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Other Reviews: Two Faces of the Palestinian Memoir
The memoir has been a strong component of the modern Palestinian literary tradition. The Anglophone memoir has been especially popular within the last two decades, with such notable titles as Edward Said’s Out of Place and Izzeldin Abuelaish’s I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity. Such memoirs range from political reﬂection (e.g. Sari Nusseibeh’s Once Upon a Country:
A Palestinian Life) to more abstract, artistic narrative (e.g. Mourid Barghouti’s I Saw Ramallah), sometimes combining the two styles (as in the case of Ghada Karmi’s In Search of Fatima: A Palestinian Story). Two notable additions to this tradition have recently been published: Jacob J. Nammar’s Born in Jerusalem, Born Palestinian and Raja Shehadeh’s Occupation Diaries. Both titles extend the parameters of the English-language Palestinian memoir. One cannot help but notice that in the modern Palestinian memoir, the authors often loudly proclaim a cultural/national identity, either through the use of a place-name or the term ‘‘Palestinian’’ as a distinct ethnic category. Such cultural proclamations indicate that the modern Palestinian memoir is inherently politicized, as evidenced by the age-old habit shared by writers of colonized nations of asserting peoplehood as simple act of straightforward subversion. This phenomenon continues in the work of Nammar and Shehadeh. Nammar emphasizes his Palestinian birth, and thus his moral claim to ownership of disputed territory, while Shehadeh combines the reﬂective medium of diary writing with topical observations, indicating that reﬂection on one’s life in Palestine is difﬁcult, perhaps impossible, without also thinking about the politics of the IsraelPalestine conﬂict. Nammar is not immune to this phenomenon. For both authors, the complexities of Palestinian identity—an identity in exile in the case of Nammar—pervade their stories and reﬂections. Likewise, for both, emphasis on the preservation of heritage is accompanied by the belief that Palestinian culture cannot be fully preserved in the absence of lasting political liberation. Whereas Shehadeh is ﬁrmly embedded in Palestine, some of Nammar’s story takes place in the United States. He spends considerable time on his family’s backstory, however. Explaining that ‘‘the Nammamreh [plural of Nammar] of Palestine were one of the leading families in al-Quds,’’ Nammar highlights a continued connection to Palestine even for those who emigrated: ‘‘The extended family members who remained in Palestine after the start of the Israeli occupation were tied to the land and each possessed a key to a home in Palestine’’ (p. 4). For Nammar, these keys signify a historic attachment to the land of Palestine that transcends the physical exigencies of geographic dispersal. In many ways, Born in Jerusalem, Born Palestinian is a traditional immigrant success story, of the variety so prominent in the American literary landscape. Nammar came to the United States in his early twenties, having been displaced from West Jerusalem along with his family seven years prior. His early years in Palestine were not always idyllic, but they were happy, and Nammar recalls those years with a fondness he communicates well to the reader. Nammar was educated in Catholic schools and explains that his ‘‘parents placed great value on Christian upbringing and education’’ (p. 19). However, like the vast majority of Palestinians of the mid-twentieth century, national identity and good interfaith relations overpowered any inclination his family may have had to sectarianism. Nammar’s father, Yousef, had distaste for ethno-religious conﬂict, perhaps because of his unpopular marriage to Nammar’s mother, Tuma, born in Armenia and thus unsuitable, according to his family, as a spouse. Nammar presents this background alongside a conversational history of Palestine, told, unsurprisingly (and compellingly), from the point of view of a dispossessed family. Readers do not hear in detail how outsider status inﬂuenced Nammar’s adult life in the United States, but such a subtext pervades Nammar’s maturation into a successful businessman. In total, Born in Jerusalem, Born Palestinian is less about Nammar, the American businessman, and more about Nammar, the Palestinian child born amid a tumultuous and tragic moment in his people’s history. The structure of Occupation Diaries differs substantially. Both books are about Palestinian life and both, in addition to being well-written, illuminate profound devotion to the future of Palestine, but Shehadeh turns in more of an abstract effort that consciously employs literary devices to achieve a distinct aesthetic. A noteworthy device of Occupation Diaries is its minimalism. The structure of the book is exactly as its title promises, a series of entries organized in chronological days, a diary. Shehadeh
