Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly

Hideous Hydropolitics in Darraj's a Curious Land

Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly

Hideous Hydropolitics in Darraj's a Curious Land

Article excerpt

Water is what will decide things, not just for us but for every citizen of the world as well. If we humans were smart, if we were truly as evolved as they say we are, we would all work together to figure out how to turn salt into drinkable water, how to use water wisely, preserve water that falls each year. Mark my words: shortage of water is what will doom the occupants of this earth, and they are fools not to know that.

- Laila Halaby (2007: 40)


Water is one of the rarest resources in the Middle East. The survival of the occupants of this region has historically relied on their ability to secure and preserve water sources. Since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, controlling headwaters has become an alibi for waging wars and acquiring more territories. In its endeavor to fulfill its dreams of creating a safe oasis in the Middle East for the Jews, the Zionist movement and its offspring, the State of Israel, have pursued policies aimed at controlling underground water and aquifers in the region by force. Seen from this perspective, it is unsurprising that Palestinian writers have always tried to expose Israeli hydropolitical strategies that are designed to break Palestinian people's resilience and resistance. In this context, Arab American author Susan Muaddi Darraj's collection of short stories, A Curious Land (2015), portrays the dilemma of Palestinians under Israeli occupation, and it depicts how Israel uses water as a tool to punish Palestinians and force them to emigrate.

The above quotation, taken from another Arab American novel, shows how hydropolitics have penetrated literary texts, especially those written by authors with genealogical links to the Middle East. Abu Jalal, an old Jordanian farmer who has hired a man to find groundwater in his land by using dowsing rods, mesmerizes Jassim, the protagonist of Laila Halaby's Once in a Promised Land (2007). Child Jassim, who listens carefully to Abu Jalal's words that afternoon, is yet to understand the implications of Abu Jalal's statement. The narrator informs us that Abu Jalal's words have "seeped into Jassim's subconscious, dripped into his daily thoughts" (41). Perplexed and amused, Jassim begins to reflect on the old man's words: "Water? Imagine, in the face of Palestine being destroyed, of more people being made refugees, [...] imagine talking about water as the more important issue!" (41). Indeed, the words that Jassim heard that afternoon determined his future. Years later, Jassim becomes a hydrologist whose main concern throughout Once in a Promised Land is to find new ways to save water and optimally make use of it. As a child, Jassim is unable to fathom the link between water crisis in the Middle East and the Palestinian issue. As he grows up, he realizes that the battle to control headwaters is an integral part of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Halaby's Once in a Promised Land is one of a number of literary works by Arab writers in diaspora, especially those of Palestinian origin, that highlight how hydropolitics shape the quotidian experiences of millions of people in the Middle East. The above quotation gives a clue of how Arab authors in diaspora incorporate heated debates on water in their literary works. This is unsurprising if one takes into account the fact that the ancestors of these authors hail from arid and semi-arid areas in the Middle East where endeavors to control water resources have triggered deadly conflicts and displaced millions of people. Indeed, literary works by Arab authors have depicted how water has been a contested site over which wars have been waged, blood has been shed, and millions of people have been uprooted and deracinated. Since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, conflict over the control of headwaters has instigated a series of wars that literally re-mapped the region. For Palestinian authors in diaspora and at home, or what remained of home, water has bittersweet connotations: on one hand, water is linked to the perception of Palestine as a holy land where Jesus was born and baptized in the River Jordan; on the other hand, since Israel has been founded in 1948, Palestinians have been suffering from an unrelenting water shortage due to Israeli hydropolitical strategies that are designed to heap up the daily miseries of Palestinians and force them to emigrate. …

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