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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Inspirational voice from the land of Gaza: What if postwar Japan had a similar history?


By STEVE FINBOW
MY FATHER WAS A FREEDOM FIGHTER: Gaza's Untold Story, by Ramzy Baroud. Pluto Press, 2010, 320 pp., $18 (paper)

Beginning in a Gaza Strip refugee camp with the author taking tearful leave of his home to travel to the United States of America, this "untold story" is a double memoir/biography charting the lives of Ramzy Baroud's father and relatives and the history of the Palestinian people and Gaza.

From David Ben Gurion's ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in the lead-up to and first months of the foundation of the state of Israel on May 14, 1948, through Operation Cast Lead on Dec. 27, 2008, in which Israeli forces sealed borders, bulldozed entire settlements and killed or wounded thousands, Gaza's history is a terrible one in all the connotations of that word — distressing, severe, horrible, and exciting terror or great fear.

At 51 kilometers in length and 11 kilometers at its widest point on the border with Egypt, Gaza is arguably — the Israeli government has contradictory figures — the sixth most densely populated area in the world and is as full of stories as it is of people.

Baroud's family hail from Beit Daras, a village with a history stretching back to the pre-Crusade era and existing through the Mamluk's defeat of the Mongols, the Ottoman Empire, the British Mandate and Zionist immigration.

Baroud's unraveling of the village's complex history written alongside the near impossible explication of policy toward Palestine is enlightening, paralleling the biography of his father and the account of Palestinian rebellion, defeat and resistance.

Sixty years on from the complete destruction of the village and the annihilation of its inhabitants, little has changed: The Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are embroiled in a fight for their existence, a fight set in motion by decisions, denials and pressure from the U.K., the U.S. and the U.N. Baroud explains these with candor and clarity.

After the 1948 forced clearing and destruction of Palestinian villages, refugees flocked into Gaza. There they found refuge but also mistrust from the original inhabitants. They could escape to Egypt or Saudi Arabia or into the army, choices each filled with their own dangers.

Baroud cleverly explicates the history of Arab brotherhood and conflict; particularly interesting are the politics of Gaza and the influence of Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Palestinian Liberation Organization and 1967's Six-Day War in which Baroud's father was thought killed. Israel's defeat of Jordan, Syria and Egypt meant they gained control of the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and took brutal control of the Gaza Strip.

Through tales of marriages, businesses, infighting PLO members, the complications of Arab politics and Baroud's father Mohammed and mother Zarefah is the story also of a territory riven by politics, murder and intrigue. Baroud seamlessly recounts with humor and balance the tragedy and the pride of the Palestinian people.

Imagine postwar Japan with a similar history — not just Okinawa, but the whole of the country settled by Americans, what remains of Japan's population herded on to the island of Shikoku where it is presided over by a paramilitary government and suffers economic and medical blockades, constant air attacks from American jets and the occasional brutal crushing of Japanese intifadas.

For anyone — including this reader — confused and exasperated by the Palestinian and Israeli conflict, anyone who seeks to learn the history of Palestine and its people, anyone interested in personal memoirs with historical backdrops . . . in fact, for Barack Obama, Tony Blair, Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu, Ismail Haniyeh, any member of Hamas, Fatah, the Israeli armed forces, Mossad, the CIA and the SIS, Ramzy Baroud's memoir is inspired and inspirational.



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