Voices of Palestine: 14 Books That Illuminate Its People and History | Savoir Flair
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Voices of Palestine: 14 Books That Illuminate Its People and History
article HAMZA NOUASRIA/UNSPLASH
by Lydia Medeiros 5-minute read October 23, 2023

 "Think before you speak. Read before you think."

article YAOPEY YONG/UNSPLASH

Discovering the story of a nation is no small task, much less one with such a rich tapestry of cultural influence and historical significance. However, Palestine’s story is often defined by its current struggle – one that has come to be one of the crucial liberation movements of our time. Although it has been occupied by the state of Israel since 1948, Palestine’s history doesn’t start there, nor should this be its only narrative. Therefore, we have turned to authors who have lived through and resisted the occupation for their voices, their history, their resilience,  their beauty, and their ability to convey the textured nuances of the Palestinian experience.

These books serve as a collective guide, offering insights and diverse viewpoints that shed light on the ongoing plight of the Palestinian people as well as stories that illustrate Palestinians in all their humanity. As with any subject worth investigating, educating ourselves is key to making informed opinions, and the responsibility of knowledge does fall on our shoulders.

From personal accounts and poems to comprehensive historical analyses and graphic novels, these texts invite readers to embark on a journey of understanding, compassion, and awareness, acknowledging that learning about Palestine is a continuous process, and these books are invaluable stepping stones on that path.

1

The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine

by Ilan Pappe

The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by Ilan Pappé is a groundbreaking historical account that meticulously examines the events surrounding the 1948 Nakba (meaning ‘catastrophe’) and its impact on the Palestinian population. Pappé presents a detailed narrative of the forced displacement and expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes, culminating in what he argues was a deliberate and systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing. Through extensive research and a critical analysis of previously classified documents, Pappé challenges the conventional historical narrative of the occupation, shedding light on the hidden and often unsettling aspects of this contentious historical period. The book serves as a provocative exploration of the lasting consequences of the Nakba and its profound implications for the ongoing occupation.

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2

Except for Palestine: The Limits of Progressive Politics

by Marc Lamont Hill and Mitchell Plitnick

Except for Palestine: The Limits of Progressive Politics is a thought-provoking book by Marc Lamont Hill and Mitchell Plitnick that examines the limitations of progressive political movements when it comes to one-sided pro-Israel policies. The authors argue that, while progressive movements in the West have made strides in advocating for social justice and human rights on other topics – such as immigration and racial equality – there is often a reluctance to address the oppression of Palestinians with the same passion for justice. Through an insightful analysis of this phenomenon, Hill and Plitnick shed light on the dynamics of power and the challenges that progressive activists face in navigating this topic within their movements. The book underscores the importance of inclusivity and a more nuanced approach to addressing the full spectrum of justice issues in the United States, including those related to Palestine.

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3

Gate of the Sun

by Elias Khoury

Gate of the Sun by Elias Khoury is an epic and emotionally resonant novel rooted deeply in the Palestinian experience of occupation, displacement, and resistance. The story revolves around the character of Dr. Khalil, a Palestinian surgeon, as he listens to the life stories of those around him in a refugee camp. Through their tales, the novel explores the collective memory and experiences of Palestinians from the Nakba in 1948 to the present day. Khoury's masterful storytelling combines history, folklore, and personal narratives to create a moving and intimate portrayal of the Palestinian people's enduring struggles, hopes, and dreams. "Gate of the Sun" is a profound work that offers a deep understanding of the human dimensions of the occupation and its lasting impact on the lives of those it touches.


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4

The Hundred Years War on Palestine

by Rashid Khalidi

Rashid Khalidi's The Hundred Years War On Palestine delves into Palestine’s history and the occupation of Israel, offering a fresh perspective that unfolds from a distinctly Palestinian viewpoint. Beginning with a poignant letter penned by his great-great-uncle, Yusuf Diya al-Khalidi, former mayor of Jerusalem, Khalidi unveils the long-standing Palestinian struggle against colonialism, tracing the occupation's roots from the 1917 Balfour Declaration to the 1948 Nakba and beyond. This comprehensive history challenges conventional narratives by emphasizing the enduring colonial warfare waged by the Zionist movement and later the state of Israel, with the backing of global superpowers. Khalidi's work reframes the occupation, transcending victimization to offer a more profound understanding of the Palestinian experience, its leaders' actions, and the broader geopolitical context perpetuating the struggle. This book contributes significantly to the ongoing discourse, providing a vital counterpoint to traditional accounts of the occupation's history.


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5

I Saw Ramallah

by Mourid Barghouti

I Saw Ramallah is a deeply poignant and introspective memoir by Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti. In this powerful work, Barghouti recounts his long-awaited return to his hometown of Ramallah after many years of exile, reflecting on the profound emotional and psychological impact of displacement and separation from his homeland. The book captures the essence of the Palestinian experience, touching on themes of identity, nostalgia, loss, and the enduring hope for reconciliation. Barghouti's lyrical prose and personal anecdotes provide readers with a unique perspective on the Palestinian diaspora, making "I Saw Ramallah" a compelling exploration of the human cost of occupation, ethnic cleansing, and settler colonialism, and the enduring resilience of a people striving to reclaim their land.

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6

In the Presence of Absence

by Mahmoud Darwish

In the Presence of Absence by Mahmoud Darwish is a poetic and introspective memoir that reflects on the life and experiences of one of the most celebrated Palestinian poets. In this work, Darwish takes readers on a contemplative journey through his own personal history and the collective memory of the Palestinian people. He explores themes of loss, displacement, love, and longing, all against the backdrop of the Palestinian struggle and the quest for identity. Darwish's lyrical prose and profound insights offer a poignant meditation on the impact of absence and the enduring resilience of a people whose existence is defined by their shared history and aspirations. This memoir is a testament to Darwish's literary genius and the enduring significance of his work in the context of the Palestinian narrative.

