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The Almond Tree: When novels distort legacies of struggle

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
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Update February 4, 2016: We have published a rebuttal to this article by Ahmad Abu Hussein, a primary source with first-hand knowledge of the subject-matter in question. 

Original:

Edward Said showed us how fiction has sometimes been used to perpetuate oppression. This is particularly apparent when white privilege narrates marginalised lives without navigating ethical considerations inherent to the task of representing historic wounds and enduring struggles of another people.

Some want to “expose injustice” through fiction. While such impulse is admirable, when coupled with racist assumptions or lack of emotional comprehension of a people’s culture, the result is often muting of already marginalised voices, theft of their narrative, stripping of their agency, and caricaturising of their humanity.

A stolen narrative

Some of the most popular fictional narratives about African Americans, written by white authors, conform to this. A good example is The Help by Kathryn Stockett, a recent bestseller written through the voice of African American domestic workers in white Southern homes in the 1960s. Although portrayed sympathetically, black women in this book appear as different iterations of the same antebellum plantation Aunt Jemima or Mammy archetype that White Americans love to love. The Association of Black Women Historians (ABWH) criticized this resurrection of Mammy, “a mythical stereotype of black women who were compelled, either by slavery or segregation, to serve white families. Portrayed as asexual, loyal, and contented caretakers of whites, the caricature of Mammy allowed mainstream America to ignore the systemic racism that bound black women to back-breaking, low paying jobs where employers routinely exploited them.”

But Mammy sells. She’s a hero which makes non-black readers feel good about themselves for having loved a black character. A fictional black personality who might express enmity toward white people as a whole – perhaps the mildest natural reaction to the pervasive and persistent white savagery at the time – will not have similar appeal.

Although this story takes place during a time when black men and women were being lynched and burned alive to cheering white spectators, as ABWH points out, the black men are depicted as drunks or wife-beaters who abandon their families, while the white male characters are strong fathers and husbands. It is also worth noting that Abilene Cooper, a woman who had worked as a domestic servant for Stockett’s family, claimed (rather convincingly) that the author had stolen her life story, down to the name of a principal character, “Aibileen”.

Israelising a Palestinian story

The Almond Tree

The Almond Tree

Michelle Cohen-Corasanti’s debut novel, The Almond Tree, is yet another example. Like The Help, this narrative creates sympathy with the oppressed (in this case, Palestinians) by enumerating the litany of injustices they must endure. Cohen-Corasanti, a Jewish White American woman of considerable privilege, said in an interview that she wrote this novel because she “wanted to bring about peace between Palestinians and Israelis” and to show that “we are all human beings and we’re all equal.”

In this context, a quote from novelist Teju Cole comes to mind: “The banality of evil transmutes into the banality of sentimentality. The world is nothing but a problem to be solved by enthusiasm.”

Cohen-Corasanti said she wanted to show how a “Palestinian and Israeli could overcome obstacles and work together to advance humanity.” By “obstacles” she means the wholesale destruction of Palestinian society, use of the most advanced weaponry against principally unarmed civilians, demolition of homes, daily humiliation at hundreds of checkpoints, colour-coded license plates, Israeli-only roads, segregated buses, assassinations, imprisonment without charge or trial, theft of land and water, theft of homes and dignity, bombing of schools, curfews, deportations, multiple generations of refugees, and the general erasure of Palestine off the map.

Her idea was to create “the perfect Jewish woman” (Nora) for her protagonist, Ichmad, an unlikely, insufferable Palestinian man. Nora is later killed in a brazen insensitive event stolen from the life and murder of Rachel Corrie.  Ichmad’s next wife, Yasmine, is a simple-minded Palestinian who can’t hold a candle to Nora. She “wasn’t tall like Nora. Her facial features weren’t delicate like Nora’s; they were hidden in layers of baby fat. Her teeth were yellow and crooked and she was plump…How could I bring her to the States? How would she ever fit in at faculty parties?” On their wedding night, Ichmad pretends she is Nora. “Yasmine lay on the bed without movement, like dead meat.” The insults, and Ichmad’s contempt for his people, don’t end.

As Teju Cole remarks: “The White Savior Industrial Complex is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege.”

Regarding the protagonist’s name, “Ichmad” is how Israelis pronounce Ahmad, the second most common name across the Arab world. Even Palestinian reviewers who liked this book couldn’t stomach thisIsraelised version. Cohen-Corasanti claims “Ichmad” is an authentic pronounciation in the Triangle. I am familiar with the fellahi dialect in Um-el-Fahm, Taybeh and other Palestinian villages that make up the Triangle. No one pronounces Ahmad with “Ich” sound.

In fact, “Ichmad” is a form of an Arabic verb meaning to suffocate or subdue. Had the author consulted with a Palestinian or Arabic linguist, she’d have known that. But, according to her, in the seven years that it took to write this novel, she hired six editors: five Jewish, one Christian Fundamentalist, and all clearly lacking expertise in her subject matter. That alone speaks to the carelessness and arrogance with which Cohen-Corasanti approached Palestinian lives. That she did not conceive of hiring a Palestinian editor gives a lie to her avowed values of equality and partnership.

A Palestinian editor likely would have objected to another name: Professor Menachem Sharon (Menachem Begin meets Ariel Sharon – Grand Wizards of war criminals and wanton murders). Cohen-Corasanti mixes these two monsters to create a name for her Nobel Laureate professor character, who takes Ichmad under his wings.

Ichmad, whose family is impoverished by Israel, is a math prodigy who studies on a scholarship in an Israeli university in Jerusalem. Aside from the fact that most Palestinians in the West Bank cannot enter Jerusalem, much less go to university there (on a scholarship, no less), the notion that the path to success is necessarily through the oppressor’s educational system is a typical supremacist assumption. It happens that even under the horrors and limitations of Israeli occupation, Palestinians have managed to build 26 institutions of higher education in the tiny enclaves of the West Bank and Gaza.

