In the introduction to this unprecedented collection of Palestinian oral histories, the editors quote Dr. Haidar Abdul Shafi, a leader of the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid Conference in 1991: "It is time for us to narrate our own story." Behind Dr. Shaft's words is the disastrous failure of the Palestinians for most of the last 47 years to gain a favorable hearing compared to the extraordinary sympathy the Zionists have achieved. Homeland's great achievement is that it takes an important step towards filling this lamentable vacuum.
Worldwide sympathy and understanding for the Palestinians was generated in late 1987 by the outbreak of the intifada, which put into question the view of Israelis as victims and Arabs as aggressors. As the editors explain in their introduction, the intifada was the underlying force behind a special program at a March 1991 Ramadan celebration in Youngstown, Ohio, where Palestinians recounted their histories. The success of this event led the editors to seek out more Palestinians in the Youngstown area and in tum led to two trips in 1991 and 1992 to occupied Palestine and Israel, where the bulk of the interviews that appear in the book were conducted.
Homeland organizes the testimonies of more than 40 Palestinians into 10 chapters that cover many of their important issues and historical moments: "1948," "1967," "The [Refugee] Camp," "Women," "Prisoners," "Workers and Farmers," "Families," "Jordan and Lebanon," "Resistance in the Occupied Territories" and "Behind the Green Line." The editors provide helpful maps, a list of each of the contributors, a historical overview and brief opening notes for each chapter. The text is also supplemented by useful footnotes that often comprise citations of U.S. State Department and Amnesty International reports on human-rights violations, as well as references to the Geneva conventions and other appropriate protocols.
Expulsion AND DISPOSSESSION
Since this is a collection of the personal histories of Palestinians, it is perforce a recitation of endless dispossession and expulsion. On page after page we read the testimony of people who lost their homes, their lands, their heritage. In one memorable example, we get a picture of the fear and loss experienced by Mohammed Ibrahim Harb, who reports that in the course of the 1948 fighting he fled to Gaza with most of his family from north of Ashkelon (formerly Majdal) leaving his old, blind father to mind their house. When he returned, he found his parent dead from a bayonet wound. Harb speculates that when the Israelis knocked on the door, his father simply didn't answer. He says that he buried him in a shallow grave and departed so quickly into the night that "I took nothing from our home, not even our land certificates."
In another example, Riyad, a Palestinian born into exile in 1961 in a refugee camp in Lebanon, speaks of how his family lost the 700 acres they used to farm in Palestine. Like the other refugees in Lebanon, he condemns the countless Israeli bombing raids; he speaks of the shelling of his camp in which he was wounded, and of the grinding poverty in which his family still lives. He concludes with his longing for the homeland he never set foot in. "I used to stand in southern Lebanon and at night I could see the lights in northern Palestine."
Homeland is notable for the evidence it offers about a little known aspect of the 1948 fighting: the Israeli bombing campaign in Palestine. While Israeli use of air power in 1948 is no secret, Homeland presents testimony that aerial bombing was used as a means to drive out the civilian Arab population. For example, Um Khalil, the director of the largest charitable organization on the West Bank, reports in Homeland that during the 1948 fighting, she begged a man with a cart to take her family to their home in Majdal from Gaza. "Are you mad?" the man asked her. "All the people are living under trees. Nobody is living in Majdal, nobody. Every five minutes there are airplanes that come to kill the people. I will not take you. You should search for a place in Gaza."
NEW QUESTIONS ABOUT 1967
Information presented in Homeland also raises questions about King Hussein's role in the 1967 War. The received wisdom is that Jordan put up stiff resistance before losing East Jerusalem and the West Bank to the Israelis. Homeland provides testimony, mostly from Husam Rafeedie, a former West Bank resident, that King Hussein ordered his troops to withdraw from the West Bank and East Jerusalem as early as five days before the war began on June 5, 1967. According to Rafeedie, the only opposition to the Israelis in East Jerusalem came from Palestinians serving in Jordanian units who disobeyed orders to leave their posts. Rafeedie claims that the same was true elsewhere on the West Bank where there was fighting. "Two or three of the lieutenants, who were Palestinians, decided not to withdraw and put up a good battle. [Even] now, if you go towards Nablus or Tulkarem, you'll see some remaining parts of tanks that were burned and are sitting on the side of the road. There were a few pockets that resisted the [Jordanian] order to [retreat] to the [Jordan] River."
