Book Review: Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa

Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa

Midway through reading Mornings in Jenin, I felt the urge to ask some of my relatives to read it. Not my zealously Zionist relatives who would dismiss it as lies and one-sided Palestinian propaganda. I would have to agree with them that it is one-sided. It doesn’t claim to be anything else. It is the account of several generations of the Abulheja family dispossessed of their ancestral home in Ein Hod by the advent of the state of Israel and forced into the Jenin refugee camp.

Mornings in Jenin is available at Lobby Books for R180.00

No, I would like to ask my more reasonable relatives to read it, the ones I grew up knowing abhorred apartheid and saw in the South African National Party Government an insidious version of Nazism. I want to ask them just this: Did you know? Did you know what was being done, under the cover of Zionism, in order for Jews to gain their own homeland?

If so, I want to ask – how come I didn’t know, as a ten-year-old Jewish girl who was allowed to stay up late during the “six-day war” to listen to the news of our heroic Israeli army guaranteeing what my parents’ generation vowed after the holocaust – “never again”? The story I was told was of a people, my people, who would never again allow themselves to be persecuted, and who would never again have to be afraid of being Jewish.

I grew up on the stories of brave “sabras” reclaiming the barren desert and turning it into a flourishing homeland where before there was nothing and no-one. Mornings in Jenin tells us quite a different story. It is the story, told mainly by Amal, the feisty granddaughter of a Palestinian patriarch, whose community is driven violently in 1948 from the groves and vineyards and homesteads they have called home for generations to make way for new Jewish settlements in what was later claimed as Israel.

I vow never to mislead my children, or keep from them the truth, however ugly it may be, if it threatens to drive them to commit evil, under the cover of patriotism, loyalty, nationalism or any other apparently heartfelt passion.

I have never believed South Africans who claim they did not know what was being done under apartheid, in defence of white supremacy. I wonder – can any Palestinian believe me when I say I did not know? And could they ever forgive me?

The anger, horror and pain I feel, as a Jew, when I read the holocaust literature that I am steeped in is exactly the same I feel, as a Jew, when I read books like Mornings in Jenin. It breaks my heart to learn of fellow Jews behaving like Nazis, and forces me to question what has become of the reason, wisdom, tolerance and compassion that I always believed laid the foundation of Judaism.

Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa, who grew up in exile after her family home was seized by Israel in the 1967 war, tells the story of six decades of Israeli-Palestinian conflict, through one family’s childhoods, marriages, histories and experiences, with a tenderness and humanity that belies the inhumanity it recounts.

Moira Levy, Idasa

Mornings in Jenin is available at Lobby Books for R180.00.

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Midway through reading Mornings in Jenin, I felt the urge to ask some of my relatives to read it. Not my zealously Zionist relatives who would dismiss it as lies and one-sided Palestinian propaganda. I would have to agree with them that it is one-sided. It doesn’t claim to be anything else. It is the account of several generations of the Abulheja family dispossessed of their ancestral home in Ein Hod by the advent of the state of Israel and forced into the Jenin refugee camp.

No, I would like to ask my more reasonable relatives to read it, the ones I grew up knowing abhorred apartheid and saw in the South African National Party Government an insidious version of Nazism. I want to ask them just this: Did you know? Did you know what was being done, under the cover of Zionism, in order for Jews to gain their own homeland?

If so, I want to ask – how come I didn’t know, as a ten-year-old Jewish girl who was allowed to stay up late during the “six-day war” to listen to the news of our heroic Israeli army guaranteeing what my parents’ generation vowed after the holocaust – “never again”. The story I was told was of a people, my people, who would never again allow themselves to be persecuted, and who would never again have to be afraid of being Jewish.

I grew up on the stories of brave “sabras” reclaiming the barren desert and turning it into a flourishing homeland where before there was nothing and no-one. Mornings in Jenin tells us quite a different story. It is the story, told mainly by Amal, the feisty granddaughter of a Palestinian patriarch, whose community is driven violently in 1948 from the groves and vineyards and homesteads they have called home for generations to make way for new Jewish settlements in what was later claimed as Israel.

I vow never to mislead my children, or keep from them the truth, however ugly it may be, if it threatens to drive them to commit evil, under the cover of patriotism, loyalty, nationalism or any other apparently heartfelt passion.

I have never believed South Africans who claim they did not know what was being done under apartheid, in defence of white supremacy. I wonder – can any Palestinian believe me when I say I did not know? And could they ever forgive me?

The anger, horror and pain I feel, as a Jew, when I read the holocaust literature that I am steeped in is exactly the same I feel, as a Jew, when I read books like Mornings in Jenin. It breaks my heart to learn of fellow Jews behaving like Nazis, and forces me to question what has become of the reason, wisdom, tolerance and compassion that I always believed laid the foundation of Judaism.

Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa, who grew up in exile after her family home was seized by Israel in the 1967 war, tells the story of six decades of Israeli-Palestinian conflict, through one family’s childhoods, marriages, histories and experiences, with a tenderness and humanity that belies the inhumanity it recounts.

Moira Levy, Idasa

Mornings in Jenin is available at Lobby Books for R180.00.

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5 Responses

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by New Book Reviews, CT Democracy Centre. CT Democracy Centre said: Book Review: "Mornings in Jenin" by Susan Abulhawa: http://tinyurl.com/258jsfj <- "I felt the urge to ask some of my relatives to read it" […]

  2. […] See the latest book review at the democracy centre here. […]

  3. Dear Moira,
    Reading your review made me tear up. I always do when I come across gentle hearts as they open to a new truth. But more so because I understand that the characters I created and fell in love with have connected me, yet again, to another human being who believes in the universality of human rights and the desire to live with dignity.
    I believe that you didn’t know. That many Jews don’t know. But many choose not to know. Thank you for reading, for listening, and for choosing to meet me where our common humanity exists.
    Warmly,
    susie

  4. Dear Susie

    Your generous reply heartened me. I finished the book last night. What an ending! I am now ready to pass it on to my relatives. Not the uncle who spent his teenage years in a Polish concentration camp. I know he will reject it as lies. He has shown such anger, bigotry and closed-mindedness when it comes to Middle East politics that some time ago I decided to cut ties with him – which is so sad because in every other way he is a gentle, refined, intelligent, interesting man. I am first going to pass your book onto my aunt and uncle, who spent the war in the safety of South Africa but who later experienced the shock of the neo-Nazi Nationalist Party coming to power in SA (the same year the state of Israel came about). I just want an honest answer from them – did they know? They are from the holocaust generation, so I am really quite nervous to hear their answers. Then I want to pass the book to the person I most want to read it – my 16-year-old daughter, who has grown up in the relative comfort of post-apartheid South Africa. Your book will tell her more than newspapers or TV, or I, can tell her. And, as the generation of the future, it’s most important that she know. For that reason, above all, and on her behalf, thanks for writing this book.
    Warm regards

  5. This is less a book review than a misguided “mea culpa”. Moira tells us less about Abulhawa’s book and more about her own feelings of “betrayal” by her tribe. If her knowledge of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is lacking (and from reading this piece, I would say it is), she would be advised to learn her history from non-fiction books – not novels by novelists with axes to grind (whether they be Susan Abulhawa or Leon Uris).

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