Racism in writing

Since publication of The Almond Tree, the author has hired a Palestinian actor to “play” Ichmad in an interactive website, effectively commercializing Palestinian misery and humiliation.

Even irrelevant details are offensive. Only in the most orientalist imaginations would a Palestinian groom lift the veil of his bride with the tip of a sword. And only in the mind of a white American socialite does a poor brown Palestinian college student have only “homemade clothes” and must borrow someone’s bellbottoms to wear to a party – as if “homemade clothes” are cheaper than a cheap pair of jeans; as if his family ran a sewing machine from their tent; as if residents of shantytowns the world over don’t wear store-bought clothes.

An excellent review by Vacy Vlazna details other ways in which this racist, orientalist novel serves to make a hero of a self-loathing obsequious Palestinian cartoon of a man, and makes a pitiful villain of his brother, Abbas, who opts to defend his family and people by whatever means necessary. Vlazna also points out how the “bad” Palestinians are of darker skin colour in this novel. Her review, however, is a lone voice in a sea of praise extolling this novel. The Huffington Post predicts it will be the greatest seller of the decade. Sadly, they may be right, and, like The Help, it will eclipse authentic accounts of what it means to inhabit a world that considers you a lesser form of human.

Thus, a people’s narrative is commandeered. When we are robbed of everything, broken and humiliated, the false saviours step in, colonise our wounds and bring our pain under their purview. And they profit from filling our cultural legacies with their racist assumptions, orientalist distortions and inglorious heroes of small subservient character.

Teju Cole: “The white savior supports brutal policies in the morning, founds charities in the afternoon, and receives awards in the evening”

As close as I feel to African-American culture and as much as I think I know about anti-black racism, I cannot imagine presuming to know enough to write from an African-American character’s voice about deep current and historic pain that I have neither lived nor inherited, but in fact have benefited from by virtue of living in a country and in an economy built from the ineffable misery of the Maafa, holocaust of slavery

I think such presumption cannot come from noble or enlightened sentiments. Although seemingly distant topics, both books come from a master narrative that perverts another people’s truth to fit within the framework of a neoliberal white supremacy cloaked in sympathy and pseudo-solidarity.

This book review was originally published by Al Jazeera. Albuhawa also reviewed The Wall by William Sutcliffe last June for the Palestine Chronicle

sjabulhawa
About Susan Abulhawa

Susan Abulhawa is the author of the international bestselling novel, Mornings in Jenin (Bloomsbury, 2010) – www.morningsinjenin.com – and founder of Playgrounds for Palestine – www.playgroundsforpalestine.org.

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59 Responses

  1. Ron Edwards
    Ron Edwards
    December 1, 2013, 11:31 pm

    “Menachem Sharon” – ?! I actually gagged out loud upon reading that.

    Seriously, who could get that past any reader of whatever background who had even the slightest knowledge of Israeli politics?

    Excellent article – thanks for sharing it with us. I had a lot of similar thoughts when reading A. B. Yehoshua’s The Liberated Bride, among others. The parallels with white American fiction during the 1940s and 1950s is striking – the prevalent vibe of “oh, so tragic that these people aren’t quite ready.”

    • valency
      valency
      December 2, 2013, 1:04 pm

      The irony is, I’m sure Corasanti thought she was being clever.

      Complete with an endorsement from the HuffPo? Only an endorsement from Oprah’s Book Club (doubtless forthcoming) could be a more effective warning.

  2. W.Jones
    W.Jones
    December 2, 2013, 12:48 am

    Abilene Cooper, a woman who had worked as a domestic servant for Stockett’s family, claimed (rather convincingly) that the author had stolen her life story, down to the name of a principal character, “Aibileen”.

    !!!!!
    ( ゚o゚)

    As close as I feel to African-American culture and as much as I think I know about anti-black racism, I cannot imagine presuming to know enough to write from an African-American character’s voice
    I support the creative process in achieving equality. As a white person to write a book about a black person’s struggle, what would happen in reality is that I would be excited about the project, and care about them. I would be eager to share with black people and friends my exciting adventure story. What would happen is they would say Yes, this is good, No, that is not. I would go to Black professors and it would be very enjoyable and fulfilling. They would want to know why a white person would do that, and I would give them the answer, because their story is so exciting. I am sure various fictional stories have been written about slave escapes and abolitionism by white people, for example.

    What I think this boils down to is to uphold Susan’s comment that what would have happened is the author, Cohen, would have shared her book with Palestinians who would have said what names would be correct. They would have been helpful comments.

    Your review is significant, Ms. Abulhawa. Thank you.

    Regards.

    • W.Jones
      W.Jones
      December 2, 2013, 1:57 am

      I want to express to you my sympathies for the experiences you and your sincere and humble people, Palestinians, are going through, Susan. ❀

      This in a way adds to your beauty.

      ~Me.

    • W.Jones
      W.Jones
      December 2, 2013, 2:02 am

      Correction to my comment above: “what should have happened… should have shared her book”…

  3. Taxi
    Taxi
    December 2, 2013, 1:09 am

    Thanks for the penetrating review, Susan Abulhawa.

    For liberal zionists, guilt is the mother of invention, it seems; and novel-writing is pretend-therapy for the garrulous, guilt-ridden israeli jews.

    I challenge every zionist who genuinely believes in THE IMPLEMENTATION of Palestinian rights to just simply leave occupied Palestine. This is by far the most effective and peaceful way to bring about peace. This is the REAL test for israeli jews genuinely wanting REAL peace and justice in Palestine. Just pack up and leave and spare us your boring zio poetasters who write books about the victim Palestinians, cashing-in on Palestinian suffering – never donating a shekel to Palestinian causes.

    So sick of israeli colonialists claiming to ‘sympathize’ with Palestinians, yet they still live on looted land and off stolen Palestinian resources.