includes no introduction or framing narratives, unlike the more conventional memoir structure in his 2002 book, Strangers in the House. All context exists within the diary itself, which includes dates and fabulous photographs, both landscape and portraiture. The only text outside the format of diary is in a brief postscript, dated 6 May 2012, sharing Shehadeh’s reﬂections on the death of Sabri Garaib, whose case was Shehadeh’s ﬁrst project at Al-Haq, the human rights organization he continues to lead. The book begins on 13 December 2009 and ends on 29 December 2011, a period leading up to a Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations (UN). Shehadeh does not thematize the statehood bid, but uses it as a consistent reference point. His reﬂections range from political outrage to the beauty and restfulness of the Palestinian landscape. Both elements are evident in the ﬁrst entry, where Shehadeh discusses the pleasures of a picnic alongside an internecine squabble over religious versus secular comportments that almost led to a ﬁstﬁght. On its own, the Islamistsecularist binary is too simplistic, but Shehadeh develops his assessment of internal Palestinian politics with admirable nuance. Occupation Diaries has no consistent motif. As one would expect from an actual diary, Shehadeh sometimes employs stream-of-consciousness. Although his thoughts can appear random, however, they all cohere around matters of Palestinian culture and politics. The format allows for frank observation of the sort one rarely ﬁnds in scholarship or even in op-eds. About the Hebrew language, for instance, Shehadeh declares, ‘‘I cannot stand to hear Hebrew, which has become the language of interrogations, of summonses, of encounters with the military, and of rude soldiers giving orders’’ (p. 103). Despite the forthrightness of this observation, Shehadeh evinces no speciﬁc political loyalties. He mentions dozens of Israeli Jewish friends and makes no indication of rejecting the very presence of Israel. He does not advocate for a particular party or ideology. He gives readers plenty of opportunities to agree or disagree with a sentiment, proposal, or ethic, which enhances the enjoyment and usefulness of reading. Both Born in Jerusalem, Born Palestinian and Occupation Diaries are highly recommended. Either title might work well as a supplement to scholarship or journalism in courses dealing with Palestine or Palestinian or Anglophone Arab literature, as well as for a pleasurable read. Of special interest is the contribution to and continued development of the modern Palestinian memoir by Nammar and Shehadeh. Both authors draw from and extend a lively and diverse component of Palestinian literary production. Many have argued that the health of any culture can be discerned by the breadth and depth of its art. If that is true, then Nammar and Shehadeh’s books indicate that Palestinian culture continues to ﬂourish despite the physical, economic, and emotional effects of dispossession.
*Steven Salaita is an associate professor of English at Virginia Tech. His latest book is Israel’s Dead Soul.
A family history firmly rooted in Jerusalem’s soil
Born in Jerusalem, Born Palestinian by Jacob Nammar is both one man’s autobiography and a national narrative. Born into a prominent Jerusalem family of wealthy Palestinian Christians with roots that span centuries in that eternal city, Nammar was destined to live a life of comfort and privilege. His family prospered in Palestine, owning large tracts of valuable property in the Christian quarter, Harra al-Nasara. His was the only family to have a neighborhood named after it and one that gave generously to the community, including a large sum (200 Ottoman coins) to renovate a Jewish synagogue during the 19th century.
The book opens with a picturesque Palestine, a multi-religious, inclusive land where history was a breathing, living thing that etched itself into stone and frolicked in rolling green hills. It strolls through the family’s history in al-Andalus (Andalusia) in Spain during the 11th century. In 1807, the Ottoman Sultanate appointed the Nammars as chief engineers for the city of Jerusalem. It was not surprising then that this venerable family would not approve of Tuma as a wife for their son.
