- Voices against Erasure, Loss, and DehumanizationThe Year in Palestine
Rooted in the land just like other Indigenous populations who have endured settler colonialism, Palestinians use different venues to humanize their struggle for freedom and equal rights. From popular resistance and international solidarity activism to textual and visual productions, they share their voices and hopes with the world. More specifically, in life narratives published between 2017 and 2018, Palestinians speak with urgency. The individuals who populate the life narratives I survey in this essay remember the physical loss of historical Palestine and draw attention to numerous barriers that stand between them and their right to return to and inhabit the land. Their voices attest to their ongoing collective displacement since 1948, wrestle with thorny political questions, unveil the multifaceted damage settler colonialism has brought upon their communities, and genuinely yearn for a normal future. Their texts have one eye on the past—as the past is never past—with the other fixed on the present to report the horrors of decades of ongoing dispossession.
The following discussion samples a few of these publications and does not promise in any way to be comprehensive. The works covered here include Where the Line Is Drawn: Crossing Boundaries in Occupied Palestine by Raja Shehadeh, Young Palestinians Speak: Living under Occupation by Anthony Robinson and Annemarie Young, The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story by Ramzy Baroud, and Drawing the Kafr Qasem Massacre by Samia Halaby.
A Palestinian author, lawyer, and human rights activist, Shehadeh speaks directly to Western misrepresentations of Palestine. His narrative unveils injustices rarely addressed in Western discourses. Shehadeh was born in the city of Ramallah shortly after his family was forced out of Jaffa to make room for Israeli Jewish settlers. In his 2008 book entitled Palestinian Walks: Forays into a Vanishing Landscape, not only does Shehadeh mourn a disappearing Indigenous landscape and show [End Page 103] irreversible forms of environmental injustice, but he also sounds the alarm when he draws attention to the plight of Palestinians in the West Bank where he lives: on our land, we are "unwanted strangers, constantly harassed, never feeling safe. We had become temporary residents of Greater Israel, living on Israel's sufferance, subject to the most abusive treatment" (180). Shehadeh does not stop here: "But worse than all this was that nagging feeling that our days in Palestine were numbered and one day we were going to be victims of another mass expulsion" (180). Palestinians in Shehadeh's West Bank endure harsh, inescapable realities under Israeli settler colonialism. They witness their neighborhoods rapidly shrink, and in their cities they live under permanent siege. Israeli military checkpoints cripple their movement, settler-only roads cut through their backyards, and Jewish settlements eat up every inch of their arable land. What remains is a disfigured landscape and captive Indigenous population with restricted access to water and essential natural resources. Their livelihood is on the line. Yet they endure.
The West Bank recurs in Where the Line Is Drawn: Crossing Boundaries in Occupied Palestine. Life for Palestinians there has become more and more difficult. Indeed, this 2017 life narrative describes some of the hardships Palestinians endure in the West Bank, but in it, Shehadeh, more importantly, offers a comprehensive personal and collective Palestinian history through recalling numerous crossings he had into Israel/Palestine from 1959 to 2013. He uses these crossings to comment on the Nakba and the course of the history of Palestinian struggle. In some of them, he reflects on his complicated friendship with an Israeli named Henry Abramovitch and shows the absurdity of the so-called peace process.
Shehadeh's Israeli-sanctioned movement between the West Bank and cities like Tel Aviv, Jaffa, or Jerusalem and the political debates he participates in with a few Jewish Israelis depict a beautiful but scarred land with an unpredictable future. Almost in each crossing, Shehadeh incrementally introduces different human rights violations Palestinians have endured under Israeli settler colonialism. For example, his narrative re-inscribes the Nakba. In so doing, Shehadeh demonstrates the multi-faceted nature of loss and challenges a hegemonic Zionist myth. According to this myth, Palestine was an empty land, but like countless...