  4. Ecru
    Ecru
    December 2, 2013, 5:50 am

    …a Palestinian groom lift the veil of his bride with the tip of a sword…

    Sorry this bit leapt out at me because I happen to play around with swords.

    Nobody in their right mind would try this out Oriental or Occidental – ……..honestly I’m sputtering here in disbelief. Three feet of razor sharp steel right up close, almost touching your bride’s face?!! And then trying to manipulate it delicately? The divorce proceedings would start before the honeymoon and rightly so.

    The rest of the article – very good. There’s something I noted years ago about being Irish in the UK while listening to a Brit in a shop romanticising about Ireland and its people. I realised that I almost preferred the old bigotry to their wonderfully middle class condescension; and that seems to be what this writer is giving. Not equality, not even empathy, just condescending “cute little Palestinian, we’ve found a use for you now.” And isn’t it interesting that this “sympathy” had to wait until, like the romanticising of the Native Americans during the last century, the “sympathy” only came when the Palestinian way of life was in danger of becoming extinct.

    Sympathy for the Palestinians as a fashion accessory for those “caring” people who like to call themselves “Liberal” as long as it doesn’t actually cost them anything.

    • LeaNder
      LeaNder
      December 2, 2013, 12:19 pm

      The divorce proceedings would start before the honeymoon and rightly so.

      Can you explain, I may have missed content by not follwing links. Why do I not understand it? Although no, in this context I don’t seem to have missed anything:

      Nora is later killed in a brazen insensitive event stolen from the life and murder of Rachel Corrie.

      Do you need to divorce a dead woman? If Nora is dead then what divorcement are you alluding to? I am fully aware I may have completely misread this really brilliant essay.

      Her idea was to create “the perfect Jewish woman” (Nora) for her protagonist, Ichmad, an unlikely, insufferable Palestinian man. Nora is later killed in a brazen insensitive event stolen from the life and murder of Rachel Corrie. Ichmad’s next wife, Yasmine, is a simple-minded Palestinian who can’t hold a candle to Nora. She “wasn’t tall like Nora. Her facial features weren’t delicate like Nora’s; they were hidden in layers of baby fat. Her teeth were yellow and crooked and she was plump…How could I bring her to the States? How would she ever fit in at faculty parties?” On their wedding night, Ichmad pretends she is Nora. “Yasmine lay on the bed without movement, like dead meat.” The insults, and Ichmad’s contempt for his people, don’t end.

      This is central to me and strictly tells me that I do not need to read this novel, no matter how much economical force there may be behind pushing it into a bestseller position.

      • Ecru
        Ecru
        December 2, 2013, 2:47 pm

        @ LeaNder

        I was referring to the idiocy of trying to manipulate something (a veil) worn right next to the face, or if light even on the face, with three feet of sharpened steel. The chances are you’d cut the face, and possibly quite badly. Not generally considered the best way to start a marriage.

  5. Refaat
    Refaat
    December 2, 2013, 6:09 am

    Susan Abulhawa Strikes Back, again…

  6. Refaat
    Refaat
    December 2, 2013, 6:12 am

    I was planning to read this book, Susan saved me some time and bucks. I would have put the book down the first time i read the name “Ichmad”!

    • LeaNder
      LeaNder
      December 2, 2013, 12:21 pm

      Yes, indeed. But it seems I have to both look more closely into her own books and that of Teju Cole.

  7. Hostage
    Hostage
    December 2, 2013, 10:05 am

    A stolen narrative

    Some of the most popular fictional narratives about African Americans, written by white authors, conform to this. A good example . . . effectively commercializing Palestinian misery and humiliation.

    “Exactly, Ari. What Europe did. Not the Arabs. Jews have always lived here. That’s why so many more are here now, isn’t it? While we believed they were simply seeking refuge, poor souls just wanting to live, they’ve been amassing weapons to drive us from our homes.” Hasan was not as angry as he sounded because he understood Ari’s pain. He had read about the gas chambers, the camps, the horrors. And it was true: Mrs. Perlstein’s eyes looked as if life had packed up and left them long ago.

    — Susan Abulhawa, “Mornings in Jenin: A Novel” with this and other fictionalized narratives about Jewish suffering available in Paperback for $13.16 from Amazon.

    • W.Jones
      W.Jones
      December 2, 2013, 1:40 pm

      Hi Hostage.

      “Mornings in Jenin” is basically the narrative of a Palestinian family.

    • LeaNder
      LeaNder
      December 4, 2013, 7:36 am

      Susan Abulhawa, “Mornings in Jenin: A Novel” with this and other fictionalized narratives about Jewish suffering available in Paperback for $13.16 from Amazon.

      Indeed, over here in Europe it is only € 6.70 as paperback and 6.05 as ebook. While the Almond tree is 9.30 and only 3.86 as an ebook. So not much expense if someone wants to take a comparative look. Which I will do.

  8. Taxi
    Taxi
    December 2, 2013, 11:14 am

    Hostage,

    There is room for every variety of story supporting justice for Palestine, or other victim people. Empathy is not “fiction” and can run deep in the human vein and can therefore often be a valid substitute for actual ‘experience’.

    I think Susan Abulhawa’s first two paragraphs set up the crux of her argument: that, as well intended as Michelle Cohen-Corasanti may be, traces of a colonialist mind-set are peppered throughout her book. Perhaps Michelle could have avoided this negative interpretation, and unnecessary diversion from the heart of the matter IMHO, if she’d actually had an Arab or Palestinian on her editing team, to help her distill and separate the heavy metals from the gold . But she didn’t, and she is now, unfortunately, paying a (small) price for it. This is Michelle’s first book, however, and Susan perhaps should have given her the benefit of the doubt, and enlightened the Novice Michelle in a more constructive manner.