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7

Palestine

by Joe Sacco

Palestine by Joe Sacco is a powerful and groundbreaking graphic novel that provides a unique and immersive perspective on the occupation. To be fully transparent, it must be noted that is not written by a Palestinian author. Sacco is an American journalist who traveled to Palestine with the intent of writing about Palestine in a non-biased, properly researched, and journalistic fashion. Through a combination of in-depth interviews, detailed illustrations, and on-the-ground reporting, Sacco offers a compelling visual narrative of the struggles, lives, and experiences of Palestinians in the occupied territories. Sacco's work combines elements of journalism, art, and personal storytelling to provide a deeply human portrayal of the occupation’s impact on individuals and communities. If you are unfamiliar with the context, then this is a very good place to start. 

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8

Men in the Sun

by Ghassan Kanafani

Men in the Sun by Ghassan Kanafani is a poignant and evocative novel that tells the story of three Palestinian refugees who embark on a perilous journey in search of a brighter future. Abu Qais, Assad, and Marwan, desperate to escape the confines of a refugee camp, decide to hide inside a water tanker in the hopes of reaching Kuwait for better job prospects. As they endure the grueling journey under the unforgiving sun, the novel serves as a powerful allegory for the broader Palestinian struggle, shedding light on the harrowing experiences and sacrifices of those who yearn for a life free from poverty, displacement, and occupation. Kanafani's work is a compelling exploration of the human cost of colonialism and remains a significant contribution to Palestinian literature.

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9

Mornings in Jenin

by Susan Abulhawa

Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa is a gripping novel that chronicles the tumultuous history of four generations of a Palestinian family after they were forcibly removed from their land during the 1948 Nakba. Through the lens of the Abulheja family, the story explores the profound impact of displacement, loss, and the struggle for identity and justice. The novel follows the lives of the family members, shedding light on the realities of the Palestinian experience. With a powerful narrative that weaves together personal stories and historical events, Mornings in Jenin offers a heart-wrenching and thought-provoking perspective on the enduring resilience and suffering of the Palestinian people.

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10

Palestine + 100

by Basma Ghalayini

Palestine + 100, edited by Basma Ghalayini, is an anthology of science fiction short stories that offers a unique and imaginative exploration of what Palestine might look like in the year 2048, 100 years after the Nakba. Palestinian writers and authors envision a wide range of speculative scenarios, from dystopian futures to more hopeful and fantastical worlds. By blending science fiction with the Palestinian experience, Palestine + 100 provides a fresh and thought-provoking perspective on the political and cultural landscape of Palestine, addressing themes of identity, resistance, and the enduring spirit of the Palestinian people in a new and engaging way.

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11

The Question on Palestine

by Edward Said

The book The Question of Palestine is also the title of Edward Said’s seminal essay – one that has played a significant role in shaping discussions and debates surrounding Israel’s occupation of Palestine and has remained an essential read for those interested in the Middle East and its myriad political dimensions. Here, Said addresses the ongoing issue of the occupation. He explores its historical background, political implications, and its broader context, providing a critical analysis of the narratives and perspectives from both Israeli and Palestinian sides. Said's work challenges traditional Western viewpoints and offers an alternative perspective that emphasizes the importance of understanding the Palestinian experience and the consequences of imperialism and dispossession. He argues for a just and equitable resolution, advocating for the rights and recognition of the Palestinian people.

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12

Rifqa

by Mohammed El-Kurd

In his debut collection of poetry, Mohammed El-Kurd poignantly reflects on his daily encounters with his grandmother, Rifqa, who embodied the very essence of Palestinian resilience. Each afternoon after school, he was greeted by her, bearing a bouquet of jasmine, as she shared with him stories etched with the wisdom of age and the history of her people. Through the eloquence of El-Kurd's verses, he skillfully uncovers the harsh realities of Israeli settler colonialism, exposing the unyielding brutality of the Nakba. From Rifqa's forced exile from Haifa to their family's ongoing displacement in Sheikh Jarrah, Jerusalem, the poems vividly portray the relentless cycle of suffering. With razor-sharp wit and a luminous moral compass, this collection is a testament to the enduring Palestinian struggle, portraying it as a revolution that is unwavering in its quest for justice and victory.

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13

Salt Houses

by Hala Alyan

Salt Houses by Hala Alyan is a captivating novel that traces the lives of a Palestinian family over several generations, beginning in the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War and extending across multiple cities around the world. The story delves into themes of diaspora, displacement, and the search for home as it follows the characters through their harrowing experiences of migration, cultural adaptation, and personal identity. Through the interconnected stories of different family members, Salt Houses provides a poignant exploration of how forced displacement can shape and reshape the lives of individuals and the ties that bind them. Alyan's lyrical prose and deep character development make this a compelling narrative about the enduring human spirit in the face of adversity.

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14

Sharon and my Mother-in-Law

by Suad Amiry

Sharon and My Mother-in-Law by Suad Amiry is a humorous and insightful memoir that presents a unique perspective on the occupation. The book chronicles the author's experiences and observations as a Palestinian woman navigating the realities of daily life in Ramallah, a city in the occupied West Bank. Through engaging and witty diary entries, Amiry highlights the absurdity of the occupation and the challenges Palestinians face. Her interactions with her formidable mother-in-law, who shares the name Sharon with the Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, add a personal touch to the narrative. This memoir offers a blend of humor and keen social commentary that subtly demonstrates the notion that the personal is political.

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