Tuma was a beautiful woman who survived the Armenian genocide by taking a post as a servant with an abusive Turkish family, from which she was eventually rescued by nuns in Beirut. Her life journey took her from there to a first marriage that left her as a widow and mother shortly thereafter, until, through a series of events, she met Yousef Rashid Nammar, the man who would become her husband and father of her children.
Their life together was one of enduring love, passion and loyalty, complete with a range of Arab family drama that is born from forbidden love. She is described with idyllic maternal terms, a woman whose world narrowed to encompass little more than her family, for whom she invested nearly all of her time, all of her heart, imagination and energy. The backdrop of their life contained the images we all still hold of Palestine, and one that is impossible to imagine in today’s Jerusalem.
Before it came under the rule of the Zionist regime, Jerusalem — and indeed all of Palestine — was a welcoming place that lived by the Turkish proverb: “a cup of coffee will build friendship for 40 years.” It was a place where “most houses were never locked; by custom, neighbors looked after each other and homes were secure. Life felt simple and authentic. The community was a large family, our collective consciousness was at ease, and our streets were peaceful.”
Of course, all of that would change, in a blink of history’s eyes. All of it would be swept away. The “twelve hundred [Palestinian] villages scattered throughout the mountains and countryside, some dating back two to four thousand years”; the “shepherds, artisans, and farmers who formed the ‘bread basket’ [and who] proudly fed the entire country”; the “evidence of a prosperous agricultural history with abundant cultivation of grapes, apples, pears, figs, almonds, pistachios, walnuts, olives, oranges, and many beautiful flowers and vegetable gardens.” Gone, stolen, or erased.
Jacob Nammar was not yet born when the first Zionist conference was held in Basel, Switzerland to establish a Jewish state in Palestine nor when Ze’ev Jabotinsky declared that “colonization, even the most restricted, must be … carried out in defiance of the will of the native population.”
And later, the Polish head of the Zionist organization, David Grun (who changed his name to David Ben Gurion), clarified that “We [Jewish settlers] must expel the Arabs and take their land … I support compulsory transfer. I do not see anything immoral in it. The Arabs will have to go, but one needs an opportune moment for making it happen.”
School bus attacked
The Zionist colonial project first touched Jacob’s life at a young age, when his school bus was attacked, killing two of his friends and wounding many more. As their bus traveled past the Jewish colony, it was assailed by a hail of bullets from the hilltop, and only by luck was Jacob spared. This incident marked the beginning of a period of general fear and parental curfews, and it was followed with more Zionist terrorism aimed against civilians, including the bombing of the King David Hotel, where his older brother, Mihran, was working at the time.
Jacob Nammar takes us through these historic events and the reader is reminded of who originally introduced the terrorism of explosives and guns aimed at children in that land.
It was the day before his seventh birthday that Jacob’s family was driven from their beautiful spacious Jerusalem villa. His father and older brother were abducted and tortured by Jewish militias. His home, and all other Palestinian homes in that affluent neighborhood, had been looted by Jewish settlers. Nammar also describes the methodical looting of precious books, which has only recently come to light in a documentary, The Great Book Robbery.
Heartbreak and terror
Unlike other Palestinian families that fled for their lives, Jacob’s mother returned to their looted home. The heartbreak of having their world scrambled and violated was matched only by the terror of being rounded up by uniformed terrorists of the new Jewish state and put into prison camps, their father and brother still missing.
The family’s world was now delineated with barbed wires, prison guards, long lines to communal bathrooms, rations from the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA), and scavenging for dandelions to make a poor man’s salad.
For their mother, Yuma, it was a reliving of her memories of the Armenian genocide and she did her best to protect her family. She stood up to soldiers in the middle of the night, including those who came to rape her daughter. Nammar describes being “ashamed of the cruelty they inflicted on us.”