    I earnestly advise all Palestinians and other Arabs who’ve been victims of israeli brutality, to not fall into acute sensitivity and chronic attachment to their victimhood the way many European jews did after the atrocities of the holocaust, lest they too become mired and lost in the bleak forest of victimhood for decades to come.

    • Shmuel
      Shmuel
      December 2, 2013, 11:34 am

      I earnestly advise all Palestinians and other Arabs who’ve been victims of israeli brutality, to not fall into acute sensitivity and chronic attachment to their victimhood the way many European jews did after the atrocities of the holocaust, lest they too become mired and lost in the bleak forest of victimhood for decades to come.

      The narrator, Khaleel, in Elias Khoury’s Gate of the Sun, calls it being “prisoners of one story” and equates it with death:

      We mustn’t see ourselves only in their mirror, for they’re prisoners of one story, as though the story had abbreviated and ossified them. Please, father – we mustn’t become just one story…. Believe me, this is the only way, if we’re not to become ossified and die.

    • Hostage
      Hostage
      December 2, 2013, 12:29 pm

      I think Susan Abulhawa’s first two paragraphs set up the crux of her argument: that, as well intended as Michelle Cohen-Corasanti may be, traces of a colonialist mind-set are peppered throughout her book.

      Abulhawa’s book employs a stereotype: “Jews have always lived here. . . . While we believed they were simply seeking refuge, poor souls just wanting to live, they’ve been amassing weapons to drive us from our homes.” and a temporizing platitude about the Holocaust as an extenuating factor that the fictional character Hasan understands. Those are exactly the things Abulhawa is complaining about in the works of others here on Mondoweiss.

      Empathy is not “fiction”

      LoL! Where is this empathy in Palestinian society? I’ve never read of a Hamas or Fatah party official who isn’t quite as angry or who understands and accepts the Holocaust as a mitigating factor for the Nakba. In fact, they’ve called for teacher strikes against UNRWA for even mentioning the idea and frequently claim the Holocaust is entirely a myth.

      • Taxi
        Taxi
        December 2, 2013, 1:29 pm

        Hold your horses there, Hostage: you’re stereotyping the ‘stereotyper’. Your critique of Susan is almost… fair.

        “… frequently claim the holocaust is entirely a myth”.

        I think there’s a stereotyping AND an exaggeration in your statement. I mean how does one quantify “frequently”.

      • W.Jones
        W.Jones
        December 2, 2013, 1:45 pm

        Taxi,
        Since you are correct that Abulhawa claims “traces of a colonialist mind-set are peppered throughout her book”, if Abulhawa’s book on a Palestinian family did mention stereotypes, would that mean traces of an anti-colonialist mind-set are peppered throughout her book too?

      • Hostage
        Hostage
        December 2, 2013, 2:25 pm

        Hold your horses there, Hostage

        No, I won’t. I’m not holding her to a double standard and could care less if she makes a buck writing about the fictional Hasan.

        I just wonder why she gets a license to complain here about Jewish film makers and authors who have lived in the region when they do the same thing she does for a living.

        “… frequently claim the holocaust is entirely a myth”.

        I think there’s a stereotyping AND an exaggeration in your statement.

        So just name a Palestinian who isn’t as mad about the Nakba, because they understand Jewish suffering during the Holocaust and accept it as a mitigating factor. Otherwise I wish you’d just shut-up and admit that Mammy/Hasan are idealized fictional characters that sell books.

      • Hostage
        Hostage
        December 2, 2013, 2:47 pm

        I mean how does one quantify “frequently”.

        The official policy of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and his entire Gaza Cabinet is to deny the Holocaust ever happened and to prohibit the UNRWA from poisoning the minds of Palestinian students with human rights curriculum material on the subject at all times (a frequency of 100%).
        * Hamas fights UN’s ‘poisonous’ Holocaust lessons in Gazan schools http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/feb/28/hamas-un-holocaust-lessons-gaza
        * UN Organization Erases Holocaust from Palestinian Textbooks in Jordan
        http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2011/03/20/un-organization-erases-holocaust-from-palestinian-textbooks-in-jordan/

      • Taxi
        Taxi
        December 2, 2013, 3:00 pm

        Hostage,
        “… admit that Mammy/Hasan are idealized fictional characters that sell books.”
        There’s nothing in my posts that denies this, buddy.

        You made stereotypical claims about the whole of Palestinian society as well as all its officials, so the onus is on YOU to provide evidence of your (wild) assertions. Otherwise, I wish you’d “shut-up” yourself with another shot of Brandy, or whatever retired lawyers drink when they’re mad at the world.

      • Taxi
        Taxi
        December 2, 2013, 3:10 pm

        W. Jones,

        I haven’t read ‘Mornings In Jenin’ in full, only excerpts. But I’m sure if you asked Hostage the same question, mindful of the foul and bitter mood he’s in, he’ll tell you Susan’s book is full of antisemites who deny the holocaust at every turn of the page.

      • W.Jones
        W.Jones
        December 2, 2013, 4:08 pm

        Does mitigating personal guilt mean a person should be less upset about the harm they underwent?

      • Taxi
        Taxi
        December 2, 2013, 4:14 pm

        Hostage,
        Would the oppressed Warsaw jews have wanted to “study” the traumas of Nazis while they’re being brutalized by the Nazis? I think not. And quite right too.

        Hamas’ refusal to allow the study of the holocaust has a BIGGER reason that has nothing to do with the actual event of the holocaust. And I thought a discerning and bright mind like yours would grok this.

        The holocaust is such a gruesome and unconscionable event in history; a monumental collection of factual horror stories that draw immediate, reflexive and deep sympathies from the listener. And how useful is it in war to develop such depth of sympathy for your enemy?

        Now take the israeli boot off the Palestinian neck and you’ll see how much “study” the Palestinians will be dedicating, not just to the holocaust, but to every jewish bar mitzvah in every nook and cranny in the four corners of the world. To my knowledge, and according to statistics, the high levels of literacy in Palestinian society, despite the occupation, shows the Palestinians as quintessentially lovers and seekers of knowledge and “study”. That is to say: they are not illiterate savages.

