Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Palestinian Women Writers Evoke Their Country

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Palestinian Women Writers Evoke Their Country

Article excerpt

Palestinian Women Writers Evoke Their Country

Whether they write in English or in Arabic, Palestinian women writers living in exile recreate Palestine within the folds of their novels. The images from the nostalgic recollections of the writers convey a haven of warmth and a sense of belonging to a secure past. Against these images, from the harsh realities of exile are depicted the contemporary problems facing the dislodged Palestinian population. In writing of the agonies of separation and loss, Palestinian women authors living in exile convey an even greater anxiety than do writers in the occupied territories. Diaspora writers almost invariably compensate for their loss by recreating Palestine in prose.

Each author also draws on her own experiences to present the problems facing the exiles of the Palestinian diaspora. After fleeing Palestine in 1948, Samira Azzam drew on her life in Beirut to describe, in two volumes of short stories, the struggle for dignity in the face of mounting difficulties in earning a living in neighboring Arab countries. She also vividly describes the agony of a mother and daughter separated by the new borders formed in 1948.

Hala Jabbour, currently living in Washington, DC, describes in Woman of Nazareth the life of a modern Palestinian woman torn between her loyalty to her family and her desire to emancipate herself from patriarchal control. Jabbour concludes that while Palestinian women are capable of overcoming patriarchy, they will not lead normal productive lives as long as their national problem remains unsolved.

A new literary star born in Jerusalem before 1948, Soraya Antonius, seeks in two novels in English to present the sweep of events that led to the destruction of Palestine, from creation of the British Mandate as a result of World War I to the fighting that followed the U.N. partition resolution and creation of the state of Israel in 1948. The Lord, published in 1986, deals with the life of the local magician, Tareq, an Arab nationalist hanged by the British on the Muslim Feast of Sacrifice. His life forms a parallel with the life and suffering of a Palestinian predecessor, Jesus of Nazareth. The underlying Christian theme brings out the irony and the brutality of the colonial mission by Christian Britain.

Her second novel, Where the Jinn Consult, published one year later in 1987, covers the period from the Palestinian peasant rebellion against the British in 1936, through the Second World War in Europe, up to the 1948 defeat and dispersal of the indigenous Palestinian population. The book takes its title from the name given to the courtyard of the sultan's palace, where assassinations of rival princes who might challenge the throne were plotted. The title's symbolism is not limited to the plotting against Palestine through the UK's Balfour Declaration and later the U.S.--abetted partition plan. It also includes colonial policies which sought to exploit local vulnerabilities, such as the concept of "female honor, "to discredit indigenous leaders, like those exploited by present-day Israel during the Palestinian uprising.

Like the magician Tareq in her first novel, Soraya Antonius conjures up villages in Palestine through a vivid style conveying color, smell and texture. …

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