When they were finally released from the prison camp years later, their home had been taken by Jewish settlers and to this day, as is the case with all Palestinians, their valuable family home remains stolen by Jewish newcomers. But Nammar does not dwell on this. In fact, he recounts persistent tragedies in this memoir with the detachment of a narrator. At times I wanted to read more about his internal world, to see anger, fear, love. But it’s not there; and perhaps this is not a shortcoming of the book. Perhaps it is precisely this detachment that gives the narration its power.
Haunted with maternal love
This book is filled with the worst of human deeds and the best of forgiving hearts. It is haunted with maternal love and life’s undaunted will to survive and hope. Jacob finds refuge and solace in the YMCA. He incorporates basketball into his identity even though his athletic career is thwarted because of his Arabness. He eventually leaves his homeland and settles in foreign lands, but his heart is clearly planted in the soil of Jerusalem, where his ancestors have dwelt for centuries.
There is so much in this autobiography to savor. The history we know so well is told to us through a Palestinian life that survived it. It shines with the richness of Palestinian culture, expansive generosity and the hills we cherish in our hearts and memories. It is filled with a sad patience and a dream tarnished with decades of impunity.
This is a Palestinian narrative that should be read far and wide, and Nammar is the kind of author that Palestinian and solidarity groups should be inviting to speak. We quickly and eagerly embrace any Israeli or Jewish man or woman who moves away from the racism of Zionism. We invite them to lecture and sign their books. We elevate their stature. But we rarely do the same for our own Palestinian brothers and sisters who barely survived the ravages of Zionism. I don’t know why that is, but it disheartens me.
It is my hope that readers will show this narrative the respect it deserves and encourage more like it because, as Jacob Nammar notes “Palestine will be reborn from all of its deep roots.” And we, Palestinians, are the keepers of these roots, that we pass down through our love, traditions, steadfastness, resistance and our stories.
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY – August 16, 2012
Nammar was born in Jerusalem in 1941 to wealthy landowners with ancestral ties to the region stretching back hundreds of years; his childhood was rich with family, friends, and educational opportunities amidst a diverse and tolerant population. But all that changed when his school bus was brutally attacked by machine gunners, killing two of his classmates, and injuring many more. Though his “body had been spared,” Nammar writes that thenceforth he was “spiritually wounded.” That metaphysical grievance become all too real when just a few years later, at the age of seven, he and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced in the exodus (which some considered an ethnic cleansing) known as the Nakba, a result of Israel’s declaration of independence and the violence visited upon them by Menachim Begin and his “paramilitary gang.” In a surprisingly measured voice, the author details the ensuing struggles faced by his family and countless others, the solace he found in swimming at the YMCA, and his difficult decision, at 23 years old, to finally flee his conflict-ridden homeland for the United States. Nammar writes that Israel “didn’t afford me a voice, economic independence, or a future. It had torn apart…my cohesive self.” His story is moving and serves as an argument in its own right for peace in a region that has been characterized for far too long by politico-religious strife. B&W photos & maps. (Apr.)
Washigton Report On Middle East Affairs July 23, 2012 by Leila Diab
May 26, 2012 Amazon.com 5.0 out of 5 stars
“Must Read! A Chapter in The Story of Jerusalem.”
by K. Qubrosi “K.Q.” – May 29, 2012
Jacob Nammar takes you on a trip through the space and time of Jerusalem, a time or tranquility that turns into turmoil. A time of happiness… a time of sorrows, at one of the most magical places on earth; a place that has witnessed plenty of both throughout the ages, and continues to do so to this day. Jacob vividly and colorfully describes the place and time he grew up in, through the eyes of a young boy moving into adulthood, as Jerusalem went through a difficult transition form having a Palestinian identity, with Christians, Muslims, and Jews living in relative harmony, to an Israeli / Jordanian divided city, that eventually became Israeli controlled after 1967. The book is beautifully narrated, using the old art of story telling that has existed in Jerusalem from time immemorial, but almost lost to our modern times but for a few modern written books. It is a rare gem in that it gives you a rare personal perspective that is rarely relayed by the media, and with the detail that is always missing from such reporting. A historical account of a historic place at a special time in history. Highly Recommended Reading!
by Erika Lantry – May 9, 2012
I couldn’t put it down!
