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Novel set in 1972 WEST BANK (Palestine)

16th February 2024

Wild Thorns by Sahar Khalifeh, novel set in 1972 West Bank. TR: Trevor LeGassick and Elizabeth Fernea.

Novel set in 1972 WEST BANK

This story is set in 1972  was first published in 1976 and tells the story of Usama al-Karmi, who has been working in the Gulf and returns home to Nablus, primed to address the iniquities in his country. His entry into the occupied West Bank is brutal – he has to to justify to the Israeli border authorities his reasons for wishing to return. The guard insists on calling Nablus by the Israeli name of Shekem and already the hostility and animosity between the nations is searingly evident in simple, everyday exchanges.

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He is taken aback to see his fellow Palestinians so cowed, acquiescent and seemingly accepting of the status quo – the Israelis are the occupying overlords and the Palestinians are a subordinate nation. Upon returning to his family home, he observes, “…there were no servants or family retainers left, they had all gone with the other workers to run the factories of Israel.” Many workers take the morning and evening buses from the West Bank, Palestine across into Israel to work.

Novel set in 1972 WEST BANK Life amongst Palestinians – the oppression meted out from Israel notwithstanding – is not easy. Exploitation is rife on both sides of the border and the target is the average Palestinian worker. “Contentment! That’s a commodity no-one can buy on the West Bank anymore, or in Gaza.”. The author vividly details daily life in the West Bank, also no doubt reflecting life also in Gaza, offering a rich sense of place and time which offers context for the present day. Tanks drone through the streets, imprisonment is always a possibility and curfews a regular occurrence.

“Is this an occupation or a disintegration?”

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The author conveys a simmering sense of rage throughout the text and I think if, as a reader, you are looking to inform yourself about the current atrocious situation in this part of the Middle East, then this novel offers a bit of background insight into the ingrained dynamics that underscore what is going on now in Gaza. The past informs the present.

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