Monday, February 2, 2009

Strangers in the House or Mexifornia

Strangers in the House: Coming of Age in Occupied Palestine

Author: Raja Shehadeh

This revealing story of a father-son relationship, the first memoir of its kind by a Palestinian living in the Occupied Territories, is set against the backdrop of Middle East hostilities and more than thirty years under military occupation. Marked by a sense of loss and impermanence and embroiled in political conflict, it is the family drama of a difficult relationship between an idealistic son and his politically active father-Aziz Shehadeh, who, in 1967, was the first Palestinian to advocate a peaceful, two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian dispute-a situation further complicated by the arbitrary humiliations of living under the occupier's law. Above all, it is a moving description of the daily lives of those who have chosen to remain on their land.

Publishers Weekly

Palestinian perspectives on the Middle East conflict don't often reach the West and today they are more relevant than ever. In this fascinating memoir, leading Palestinian lawyer Shehadeh offers a chilling and moving view of life inside the Occupied Territories. He was born into a prominent family around the time of Israel's establishment in 1948. As Shehadeh recounts his relationship with his parents, his first love, intellectual experiments in college, world travels, law career and human rights work, his struggles under Israeli occupation distinguish his story. Shehadeh names his father, Aziz, also a prominent attorney, as the first Palestinian in the late 1960s to advocate recognizing Israel and adopting a peaceful two-state solution. The author gives a gripping narrative regarding Aziz's murder and the Israeli authorities' sluggish investigation; it's widely assumed that Aziz's killer was a Palestinian who disapproved of his willingness to compromise with Israel. More broadly, Shehadeh deftly renders the Israeli government's systematic harassment and humiliation of the Palestinians, ranging from constant surveillance at checkpoints to random searches in homes and offices. Such situations, Shehadeh makes clear, account for the powerlessness, frustration and anger experienced by most Palestinians. His deliberate analysis of the expansion of Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories, a major obstacle to the peace process, is especially intriguing. The author argues that these settlements are illegal under international law, but have slowly and surely been aligned with Israeli legal statutes. Anyone seeking a nuanced view of Palestinian experience should read this brave and lyrical book. B&w photos. (Jan. 2) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Claire Rosser - KLIATT

On the cover is a photograph of Raja as a student at the American University of Beirut in 1971. This memoir he has written is subtitled "coming of age," but in fact this is an intricate, complex autobiography that may appeal to only those YAs with a serious interest in Palestine and Israel. Raja was born several years after his family left Jaffa when Israel became an independent state in 1948. He grew up in Ramallah (so often in the news today) on the West Bank, with his father (educated in England) working as a lawyer. In the war of 1967, when the Israeli army occupied the West Bank, Raja's father saw then that the solution would be to establish two parallel states—Israel and Palestine. This position caused him to be considered a traitor by other Palestinians and the greater Arab world, for compromising with the Israelis. Raja too was educated as a lawyer in England and returned to live in the occupied territories, working at his father's law firm. But the two men didn't agree, and the struggle of father and son becomes the central story of this memoir. The father felt that Raja should marry and have a family and continue with rather safe legal work in the family firm. In fact, Raja established a human rights group, El Haq, and monitored the torture and ill treatment of Palestinian prisoners by the Israeli military. In this way, he continued the struggle, even after his father was murdered. Although this is as much about fathers and sons as it is about the politics of an exceedingly complex region, it is poignantly about loss, as the Palestinians since 1948 have increasingly lost more and more of their land and their autonomy. There is so much sadness and hopelessness in this onefamily's story, and events in our daily headlines tell us of endless more sorrow experienced by so many families living in that place. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2002, Penguin, 238p. illus.,

Library Journal

In this autobiography of a Palestinian living in Israel, Shehadeh, a lawyer and founder of Al-Haq, an affiliate of the International Commission of Jurists, reminisces about growing up "in the shadow of home" and coming to terms with the political situation in which he was born. It wasn't until he was an adult that he finally understood the work of his father, Aziz, an early advocate of the two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict who was murdered in 1985. In a strong voice that is without diatribe, melodrama, or anger, Shehadeh describes the uncertainties of life during a period of national difficulty. Readers will get a glimpse into the emotional and political turmoil of the region and possibly form a better understanding of the troubles in the Middle East. This book also shares the insight of one man's journey and the maturity that allowed him to see his life in context. Recommended for public and academic libraries with Middle Eastern collections or biography collections that extend beyond the famous. Naomi Hafter, Enoch Pratt Free Lib., Baltimore, MD Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews

A former political activist in the occupied territories looks back on his youthful struggle to come to terms with his father, as well as with an idealized Palestinian past and an unrealized Palestinian future. Shehadeh, a lawyer and a writer who now lives quietly in the West Bank town of Ramallah, founded the internationally respected human rights organization Al Haq, which mounted legal challenges to Israeli settlements on the West Bank and exposed the treatment of Palestinians in Israeli prisons. Raja's father, Aziz Shehadeh, was also a prominent lawyer and a political activist. A refugee from Jaffa following the 1948 conflict, Aziz came to believe that recognizing Israel was the only way to maintain a Palestinian nation. He was condemned by Arab nationalists and also drew fire when he became the defense attorney for those accused of assassinating King Abdullah of Jordan. He was murdered in 1985, not for his political beliefs but probably over a minor legal wrangle. All this lays the foundation for Raja's reflections on his childhood, during which family members incessantly recalled their former comforts and refused to confront the reality of the Israeli takeover. Chapters about Raja's education in London and India reveal the emotional conflict between father and son, as well as Raja's efforts to find a role for himself in the political struggle between Palestinians and Israelis. Partly as a result of his disillusionment with the Israeli investigation of his father's murder, he affiliated with the first intifada and became a legal advisor to the Palestinians at the Madrid peace conference in 1991. He left "in despair a year after they began." Shehadeh also describes eloquently thedevastation of the biblical hills surrounding his home as Israeli bulldozers make room for settlements. A memoir both political and personal, offering a human and humane perspective on one Palestinian's life. (b&w photographs)

New interesting textbook: Festivals of Lite or Cooking the Middle Eastern Way

Mexifornia: A State of Becoming

Author: Victor Davis Hanson

This book is part history, part political analysis and part memoir. It is an intensely personal book about what has changed in California over the last quarter century.

The Los Angeles Times

Hanson's primary worry is steadily rising illegal immigration into a welfare state with expanding entitlements and waning commitment to the history and virtues of Western civilization, an admittedly imperfect, coercive consensus that nonetheless held together a uniquely successful, multiethnic nation. The emerging Mexifornia is becoming "not quite Mexico and not quite America either." — Frederick R. Lynch

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