Jacob Nammar’s story, “Born in Jerusalem, Born Palestinian: A Memoir” flows naturally and makes an exciting and easy read. His early childhood was full of adventure that turned scary when the land held for generations by his extended family was taken over by occupying Zionists. But the courage of his parents held the family together in spite of deprivation and hardship. As a young adult Jacob blossoms into a budding athlete as a swimmer and, later, basketball. But his athletic carreer turned sour due to discriminitve politics and forced him, eventially, to emigrate to the United States to pursue his education and sports carreer. What struck me the most throughout this book was the absense of resentment or hatred for the oppressors. Those feelings would have been well justified, but true to his Christian upbringing, Jacob voiced his frustrations and fears but never hatred. I couldn’t put it down until I was finished. This book, like a few others I have, will be read again and again over the years.
I laughed, cried and learned a lot about Jerusalem. The memoir is compassionate and informative. I recommened this book to a wide range audience – especially everyone working for the State department – they should know this background!
by Monsoon – May 16, 2012
Beautifully writen. Anyone who is a planing a trip to Isreal needs to read this to appreciate her history. As a reader you will feel and taste what is Jerusalem.
by Southman4b “Southman” – June 1, 2012
Mr. Nammar’s experiences are reflected in an atypical approach as compared to other books written on this subject. The Nammar family is Palestinian and negatively impacted by the establishment of the state of Israel. The difference in their story is one of a family who tried desperately to assimilate into the new Israeli society only to be made victims of the racist attitudes of the new occupants rushing to establish their homes on properties belonging to others. Mr. Nammar displays very little animosity in his memoir when one considers the efforts taken by his family to simply belong. This book is helpful for anyone trying to understand how the Holy Land has become so volatile today. It is an honest accounting of how the dehumanization of a people has led to today’s headlines.
American Library Association’s Booklist Magazine
June 1, 2012
“His memoir of his experiences in Israel until he emigrated to the U.S. is heartfelt and engrossing, and it provides an immensely valuable perspective from among the rarely heard voices of Israeli Arabs… his story provides valuable insights into the hopes, difficulties, and sorrows of Israeli Arabs.” —Booklist
Read the complete review by clicking on the link below.
Kirkus – Editorial Reviews
by Barnes and Noble – June 15, 2012
A Palestinian-American remembers an idyllic pre-1948 childhood in Palestine. Because of restrictions on economic opportunity, Nammar was forced to leave his beloved homeland at age 23. Here, he looks back at this bitter sweet era of his youth.”Balance” marked the community he knew as a child, where the three Abrahamic religions resided in harmony, socializing and patronizing eachother’s businesses within a curious mixture of Turkish, Armenian, Arab and Jewish customs. Born to an old, well-established family in the Haretal-Nammareh neighborhood–his father was a tour guide, and his mother was an educated refugee of the Armenian genocide–Nammar generally enjoyed a bountiful, bucolic first six years of life in Palestine. All changed abruptly when Zionist agitation broke out, marked by such events as a machine gun attack on his school bus and the bombing of the KingDavid Hotel in 1946, where Nammar’s older brother, Mihran, worked at the front desk. After Israeli independence, the Palestinian neighborhoods were inhabited by Israelis in what Nammar describes as a deliberate Zionist policy of nikayon, or ethnic cleansing.
Herded into a military zone, Nammar’s father and Mihran were detained in prison without explanation. Eventually, the family was reunited but without employment or prospects. The author writes movingly of his education by the nuns and his refuge at the Jerusalem YMCA, where he was both embraced for his athleticism and eventually marginalized, rejected for Israel’s national basketball team because of his nationality. An authentic, matter-of-fact, nonpolemical depiction of Palestinian life.
Middle East Online
by Leila Diab – May 12, 2012
A Palestinian’s altruistic world and the archives of a personal nakba
Nammar’s spiritual ethos recaptures, etches out his visions firmly throughout archives of his personal, family history, during, before, after the 1948 Nakba.
