I saw this book at the library and was shocked: a Palestinian pov story written by an Israeli. I checked it out, braced myself, and got ready to rage. Except it isn’t blatant, and I can’t just chop it up to obvious hate, but that isn’t to say that the 183 page middle school book should be shared and deemed harmless: it subtly minimizes the occupation of an entire people, it in many ways glosses over the apartheid taking place. It gives the inequity lip service, and I’m sure many western non Muslim, non Palestinian readers will find the book balanced, but I never could quite shake the looming shadow throughout, of trivializing the oppressive regime that is Israel. I don’t know if the undermining is intentional, and I couldn’t find anything with a Google search to see how the book was received by Israelis in 1994 when it was published (it was translated in 2000), but either way it provides a great example as to why OWN voice books are so much more powerful. This is not the oppressors’ story to tell. I’m not saying the author isn’t sympathetic to the Palestinian struggles or that she actively supports encroachment of Palestinian homes, I honestly don’t know her stance. I do know that the lived experiences of Palestinians though, is best left to be told by people that live it, have lived it, and those that feel loss because of it. It is not a narrative to be told by the force that is causing the pain. My biggest worry is that readers will take away from the story that the situation isn’t that bad, that Israelis are taking care of this poor injured Palestinian boy out of the goodness of their hearts so they must be nice, and at the end of the day the two sides are just two opposing forces, but the people once they get to know each other, bond over the fact that they pee the same and can be friends. It waters down that it is, and was, major international powers backing the Israelis and that it is not, nor has it ever been, a simple disagreement between two equal sides. No I don’t expect every book about the region to detail the specifics, but don’t tell me that killing of children, a life of checkpoints, curfews, and fear can all disappear over a few months when the “enemy” provides medical care, regular meals, and arts and craft times. I’m not Palestinian and I can see the short-sided reality of that real quick. It leaves young impressionable readers with a very skewed view, no matter how diplomatic the author attempts to be on the surface. And I cannot support it.
Palestinian boy Samir injures his leg in a bicycle accident, quite seriously, and his mother who cleans for an Israeli lawyer is able to get him a special permit to be taken to the Jew’s hospital to be cared for by a visiting American surgeon. He speaks broken Hebrew, but understands quite a bit as he has worked in a Jewish grocery store in the past. When he gets to the hospital, he is placed in a room with other children to wait. He stays there for weeks until the doctor can arrive and then even after the procedure he stays for physical therapy for weeks before he can return home.
While he is there, he gets to observe and know, in some ways, the other patients. Yonatan is always buried in a book, but at night, when the other kids go to sleep he talks to Samir and plots with him a trip to Mars. Yonatan’s mom lives in American, he lives with his dad who is an astronomy professor. He also ethically is a vegetarian and saves his kabobs and chicken from his meals to give to Samir. There is a girl that was hit by her father and refuses to see him, and one that is like a princess that doesn’t like to eat. Tzahi wears a colostomy bag and is always jumping around and causing trouble. His brother is a paratrooper in the Israeli army and he hates Palestinians. It is hard for Samir when the brother comes to visit, the fear is real.
Samir’s younger brother Fadi was recently killed by Israeli soldiers and the memory, horror, and anguish is still very fresh for Samir and his entire family.
WHY I LIKE IT:
At first I really couldn’t articulate the saccharin taste the book was causing to form in my mouth as I read. The curfews, and check points and loss of Fadi was being discussed and contrasted to the luxury of the Israeli hospital, and then it began to occur to me that, it was almost worse than just being blatantly hateful. The placating and sugar coating slowly diminishes the horrors of reality. At the beginning Samir doesn’t want to go to the hospital, he would rather have a limp, but the narrative slowly becomes about the kids in the hospital also have stressing and hard lives, and that seems sweet, except, their issues while specific, are universal. Samir’s leg is as well, but the oppression of his people is systemic and helping him doesn’t erase that the same people running the hospital killed his brother, dictate his reality, and his future opportunities. It is not enough for the “anti Palestinian child” to have a surgery that corrects his ability to urinate and at the very end, they pee in to the planters. It might work on the surface, but it trivializes too much. If Samir would have gotten to tell them about his life and his pains, and his experiences, and they would have accepted them as valid, maybe I could see bridges being built, but bonding over basic human functions, and celebrating that an Israeli boy finally talks to a Palestinian, isn’t compassion, it is arrogance.
The only real positive takeaway I had of the book was that even in the tiniest human kindnesses Yonatan showed Samir it was something for Samir to contrast with his life long friendship with Adnan. That growth of realizing what makes a good friend was more humanizing and affectionate than any other storyline in the book.
Murder, fear, harassment, oppression, bullying, teasing, violence, gun violence, abuse, talk of urinating, showering in front of others.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
No way, I will never have Palestinian children read about their life experiences from an Israeli person speaking through a Palestinian character.