world to convince the media and other nations that you are a terrorist deserving of whatever punishment it deems necessary for its own “security”?
What do you do when the forces arrayed against you are hell-bent on destroying your grandparents’ memories and dreams, denying you the right to live a normal life, even declaring that your people do not exist. (Think: Golda Meir famously saying “Palestinian people do not exist.”)
Some might negotiate; some might throw rocks and rockets; and others might think strategically about going to the United Nations and the International Criminal Court where, as an attorney, I’m hopeful that justice might be found in the not too distant future.
Fifteen Palestinians from Gaza decided to pick up their pens, proving beyond any shadow of a doubt that ‘the pen truly is mightier than the sword.’
GAZA WRITES BACK – Short Stories from Young Writers in Gaza, Palestine is a literary tour de force that shares the uncensored and honest emotions of these university students who grew up under Israeli occupation, and five years ago survived Israel’s brutal assault on the Gaza Strip (Operation Cast Lead) which lasted 23 days and killed some 1,400 Palestinians (the vast majority of them civilians).
If words can be measured for their impact, as bombs and artillery shells are measured, then I hope the short stories in GAZA WRITES BACK hit the target (western audiences) with as much force as the estimated 3,000 tons of bombs Israel dropped on Gaza. Refaat Alareer, university instructor and editor of this collection, has selected 23 pieces originally written in English, not translated from Arabic, which will surely grab readers’ hearts and minds.
Alareer’s students share their dreams for the future mixed with the stark reality of today and yesterday. Death of family members and friends, including survivor’s guilt when one minute friends are playing ball on the street below and the next moment – poof – they are all dead from an Israeli attack.
“Ahmed was gone. The others haunted me with their blaming looks every day I went to school. I couldn’t look at them. Amputated limbs. Scarred faces. Limping gaits. Our neighborhood was blown to smithereens in a split second. No more games were played. No more goals. No more cheering. And my friends grew up in one second.”
The land and olive trees play a prominent role in many of the stories. Israeli bulldozers destroyed 1000s of trees, a strategy of psychological warfare and punishment.
“One of our trees, which later became the subject matter the whole neighborhood spoke of, was still standing there. Just one week before the attacks, my father told my brother how slanted this tree was and how quickly they needed to get rid of it. They were planning to cut it, and yet, ironically, it was the only tree the Israeli army left (out of boredom or mercy, I cannot tell). But it was still there. Later, whenever my cousins wanted to make Dad feel less terrible about it, they made fun of the whole thing. ‘How the hell did the soldiers know you were planning to cut it anyway and so decided not to cut it themselves?’ my cousins would remark. Everyone would start laughing. But Dad did not. His Land and olive groves are not laughing matters to him. … ‘So how many trees were uprooted? 180 olive trees I guess and …?’ ‘189 olive trees, 160 lemon trees, 14 guava trees…’ he bellowed, angry that I missed the exact number. … Between my father and his Land is an unbreakable bond. Between Palestinians and their Land is an unbreakable bond. By uprooting plants and cutting trees continually, Israel tries to break that bond and impose its own rules of despair on Palestinians. By replanting their trees over and over again, Palestinians are rejecting Israel’s rules. ‘My Land, my rules,’ says Dad.”
A medical student, in another short story, must go to work in the dangerous tunnels to support his family after Israel kills his father. A father wakes up early to go stand in line at the UNRWA dental office so that his daughter, suffering from a bad toothache, can get some pain medication. A student is frustrated when she forgets that there might not be any electricity available that day so she can’t print her mid-term exam and turn it in. The thoughts of a freedom fighter before he takes his last breath; getting into the head of a suicide bomber before he blows himself up, along with Israeli soldiers; and getting into the head of an Israeli soldier experiencing nightmares from his actions committed during Operation Cast Lead.
These young writers are speaking for all Palestinians while sharing their personal stories with the skill of native born English speakers. They challenge the destructive stereotypical thinking that lazy Western audiences have been fed about Palestine and Palestinians. They represent the future in this very volatile region and their words should be taken seriously. GAZA WRITES BACK is the best form of diplomacy. Mabrook! Mabrook!
GAZA WRITES BACK – Short Stories from Young Writers in Gaza, Palestine, Refaat Alareer, Editor, Just World Books, 2013.