Devoid of any endless visions or boundaries of self respect, self existence and freedom, albeit from within the corners of one’s mind, a Palestinian’s personal experience of disaster, tragedy or the Nakba (catastrophe) of 1948 then and now, is rather profoundly a spectral travesty of universal injustice.
This timely autobiographical story, Born in Jerusalem. Born a Palestinian, written by Jacob Nammar, a Palestinian Christian recounts his bittersweet yet, fervent family life memories and his despondent world of experiences as a youth. Nammar’s spiritual ethos recaptures and etches out his visions firmly throughout the archives of his personal and family history, during, before and after the 1948 Nakba.
During Jacob’s formative years of growing up in his beloved Palestinian homeland, Palestine, and the the city of Al-Quds, Jerusalem, his vivid mind is reminiscent of a city in which the Nammar family prospered and owned several tracts of valuable properties in Haret Al-Nasara (the Christian Quarter). It was in the city of Jerusalem where the Nammar family clan had good relationships with the Jewish people, even to the extent of contributing during the nineteenth century, two hundred Ottoman coins to help renovate a Jewish synagogue. Historically, Nammar, adds, “That was our relationship.”
However, as years of acceptance and mutual respect passed on, a total rein of terror eclipsed over Palestine during the Nakba of 1948. Unfortunately, gone were the days of a prosperous economy, social harmony, acceptance and a peaceful Palestinian society, which was replaced by an immoral
and decadent Israeli military government occupation of Palestine. A Palestinian steadfast life of self existence, survival and a cohesive family was now the norm.
Jacob, witnessed his own family’s fear and trauma, as well as many prominent and well to do Palestinian families in Jerusalem as they were forced to leave their homes, had their property confiscated, and even having to emotionally endure male family members being tortured, imprisoned or taken away, just because they were peaceful Palestinians and no other reason. Jacob’s father and brother were also the victims of these blatant Israeli military government’s human rights violations.
According to Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it states, “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor attacks upon his honour, and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the laws against such interference or attacks.” Needless to say, once the reader walks away after reading Jacob’s story, I am sure they will ask why was this human tragedy not resolved now by world leaders, for the Nammar family and all Palestinians who have been denied their fundamental rights and the right to return to their homes.
One can assume that it is fate and destiny that will change the course on of one’s life.
This holds true for Jacob’s mom, who was born in Armenia and as a young child witnessed the massacre of her entire family under the Ottoman Turks and eventually ended up in Lebanon.
For Jacob, the experience of the Nakba and the constant violence for Palestinians living under an Israeli military occupation was now bellowing in his faith and belief that God was always with him. Thus began his daily visits to the YMCA in Jerusalem. It was at the YMCA that Jacob found his peace of mind and self-acceptance especially, while participating in many types of sports.. At the YMCA, he made many international friends who also excelled in swimming and basketball as he did. Ironically, Jacob was asked to join the Israeli basketball team and went on to become the only non Jewish player in the league. In fact, he was one of the most valued and most promising basketball players on the team.
However, much to Jacob’s surprise, he was automatically dropped from the team. Jacob explains that since the team was funded by Jewish Americans, “They felt that is was unacceptable for a Palestinian to represent Israel in the upcoming Olympics. I felt betrayed and humiliated.”
After reading Chapter 10, ‘You Do Not Belong Here”, the readers of this story should be able to deduce the implications and the effects of inhumane practices on any society, its religion, culture and politics.
Ironically, this is a story of Jacob ‘s altruistic world as foretold in the archives of his personal Nakba, of fate, destiny and karma ( dignity).
I would hope that everyone who reads Born In Jerusalem, Born Palestinian will acknowledge and commend Jacob’s hopeful and profound belief that, “Jerusalem shaped my spirit, religion, heritage, identity and earthly consciousness.”