        That you are outraged that Palestinians would put their ongoing Nakba above holocaust studies indicates an unreasonable expectation on your behalf.

      • Hostage
        Hostage
        December 2, 2013, 6:37 pm

        Hostage,
        Would the oppressed Warsaw jews have wanted to “study” the traumas of Nazis while they’re being brutalized by the Nazis? I think not. And quite right too.

        Corasanti didn’t write a book about the traumas of the Nazis, she wrote a sympathetic fictional account about a Palestinian. Abulhawa complained about the use of a fictional stereotypical Mammy and I was just pointing out that Hasan and Ari were in many ways similarly unrealistic and fictional.

      • Hostage
        Hostage
        December 2, 2013, 6:45 pm

        Taxi I’m in a foul mood because Susan is using Mondoweiss to spread hate and discontent over the use of idealized fictional characters in works of popular fiction, when she deals in the same stock and trade herself.

        I think that everyone is entitled to fundamental human rights, without any exception, including Palestinians who officially deny the Holocaust. I suppose its the banality sentimentality that appeals to me so much;-)

      • W.Jones
        W.Jones
        December 2, 2013, 6:58 pm

        Susan is using Mondoweiss to make literary criticism. She does not believe that a book that proposes to be from her people’s perspective succeeds in conveying her people’s views.

        Since she belongs to the subject people and her parents were expelled, her viewpoint is worth noting when considering the book.

      • Hostage
        Hostage
        December 2, 2013, 7:13 pm

        You made stereotypical claims about the whole of Palestinian society as well as all its officials

        And I can always supply reliable evidence from official sources and examples from mainstream or popular Palestinian media, e.g. http://mondoweiss.net/2012/10/free-gazas-col-ann-wright-disinvited-from-swedish-boat-to-gaza.html/comment-page-1#comment-509319

      • W.Jones
        W.Jones
        December 2, 2013, 7:45 pm

        Regarding the claim that stereotypes can be backed up:

        Where is this empathy in Palestinian society? I’ve never read of a Hamas or Fatah party official who isn’t quite as angry or who understands and accepts the Holocaust as a mitigating factor for the Nakba.

        Does mitigating personal guilt mean a person should be not quite as angry about the harm they underwent?

      • Taxi
        Taxi
        December 3, 2013, 12:38 am

        Hostage,

        You’re getting the wires of your argument crossed. And I can’t be bothered to demonstrate this – cuz it’s evident all over your posts tonight.

        But we can talk about it tomorrow when you’re sober again.

      • Hostage
        Hostage
        December 3, 2013, 7:30 am

        Taxi, I’m not getting my wires crossed. I’m poking fun at the stupid line of argumentation employed here by the author. She is using her own stereotypical point of view in exactly the same way to criticize Corasanti’s fictional characters and insists its racist to disagree. So I guess at this point the parody requires me to say that makes you one too and to storm off in a huff.

      • Taxi
        Taxi
        December 3, 2013, 8:38 am

        Hostage,

        I’ve agreed with some of your points, but apparently, unless I fully agree with you…. you’ll “storm off in a huff”?

        Okay, nightie-night, buddy.

      • Hostage
        Hostage
        December 4, 2013, 12:42 pm

        I’ve agreed with some of your points, but apparently, unless I fully agree with you…. you’ll “storm off in a huff”?

        No I said if I were to carry the parody of the article through to its conclusion, I’d have to storm off in a huff. I wasn’t parodying you.

      • Taxi
        Taxi
        December 4, 2013, 2:33 pm

        LOL Hostage – okay buddy you win. You win you win you win! Even though I’m not really the type to “storm off in a huff”, I have no problem losing this point to you. You’re so f*cking cool and smart.

        But your best arguments are still in the legal field and not the bitch-out field. In other words, you’re a better lawyer than you are a bitch :-)

      • Hostage
        Hostage
        December 4, 2013, 9:22 pm

        Regarding the claim that stereotypes can be backed up:

        That was Taxi’s argument. I actually pointed out that Holocaust denial is an official cabinet policy and that the government’s even oppose teaching anything about the subject as part of UNRWA human rights curriculum in several countries.

        In any event, I was addressing Susan’s objections to the use of comfortable Mammy-type fictional heroes to sell books and noted that Hasan is an example of that very same principle in action.

      • Hostage
        Hostage
        December 5, 2013, 9:23 am

        okay buddy you win. You win you win you win!

        I’m not trying to win. Just trying to keep explaining my thinking.

        But your best arguments are still in the legal field and not the bitch-out field. In other words, you’re a better lawyer than you are a bitch :-)

        That’s odd, they say that GI’s are never happy unless we’re bitching. I must have gotten rusty in my retirement years. I’m certain that I still have untapped reserves at my disposal that I could summon to shatter my previous records. But who knows when the well will run dry? . . . ;-)

      • Taxi
        Taxi
        December 5, 2013, 10:10 am

        “I’m certain that I still have untapped reserves at my disposal that I could summon to shatter my previous records.”

        LOL I’m sure you do, Hostage – just be sure to aim it at a deserved target (gulp – far away from my direction… I hope… heh heh).

        I know it’s a cliche, but you’re kinda cute-funny when you’re mad. Cuz usually you’re so soberly-lawyerly and composed – so above a street fight cuz you can easily win with a single recitation of the law. Really, I can’t tell you how shocking it is to read the occasional eff word in your posts. LOL it both tickles my funny bone and shocks me.