Hikmat Deeb Ali of Emwas, a town on the West Bank near the Israeli border, further reports that the captain of the local Jordanian forces announced that he had orders to pull out his troops on the evening before the arrival of the Israeli military. Ali goes on to give a powerful eyewitness account of the unopposed occupation of Emwas and the expulsion of all its residents, who were never allowed to return.
Why might King Hussein have cooperated with the Israelis in a matter of such importance to all Arabs? Until documentation or further testimony surfaces, we can only speculate that the Israelis may have made clear that serious Jordanian resistance would lead to harsh retribution.
TORTURE AND HEROISM
There cannot be much of a silver lining to the story of the dispossession of the Palestinian people. However, adversity of this kind, involving the military occupation and the oppression of a nation, breeds exceptional people: heroes and heroines of Palestine who have survived to tell their tale. The narratives in Homeland spare the reader few of the horrendous details of their ordeals. Nevertheless, the stories of the victims tend to be softened by the extraordinary courage and dignity they displayed under the most extreme circumstances.
Surely one of the most remarkable and heroic among the pantheon of heroes and heroines in the book must be Lawahez Burgal, a fifteen-and-a-half-year-old schoolgirl when she was arrested by the Israelis who identified her as a political activist. She underwent weeks of unspeakable torture before she finally admitted her "crime:" that she was "a member of a certain political organization." After serving four years in prison she eventually married and had two children before she was rearrested and once again underwent torture during interrogation.
She speaks of the academic and spiritual education she obtained in prison. She finished her high school proficiency test there and she learned Hebrew, French and English; and even a little Dutch from a woman who was suspected of working for the PLO. She explains how in the beginning she was "psychologically and spiritually weak" and how she used to curse her jailers. But her comrades upbraided her: "Don't say, 'the Jewish.' Say, 'soldiers.' 'The Jewish are people and there are good and bad Jews.'...That was the first time in my life that I started thinking like that."
She comes to realize that even though some of her colleagues suffered as much or more than she, they did not deny the humanity of the Israelis. Of one of her coprisoners who had been raped, Lawahez recognized that "she was teaching me what it meant to be a human being. After that I was ashamed."
PALESTINIAN POLITICAL UNDERSTANDING
It's not surprising that Palestinians should live and breathe politics, since it is the ongoing struggle over the land that defines their past and determines their present and future. Nor is it surprising that many of their spokespersons should be without illusion about what is being done to them by whom.
A typical example of such political clarity in Homeland comes from a farmer named Mamdouh from Marj en Naja in the Jordan Valley. He explains that when the Israelis came to his area after their victory in the 1967 War,
they took two-thirds of the land... and they created a buffer zone with barbed wire....There was no recognition of the legal arrangements between the Palestinians living here and the Jordanian government....Today, thousands upon thousands of foreigners are coming into this country and taking the land from under our feet.
Mamdouh complains that "the water resources have been drained by the Israelis and the water that is left here is salty....Settlers have solved their problem of salt in the water by...installing water purifiers....We are not allowed to install water purifiers."
Riyad Malki, a professor of engineering at Bir Zeit University on the West Bank, highlights Israeli interference with Palestinian education among other forms of Israeli oppression. In his interview for Homeland, he argues that Israelis used the pretext of "security" for closing Palestinian educational institutions from kindergarten through higher education. According to Professor Malki, the Israelis propose to "create a generation of ignorance" in order to "kill the mind of Palestinian society" so as to strip Palestinians of their future.
Professor Malki quotes Rhavam Zeevi, a far-right member of the Israeli Knesset who "says very clearly that his objective is to force the Palestinians to leave." According to Zeevi, "We are not going to force them to transfer but we are going to make them leave voluntarily." Professor Malki argues that "when you close academic institutions, when you confiscate land, when you build settlements, when you uproot trees, when you demolish houses, when you detain and deport Palestinian people, etc., etc., you want the population to leave.''
Readers will have to decide for themselves whether the Oslo process, which began in the fall of 1993, will lead to peace or to more conflict. The strength of Homeland is that it provides background and perspective on some of the key questions that will determine the Palestinian future and the importance to Palestinians of such issues as Jewish settlement and settler violence, land confiscation, Jewish control over water resources and industry, and the whole range of Israeli restrictions in East Jerusalem, the Palestinian political, religious, economic, educational and cultural capital.