A few nights ago I had the pleasure of joining a discussion group for Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa. The novel is the current “One Book, Many Communities” choice by Librarians and Archivists with Palestine. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the participants were from a wide range of age groups (20-somethings all the way up to women in their 70s or 80s) and backgrounds. And while some had not finished the book by the time they arrived, all were familiar with the Israel/Palestine issue, and a few were actively involved in pro-Palestine activism.
Many participants expressed their frustration with the mainstream North American media portrayal of the Israel/Palestine conflict. In particular, I heard readers comment how the narrative is so consistently from an Israeli government and military perspective, ignoring Palestinian voices even as domestic Israeli publications like Haaretz are more critical. I also heard several people remark how important historical fiction like Abulhawa’s novel is when many depictions of Palestinian history and politics are journalistic or academic non-fiction, something a large part of the reading public shies away from. I agree that Mornings in Jenin is an excellent choice for telling the history of Palestine since 1948 for an audience that may never read the likes of Max Blumenthal et al.
Mornings in Jenin tells the story of one family (and a few family friends) as they are forcibly removed from their village by Zionist forces in 1948, experience heavy bombing in the Jenin refugee camp in1967 and how each member survives, or in many cases does not survive, Israeli occupation and life as a refugee. The bond of love between family members is beautifully painted by Abulhawa, while the characters’ suffering and loss is deeply affecting. This is a book that humanizes Palestinians and Jews alike, arguing that neither ethnic group is the problem, but rather the ideology that positions one in complete, highly militarized control over the other.
I would add a trigger warning for the following: violent death of men, women and children, mention of rape, bombing, terrorism, torture and beatings. For the reader who is not triggered by these subjects, this book is an excellent beginner Palestinian point-of-view, and is hard to put down. I look forward to the next book chosen by Librarians and Archivists with Palestine.