        And that’s what’s so great about you, Hostage. You can win an argument using PC legal language, and you can win an argument street “style” too :-)

        “Do not go gentle into that good night.
        Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
        Dylan Thomas

      • Inanna
        Inanna
        December 4, 2013, 4:37 am

        You know what Hostage? Those Israeli Jews who currently have their boots on the necks of Palestinians did not suffer the Holocaust. They have grown up in a country where they are the dominant culture and are oppressing someone else. So while I have all empathy and compassion for the past experiences of suffering of Jews, I’m not sympathetic to the Holocaust card being brought up in the context of the current suffering of Palestinians. The demand to pay obeisance to a past instance of suffering to the culture/group that is currently kicking the stuffing out of your people is completely effed up.

        And it has nothing at all to do with the topic which is how orientalist tropes and racist assumption are employed by writers (and others) to colonise an oppressed culture and frame the narrative of the oppressed culture…oh wait, maybe it does. Too bad you don’t see that.

      • Hostage
        Hostage
        December 4, 2013, 7:01 pm

        You know what Hostage? Those Israeli Jews who currently have their boots on the necks of Palestinians did not suffer the Holocaust. They have grown up in a country where they are the dominant culture and are oppressing someone else. So while I have all empathy and compassion for the past experiences of suffering of Jews, I’m not sympathetic to the Holocaust card being brought up in the context of the current suffering of Palestinians.

        You don’t need to preach to the choir in my case. I wholeheartedly agree.

        And it has nothing at all to do with the topic which is how orientalist tropes and racist assumption are employed by writers (and others) to colonise an oppressed culture and frame the narrative of the oppressed culture…oh wait, maybe it does. Too bad you don’t see that.

        Susan complained about that. But she employed a fictional hero who didn’t share your views about the relevance of the Holocaust. Too bad you don’t see that.

    • W.Jones
      W.Jones
      December 2, 2013, 1:40 pm

      Taxi, Yes,

      Susan Abulhawa’s first two paragraphs set up the crux of her argument: that, as well intended as Michelle Cohen-Corasanti may be, traces of a colonialist mind-set are peppered throughout her book.

      • Hostage
        Hostage
        December 2, 2013, 3:40 pm

        Hi Hostage. “Mornings in Jenin” is basically the narrative of a Palestinian family.

        I’m holding-up a mirror and poking fun at this author because her fictional characters, like Ari, stole and commercialized our Jewish narrative in exactly the same sense that she alleges Michelle Cohen-Corasanti stole her narrative. I think it’s bat shit crazy when you tell anyone else who has lived in a society for many years that they can’t write a historical novel or work of fiction from their point of view about it or criticize other members of their society.

        Since you are correct that Abulhawa claims “traces of a colonialist mind-set are peppered throughout her book”

        The story takes place in Israel, a colonial society, during the decades-long period of martial law. I can’t imagine how the characters could avoid reflecting traces of a colonialist mindset in that setting without being completely anachronistic, wooden, and artificial. Authors are allowed to use protagonists, antagonists, and foils with character flaws, foibles, conflicts – all reaching a denouement – to tell the morals of their stories.

        In this case, its very doubtful that Edward Said would consider this story to be a tool of oppression.

      • W.Jones
        W.Jones
        December 2, 2013, 4:15 pm

        you tell anyone who lived in a society for many years that they can’t write fiction from their point of view or criticize their society.

        That’s not what she says. She objects to the way her own people is portrayed in a book supposedly written primarily from her own point of view. Of course, since she is part of the subject people, she is free to disagree with those portrayals.

        If a German and wrote a book primarily about Israelis’ experiences in the Holocaust based on herself living in Germany and interacting with Israelis, and presented it as if she was giving their view, a Holocaust survivor would have cause to criticize the author if his views were misportrayed.

      • W.Jones
        W.Jones
        December 2, 2013, 4:35 pm

        In contrast, Susan’s own book was written about her own people’s oppression from the viewpoint of her own people (to some extent her own family’s experience), and in the course of it she portrayed statements by characters who belonged to the victor. Of course, the victor is free to object to how he is seen in the eyes of the conquered as well.

        But as they say: “The victors write history”, so even that would not be an “even battle”.

      • Hostage
        Hostage
        December 2, 2013, 6:23 pm

        That’s not what she says. . . . a Holocaust survivor would have cause to criticize the author if his views were misportrayed.

        We are not talking about a historical account, or a misrepresentation of views. I’m pretty certain there are Palestinians who want peace between the two peoples and believe that Jews and Palestinians are equals in the same sentimental way that sets Susan’s teeth on edge.

        We are talking about a work of popular fiction, which is being branded as banal and sentimentally evil for suggesting, Gawd forbid, that “we are all human beings and we’re all equal.”

        If you had read the comments section of the book’s reviews on the Times of Israel blog, then you’d know that many among the target audience there are still in need of some convincing about the truth of that proposition. Those same sort of lingering doubts are shared by a lot of folks from all walks of life out here where I live in the Bible Belt. They are heavily influenced by US media into thinking that Palestinians are nothing but terrorists governed by a pair of designated terror organizations.

        In the first paragraph Susan suggests this book is a tool of continuing oppression and by the second paragraph she is wailing about the stolen narrative. Then she complains about the fact that the book was written because, the author “wanted to bring about peace between Palestinians and Israelis” and to show that “we are all human beings and we’re all equal.” If it weren’t so sad it would almost be funny.

      • W.Jones
        W.Jones
        December 2, 2013, 7:36 pm

        Hostage,
        I do not think the idea that “Jews and Palestinians are equals in [a] sentimental way sets Susan’s teeth on edge.”

        I also disagree that “We are not talking about a historical account, or a misrepresentation of views”. Obviously both are bound up in The Almond Tree, because it is historical fiction proposing to be from a Palestinian view.

        If you had read the comments section of the book’s reviews on the Times of Israel blog

        …Now why would I have done that?

        You are right that the novel has value in persuading people about equality. The book does have a function of exposing inequality, and do I would not dismiss the book as simply a tool of oppression. It was persuasive for Annie’s friend.

