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And finally... Susan Abulhawa

Human Rights
Susan Abulhawa

Your latest novel, The Blue Between Sky And Water, looks at Israel and Palestine as a generational issue. What has been handed down from generation to generation?

With every society, one’s heritage, wounds and collective trauma are handed down. It’s part of the identity.

How are things changing for each generation?

When a collective trauma has ended, when it’s acknowledged and atoned for, as in the case, for example, of the Jewish Holocaust, then it does change from one generation to another. In the case of African Americans, their holocaust was generations ago, but they still have a different kind of collective trauma. It’s the same for Palestinians: our initial expulsion, the ethnic cleansing and massacres were a different kind of experience for grandparents and parents. For us today, it varies not just by generation but where we ended up. For those who still live under Israeli occupation, the persistent daily violence is different from life for those Palestinians who live in refugee camps and are stateless and impoverished, or people like myself who ended up in the diaspora but disconnected from our family and heritage. There are a lot of individual narratives that feed into a larger narrative of being violated and ethnically cleansed.

Women’s stories and voices are the focus of the novel. Do you feel women’s voices have been sidelined in the Israel-Palestine issue?

Women are sidelined everywhere. Women fight profound daily battles against the violence of the occupation, against the patriarchy. It tends to occur without fanfare; it’s just a part of life. I’m very interested in the ways they navigate their lives under these extraordinary conditions.

Do you think there’s a difference between men’s and women’s attitudes to the conflict?

It’s not just a gender issue, but about being led by a particular privileged class of men, which is a theme in every country, including Palestine, and that’s problematic. You end up having a very narrow representation of narrative, of strategy, of outlook.

You’re the founder of Playgrounds for Palestine (PfP), a non-profit organization that sets up children’s parks in Palestine, as well as Libya and Syria. What effect does conflict have on children?

They’re traumatized in serious ways. In Gaza, 98.6 per cent of kids exhibit some symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder. That’s a staggering statistic. PfP is a band aid on a gushing wound. We don’t have illusions about what we do. But for the kids we’re able to help, we know it means a lot to them and that’s what keeps us going.

You’re also involved with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. Why do you think a boycott is the answer?

For me, anything that involves popular mobilization is hopeful. The boycott campaign is a tool and an avenue for everyone to take a stand in some way. It’s a nonviolent method of resisting an injustice that has gone on for too long and where there seems no end in sight.

Could more be done on the Palestinian side to push the peace process forward?

I know people talk about this in terms of two sides, but I don’t talk about it in that way. When people speak like that, it suggests that these are just two equal parties who disagree on something. It’s a false narrative. You have a highly armed nuclear power that uses its might against a principally unarmed, principally defenceless civilian population that has no military, no navy, no army, no air force and no real weapons to speak of; yet the focus is often on homemade Palestinian rockets that most often land in open fields. Israeli snipers routinely kill people in Gaza.

Israel makes 1.6 million people live under crippling economic, psychological and military siege but none of these things are spoken of as aggression: it’s only aggression when it’s a Palestinian response. By definition, everything an occupied people does is a response to the occupation, but it’s never framed that way in the media. That’s why I don’t engage in this discourse that tries to create a parity between an occupier and an occupied people.

The Blue Between Sky and Water by Susan Abulhawa is published by Bloomsbury.

Graeme Green is a journalist and photographer: @greengraeme

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