I personally believe, as a Palestinian, Jacob’s story will eventually be recognized as a tribute and evocation of contemporary human beings who have suffered under ethic cleansing and in particular the Palestinian experience of separate and unequal laws of injustice and racism.
As a child born in Jerusalem and born in Palestine, the teachings of Jacob’s parents hold true in
his heart today. “We are all God’s children and spiritual descendents of the Prophet Abraham.”
Someday, if there is justice on Earth or in Heaven, there will be a right to return for thousands of exiled Palestinians like Jacob, and for those of us who have had our land, our history, our culture and our lives destroyed by the brutal occupation. And it is the hope of Jacob, that once again we will be at home in our Palestine.
*Leila Diab is a Palestinian American freelance journalist.
The San Antonio Express-News
by Roberto Bonazzi – May 6, 2012
Readers must approach this deeply-touching, heart-breaking memoir with the understanding that Jacob Nammar, a Palestinian living in San Antonio, has not written a political screed and, while objectivity remains impossible for humans, he reveals that being humane and fair in one’s viewpoint can be accomplished.
The narrative unfolds in four distinct sections: an idyllic portrait of a boy’s charming remembrances of family life in Jerusalem; the horrific onslaught by Zionist terrorists and the cruel, illegal removal of a population from its millennial homeland; the adaptations and successes of a young athlete and his family despite desperate circumstances and, finally, a mature man looking back on it all.
The first section about boyhood features loving portraits of his Arab father (who drove a tourist bus and met his wife in Beirut), an Armenian mother (whose family had been murdered by the Turks), an adopted half-brother from her first marriage and six siblings—all born in West Jerusalem and raised as Catholics. These chapters are replete with the sights, sounds and smells of a fabulous Holy City during an era when Arabs and Jews and everyone else lived peacefully in one community.
All was changed by senseless destruction and ethnic cleansing, and Palestinians were stripped of their land, homes, possessions and culture (including their estimable dignity). This section strikes as particularly horrifying from a little boy’s viewpoint, whose father and brother were imprisoned for years without provocation. Their mother, the story’s most heroic person, saved the family from this holocaust until father and brother returned. A few years later, no one could save them, for his father died heart-broken and the family eventually emigrated.
Nammar found support in the Catholic schools, mastered several languages, and became an top swimmer once he joined the YMCA. He set swimming records and was among the basketball stars (and only Palestinian) on the national team. But as more Jews flooded into Israel, he was cut from the team and siblings were fired from jobs, because “you do not belong here,” said the Jewish immigrants and Israeli officials—exiling them from their birth city, where his extended family had been prominent land owners and businessmen. They lost everything and he decided to leave at age 23. “I was never vengeful against Jews,” he writes, but “I was against the racist policies directed toward us. The Jewish religion has many remarkable qualities, but few of them were reflected in Israel’s militaristic society.” His “own political philosophy was to be a global citizen, a person devoted to interfaith and interracial understanding, and who stands for human rights, justice, freedom, and peace for all people.” Nammar’s actions and utterances testify to the truthfulness of his statements.
His “last experiences of Israel were sour. It was a state that didn’t afford me a voice, economic independence, or a future. It had torn apart my home, my family, and my sense of a cohesive self,” and it had dispossessed a once healthy society. He “could not live in a state that had been created by terror and illegal confiscation of my home, land, and personal freedom.” If we perceive reality without political agendas and strictly from the perspective of human rights, it becomes impossible not to view the decimation of Palestinian society as absolutely equivalent to the Nazi holocaust or the Turkish genocide of the Armenians (just to name two of the obvious fits of military madness in recent history). Yet, since we are inculcated by racism and propaganda in every society, it is easier always to believe that we are innocent bystanders.
In the “Epilogue” Nammar writes of his “process of healing and self-liberation that brought a renewed sense of hope.” He also relates his mother’s last years with them. “Mama had endured the Armenian genocide, the Palestinian ethnic cleansing, a Zionist prison zone, poverty, dispossession of her home and land, and the death of her soulmate. But she never lost her love for life, or hope, or her faith in God.”