        However, Abulhawa’s criticism is also important, Hostage. She points out that in the book the “bad” Palestinians have darker skin, and links to a review by Vacy that notes:

        I found Cohen Corasanti’s exploitation of Rachel Corrie’s death morally obscene. Ichmad’s Jewish wife, Nora, is crushed by an Israeli bulldozer while trying to prevent his family home from demolition. The Israeli driver is implicitly excused – because Nora loses her footing and falls under the machine (oops!) and – the house was to be demolished because bad brother Abbas “was involved with a terrorist organisation.”

        This is what the author refers to as getting “killed Rachel Corrie style”.

      • Shingo
        Shingo
        December 2, 2013, 7:46 pm

        She objects to the way her own people is portrayed in a book supposedly written primarily from her own point of view. Of course, since she is part of the subject people, she is free to disagree with those portrayals.

        Of course she is, but Susan has taken on role of gatekeeper to a large extent and I have found her shrill, prickly and argumentative, even with those that agree with her views.

        We all agree this topic pushes our buttons to a large extent and that we all have a pretty short fuse when it comes to misrepresentation and false narratives, but she is so reactive that even I think that Susan is her own worst enemy sometimes.

      • W.Jones
        W.Jones
        December 4, 2013, 12:39 am

        Hey Shingo.

        If I would write her review for her I would have put in both sides of the book, good and bad. But I don’t happen to be her, fortunately- and I say that because I would not want to be someone whose parents were refugees. That gives a context to someone who you may see as “shrill, prickly and argumentative”. I wouldn’t be surprised if some wrongly-imprisoned political prisoners also have such a personality someplace in the world.

        Her article about Brunner did also contain compliments about him and his movie, so in that case she wrote a mixed review. The points she is raising are legitimate, so I am not sure that she is really “wrong.”

        Is she playing the role of gatekeeper? I think so, because she is prescribing ideas about how her people’s perspective should be portrayed. But I think it’s OK for her to do that, since it is her people, and it is just her review and opinion, so she is not the only “keeper of the gate.”

        Hatim Kanaaneh wrote an overall positive review, so he can be considered a keeper of the gate that lets The Almond Tree through. So I would not worry too much about it, Shingo.

        Member of Victor Group 1 writes a book proposing to be from the viewpoint of Subject People 2, and exhalting how a fictional Subject Person rose to success in the Victor Group’s society. Subject Person 2A likes the book, Subject Person 2B does not. I would not worry too much, they are both valid ways of reacting. It’s kind of like debating whether the bottle is half full or half empty.

        If Abulhawa started a campaign in magazines and writing posts all over the place like Eric Altermann did against Blumenthal, and asked for 10,000$ to debate Corsanti, or something odd like that, then it would be some serious blocking. But at this point it is just a “rotten tomato” for the backyard garden, which may produce a delicious harvest in a few years if Corsanti were to take Susan’s article as something to consider.

      • Shingo
        Shingo
        December 4, 2013, 5:50 am

        I don’t begrudge Abulhawa any of her emotions or arguments. I agree with her 90% of the time.

        If I were her, I have no idea how I would handle the rage, pain and injustice that her family has faces and continues to ensure. My criticisms come from a position of wanting her to be more effective at conveying the message and reaching a wider audience.

        But having watches her in debates, I have to admit there were times were her emotions got the better of her, where she took exception to every minute detail and alienated her audience.

        I think the same applies here. Does the book effectively depict the injustice of the conflict, will this message reach a wider audience than a perfectly authentic version in her eyes , and if so, is it worth throwing out the baby with the bathwater?

      • Hostage
        Hostage
        December 4, 2013, 9:09 pm

        If you had read the comments section of the book’s reviews on the Times of Israel blog

        …Now why would I have done that?

        Don’t be coy. Michelle pointed out in her response that she wasn’t specifically targeting her book at the audience Susan is so concerned about. This book has been reviewed in the Jewish and Israeli press.

        Abulhawa’s criticism is also important, Hostage. . . . I found Cohen Corasanti’s exploitation of Rachel Corrie’s death morally obscene. . . . The Israeli driver is implicitly excused – because Nora loses her footing and falls under the machine (oops!)

        Your first clue is the none of these people avail themselves of the limited use of copyrighted material for commentary or criticism. Abulhawa or Vacy could have let readers decide for themselves.

        If you are ever going to write an article complaining about distorting the narrative of others, then you need to keep this outrageous example of distortion committed by Abulhawa or Vacy in mind. The Corrie family gave an interview to EI which stated that they have no objections to artistic portrayals, because they believe that all art is humanizing. When I read the account in the Almond Tree it was obvious to me that the author was describing an act of deliberate homicide committed in front of several witnesses and that the victim had maintained eye contact with the bulldozer operator the whole time:

        Justice yelled to the bulldozer driver through her megaphone in Hebrew to stop. She was always prepared to protest against injustice. Nora was waving her arms in the air as high as she could. There was both an operator and a vehicle commander in the bulldozer. Nora and Justice maintained eye contact with the bulldozer driver the entire time. On-site there was also a commander of the operation watching from an armoured personnel carrier.

        The bulldozer kept coming. It pushed the earth forward and Justice and Nora climbed on top of the mound. They were high enough to see directly into the cab. The bulldozer kept coming. Justice was able to jump out o f the way. Nora lost her footing and was pulled under the blade. The bulldozer continued. My family and Justice pounded on the cab’s windows. The bulldozer continued forward, until the blade ran completely over Nora and then it backed up.

        Needless to say there is no hint of any implicit excuse for the drivers behavior. Abulhawa’s opinion is only important if she can make an unblemished case without resorting to these sort of deliberate distortions.

  9. MHughes976
    MHughes976
    December 2, 2013, 11:54 am

    Very interesting words from Khoury. I suppose that the opposite to being imprisoned by one story is being liberated by many. I very much agree with Taxi’s remark that there is room for different ways of telling the same truth. One of the marks of truth is that there is always something disconcerting about it, something we wish was not so.

