Women Writers of Palestine

2nd Sep 2014

Women Writers of Palestine
After reading The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan, Alice Darling wanted to read more books by Palestinian women. We know how important literature can be for giving a voice to those who are often silenced or overshadowed by mainstream media so we're really excited to share her thoughts on some titles we should be putting on our to-read lists...

It’s difficult not to feel overwhelmed by the Western media’s coverage of current events in Israel and Palestine; a part of the world with a history of conflict that we may feel quite removed from reading about or watching through a screen.

It may not be an obvious choice to read as a literary canon but it’s something Alice Darling wanted to explore further given her love of The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan.

What she found were books that can be as polarising as the Israel-Palestine debate itself. However, the voices of the women writing might be a gateway into understanding what, for these writers, it means to be Palestinian.

Mornings in Jenin – Susan Abulhawa

This book immediately hits you with the beauty and the timelessness of historic Palestine, telling the story of a family over many generations, from their olive farm to the Naqba (War of Independence), to life in Jenin refugee camp, the Shatila massacre, and emigrating to America.

It depicts the reality of life during war, being forcibly removed from homes, the long trudge to who-knows-where, ultimately the difficulties of adjusting to life in a refugee camp, knowing that your home is still there but impossible to reclaim. This theme runs through many of the books about Palestine.

It is a polarising novel, hated by some for the way it portrays Israel – it is certainly an unsparing portrayal despite the presence of many interesting and nuanced Israeli characters. But it is important in spite, or perhaps because of, this, telling the story of Palestine through immersing the reader in the lives of one family.

In any event, with this book it’s possible to forget the politics and just lose yourself in the characters, the language used, the rhythms of the sentences, the pictures painted.

The future can’t breath in a refugee camp, Amal. The air here is too dense for hope”.

Out of It – Selma Dabbagh

Out of It is a novel about family, place and identity, set in Gaza amidst falling bombs– what it means to be Palestinian, to live under occupation, and the issue of religion extremism.

I loved both of the main characters; the fieriness of Iman, her brother’s reflectiveness, and felt using both their voices to tell their story was really effective.

Despite the subject matter, depicting Israeli soldiers bulldozing houses (“but they are not soldiers, they are boys – can you believe how young they are?”), and confronting the possibility of terrorism, this is an engrossing and relatively easy read due to the quality of the writing and the sharpness of the images.

Read the For Books’ Sake review here.

The People of Forever are Not Afraid– Shami Boianjiu

This is a book from a different side of the conflict – a book about growing up an Israeli teenager and soldier. Immediately from the first page I was sucked in, feeling what it’s like to be a teenager, too old for school, a general longing but not knowing what for.

The writing is lyrical and flowing with a rhythm that prevents you looking up from the page – a stream of inner consciousness novel isn’t for everyone but this is written incredibly well.

This book doesn’t examine the conflict, or go much into what it would be like living under the military occupation that the three girls are part of; it is instead a coming-of-age novel dealing with the effects and realities of military service on young women.

The novel is funny, surreal and extremely dark, with lines that hang in your head long after the book is put down.

The Inheritance – Sahar Khalifeh

I’ll be honest, it took me a while to get into this one. The style of writing is very detached and it was hard to get a handle on the main character, to feel for and with her. I should point out that this may be a problem with translation and not the writing itself!

It begins as a story of lack of identity, with Zayna growing up in America, cut off from her Palestinian family. On receiving a phone call from her uncle, she travels to Palestine for the first time, whereupon the novel begins to focus on the Palestinian women in her family and their sacrifices for the men in their lives – men who all appear to be inept and controlling in one way or another.

It’s also an interesting portrayal of the desire of many Palestinians to modernize and the obstacles that are thrown in their way.

Gaza Writes Back – An Anthology

This collection of short stories, although edited by Refaat Alareer, speaks through the voices of young Palestinian women – they make up 12 of the 15 contributors.

Their voices are so often unheard in the media although they are becoming prolific in the blogging world and these stories take us into their minds: young, articulate Palestinians who have grown up under occupation and siege – a generation with none of the certainty that often comes with youth, but all of the passion.

The stories show, unsurprisingly, a preoccupation with loss, but despite the devastating events, the importance of family and love infiltrate all the stories. A few to mention are The Story of the Land by Sarah Ali (her blog is fantastic!) and Please Shoot to Kill by Jehan Alfarra.


Have you read any books recently that focus on the Israel-Palestine conflict?

Can you recommend any women bloggers documenting their experiences? Leave us a comment or send us a tweet!


Alice Darling is based in London where she spends her time lawyer-ing, reading constantly and training for triathlons. Her favourite novels are those that teach her something new and she especially likes to read non-English literature. She blogs about triathlon and reading at http://readingrunningcycling.wordpress.com.

[Image: Susan Abulhawa by Decltype on Wikipedia Commons]