Mornings in Jenin

by Susan Abulhawa, Bloomsbury (2010)

My second reading of Mornings in Jenin coincided with the attacks in Beirut and Paris in November 2015.  I’m not sure why I decided to pick up the book again. I thoroughly enjoyed it the first time I read it but realized I hadn’t posted a book review on my website.

I purchased Mornings in Jenin at the Diwan Bookstore in Zamalek (Cairo) intending to add it to my collection of books that I’m carrying to friends in Gaza. I’m carting a suitcase load (maybe 30-40 books) to Gaza. Books are among those items banned by Israel and it’s difficult to know what’s on the current list of prohibited items. I’ve looked. Although books are not mentioned on this list from 2013, I’ve heard from others that books have been confiscated at the Erez Crossing. My gut tells me that Gaza UnSilenced, Gaza in Crisis, Palestine and the Palestinians in the 21st Century, Goliath, A Child from the Village by Sayyid Qutb, and others would not make it pass the Israeli blockade. So I must find a way to Gaza from Egypt with my suitcase of books.

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Ms. Abulhawa’s story blends fiction with historical events in Palestine — so it might be appropriate to put the book in the category of historical fiction. She writes with such intimacy that we might mistake this book as the author’s personal biography of 5 generations of her family. I know if I ever meet Ms. Abulhawa, I’ll be tempted to look for signs of Dahlia in her eyes and appearance.

From the back cover of the book:

Palestine. 1948. A mother clutches her six-month-old son as Israeli soldiers march through the village of Ein Hod. In a split secod, her son is snatched from her arms and the fate of the Abulheja family is changed forever. Forced into a refugee camp in Jenin and exiled from the ancient village that is their lifeblood, the family struggles to rebuild their world. Their stories unfold through the eyes of the younger sibling, Amal, the daughter born in the camp who will eventually find herself alone in the United States; the eldest son who loses everything in the struggle for freedom; and the stolen son who grows up as an Israeli, becoming the enemy soldier to his own brother.

The timing of my second reading was eerie.

The autbor described the horrific 1982 massacre at the Sabra-Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon with the accuracy of someone who was present. Robert Fisk was one of the first journalists to enter the camps after the slaughter and parts of his eyewitness account are included in the book, but Abulhawa’s characters are also in Sabra-Shatila and its through their eyes that the reader fully grasps the utter loss of humanity. Israel bombs Beirut in fact and in fiction. A year later, two truck bombs detonate on the grounds of the U.S. and French military forces in Beirut killing 299 people, in fact and in fiction.

While I’m reading my book in Cairo, the world is stunned by the attacks in Beirut and Paris. And I’m stunned because I can see the long thread of violence winding its way through the lives of the victims from 1947 to 1967 to 1982 to 2015 and it’s even more horrifying to think that most Westerners don’t see it. Are we condemned to live with the violence we cannot see (our own as well as the terrorists) and repeat the same mistakes — fighting terror with terror?

Oh, the inhumanity of mankind —- in life and in Mornings in Jenin —- is beyond comprehension. Maybe I was meant to re-read Abulhawa’s book a second time to fully grasp the tragedy. This is not a book to “thoroughly enjoy.”  It’s a book to mourn and weep for all of the losses between its two covers.