    • Shmuel
      Shmuel
      December 2, 2013, 12:10 pm

      I suppose that the opposite to being imprisoned by one story is being liberated by many.

      A multiplicity of stories is central to the novel – appropriately, on multiple levels.

  10. Shingo
    Shingo
    December 2, 2013, 5:09 pm

    While I admire Susan Albuhawa for her passion and commitment, sometimes she simply throws out the baby with the bathwater.

    When the film, “In the name of the father” came out, it blew audiences away and enrages them over the extent of the injustice of British imperialism. Critics attacked the film for it’s inaccuracies and poetic license – such as the fact the main character and his father never shared a cell together as the movie portrays.

    So what? The power of the film was in the story telling and the story would not have been as accessible to the audience had they not taken this liberty.

    The truly authentic account she demands might satisfy her own expectations, but if the book touches a wide audience and inspires empathy for Palestinians, surely that’s a compromise worth making.

    • Inanna
      Inanna
      December 4, 2013, 4:22 am

      @Shingo, I think you missed the point. It’s not the license that a creative work takes that Susan is necessarily objecting to – it’s how racist/orientalist tropes are used by someone of the dominant/powerful culture to frame the narrative of the subject/repressed culture in a literary work, compounding the physical oppression with a cultural one, all the while allowing those of the dominant culture taking part in this practice to pat themselves on the back with how nice and concerned they are.
      As an Arab, I’m not prepared to be shat on by ‘nice’ people from the culture/society that is involved in the oppression and death of those I love.

      • Shingo
        Shingo
        December 4, 2013, 5:24 am

        it’s how racist/orientalist tropes are used by someone of the dominant/powerful culture to frame the narrative of the subject/repressed culture in a literary work, compounding the physical oppression with a cultural one, all the while allowing those of the dominant culture taking part in this practice to pat themselves on the back with how nice and concerned they are.

        Yes I get that Inanna, but to a large extent, that is inevitable. Any work of fiction has to work within the limits of the genre and to the limitations of it’s intended audience; and that means cutting corners and often introduces stereotypes to a large extent. We often turn a blind eye to such stereotypes in western movies because they are usually flattering, but they are everywhere are they are just as superficial.

        In the example I brought up, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, one could make the same criticism of the depiction of black African Americans. The book was written by a white woman. The main hero is a white man. She based the book on her own experiences as a child. Yet the book stands a monument to exposing racism and is widely taught in schools in the United States.

        Now do you think these achievements should be negated because it was written by a member of a dominant/powerful culture to frame the narrative of the subject/repressed culture in a literary work? I know it’s easy for me to say this, but what if, at the end of the day, it achieves some real benefit?

        Please understand that I do understand where you are coming at Inanna and your response to Hostage was a powerful one, but if this book does reach a wide audience and informs them as to the plight of Palestinians, shouldn’t that be the prize?

      • W.Jones
        W.Jones
        December 4, 2013, 12:10 pm

        Shingo,

        The analogies to TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and HUCK FINN, etc. are incongruent because they were not portrayed as written from the perspective of the subject people.

        You are not wrong about throwing the baby out with the bathwater, however the book should be seen for what it is, with its various aspects.

      • Inanna
        Inanna
        December 4, 2013, 5:29 pm

        Yes I get that Inanna, but to a large extent, that is inevitable.

        I know what you are trying to say but I don’t agree with you. As someone from the oppressed culture, I’m not only not happy about being shat on, I’m not happy about anyone being ok with my being shat on for my own good.

  11. annie
    annie
    December 4, 2013, 10:06 am

    . Vlazna also points out how the “bad” Palestinians are of darker skin colour in this novel.

    more accurately, just because i believe if you’re going to quote someone exactness is important, Vacy Vlazna used the capitalizaton ie: “BAD” Palestinians. “BAD Abbas” and “BAD brother” several times throughout her article.

    However, i don’t believe the author of the book used that term. also, the circumstance that most profoundly changed the brother abbas (one as a child laborer permanently maimed after being purposely pushed off scaffolding by an israeli worker, another event the author stole from real life circumstances), provided a context where the reader comprehended how/why he would (understandably)choose the path of resistance and the brothers love for him never wavered thru the story. i didn’t think of abbas as “BAD” nor did i think the reader was directed to blame him at any time for his choice or circumstance.

    it’s also likely the protaganist would have chosen that path himself had not his first foree resulted in the father going to prison for his son’s actions which dogged him throughout the book and sealed his fate as beholden to his father’s wishes to pursue his education.

    Portrayed as asexual, loyal, and contented caretakers of whites, the caricature of Mammy allowed mainstream America to ignore the systemic racism that bound black women to back-breaking, low paying jobs where employers routinely exploited them.”

    i guess what i don’t understand is the juxtaposing of this narrative with the story in the almond tree. aside from not having any palestinian characters in the almond tree portrayed as “drunks or wife-beaters who abandon their families”, the closest any character got to that role of ‘content’ was after propaganist was living in america which may mirror the lives of other palestinians, but he went back to find his brother. and the systematic racism in israeli society was prevalent throughout the book. there were individuals who were not racist but the system was always racist. the situation in which he was able to attend university wasn’t ever depicted as normal and his treatment there wasn’t normal.

    i agree that the term “obstacles” hardly suffices to describe the litany of crimes, including ethnic cleansing, against palestinians. had corasanti left out devastating descriptions of the destruction of Palestinian society, the use of modern weaponry against unarmed civilians, demolition of homes, daily humiliations, theft of homes and dignity, bombings, curfews, deportations, multiple generations of refugees, and the general erasure of Palestine, had she left all of these things out of her book i could better understand how her use of this term in an interview might be infuriating. but i read about all of that in the book.

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