Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Nothing to Lose but Your Life

The late Edward Said has repeatedly asked us to "reaffirm the power of culture over the culture of power,” and that’s exactly what Saud Amiry has successfully done in her new book Nothing to Lose but Your Life.

Applying the same successful formula she used in her first book Sharon and my Mother in-Law, Amiry’s ability to be both funny & balanced even when documenting the inhumane & miserable conditions under which the Palestinians live in the occupied territories is truly powerful. It is also much more effective in amassing the support of people around the world than tens of speeches by politicians.

Amiry’s book is a chronicle of the 18 hours journey, mostly spent running or hiding, she experienced first-hand when she accompanied a group of Palestinian men from a small village in the West Bank trying to sneak into Israel to reach the worker’s market, where Israeli employers pick them up to do various manual labor jobs.

I usually complain to everyone I know, and sometimes to people I don’t know, that I have to wake up at 6:00 a.m. every weekday morning to be at my office at 7:00 a.m. I was ashamed of my petty grumble when I realized that Palestinian laborers, who were denied work permits after the second Intifada, leave their homes at 2:30 a.m., to start a hellish journey that takes them across hills and valleys, through tunnels and over fences, all this while trying to avoid and evade Israeli security forces waiting for them in the darkness of the night.

Exhausted by the dangerous hide-and-seek game between the Palestinian potential laborers and the Israeli security forces, and getting genuinely scared for their safety when the sun cruelly rises before the group is able to reach its destination, I wondered why they just don't turn back and try again the next day. Amiry doesn't leave me wondering for long. A member in her group tells us that the men would chose being arrested or injured over the embarrassment of going home to their families empty handed.

When Amiry and her three companions, Murad, Saed and Mohamed, manage to avoid being arrested, injured, or discouraged by fatigue and the slim chance of finding work that late in the day, and finally go past an opening in the infamous Security Wall in the afternoon, Amiry was shocked, and so was I, when she was reminded that the military check points, the separate roads, the hiding, the chase, the arrests, and the gunshots were all happening in the West Bank, that is, in undisputed Palestinian territories. It is ironic to note that once in Israel; they had relatively much more freedom to move from one place to another, and they even managed to ride the Israeli public transportation.

I strongly recommend this book. The English version was published in 2010 by Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing. The book is also available in Arabic under the title مراد مراد      

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