By Randy Rosenthal
A Voice of Witness/McSweeney’s, November 2014
When we think of Palestine, most of us probably think of a destroyed Gaza and occupied West Bank. We think of rockets and tunnels, settlers and checkpoints. We might think of the Palestinian people as a whole, but rarely do we think about individuals, the stories of the people who live there. Palestine Speaks: Narratives of Life Under Occupation addresses this discrepancy, providing a deeper understanding of who the Palestinian people are, and their experience of living in occupied territories. The editors of the book, Mateo Hoke and Cate Malek, accomplish this by simply going out and talking to a diverse group of Palestinians, allowing them to narrate their own story.
There’s a fisherman from Gaza who explains the crippling effect of the naval blockade on the fishing industry. There’s a chemistry professor and computer technician who moved from the U.S. back to Palestine despite the danger, helping outsiders understand the connection Palestinians feel to the land. There are homemakers and farmers from small villages near Ramallah whose lives are shaped by the arbitrary decisions of both the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Defense Forces, as well as the settlers who encroach upon their land. There’s an artist and runner who transform the frustration from restricted movement in Palestine into energy to fuel their passions. There’s a lawyer who’s spent twenty years in prison and even an Israeli activist who protests against the occupation. There are people from Bethlehem and East Jerusalem, Gaza City and an Israeli settlement.
Each narrator’s life has been shaped by the First and Second Intifadas, the background of which are crucial for understanding the recent Third Intifada, which was beginning to take place just as the book was being published. Everyone’s days revolve around permits, checkpoints, or the blockade, and reading about such restrictions on the basic right to movement convey the frustrations that inevitable build up under such conditions. Taken all together, the stories portray the conflict and life in Palestine in all its complexity, furthering one’s understanding of the complicated situation, which is necessary before being able to even contemplate possible solutions.