Book review: diary from pre-Nakba Palestine

Originally published at Electronic Intifada.

Asa Winstanley, The Electronic Intifada, 13 October 2010

In recent years, a growing number of Palestinian memoirs have been published in English. These have tended to be from activists and writers such as Ghada Karmi (author of the phenomenal In Search of Fatima) and Raja Shehadeh or by Palestine Liberation Organization officials such as Shafiq al-Hout (forthcoming in translation from Pluto Press). A Young Palestinian’s Diary 1941-1945: The Life of Sami ‘Amr is an interesting departure from this pattern, because the late Sami ‘Amr (although he was latterly a successful bureaucrat and businessman in Jordan) did not live a particularly noteworthy life. Furthermore, since the diary ends in 1945, the work lacks any kind of narrative or reflection of the catastrophic events of 1948 — the year that normally forms the backbone of most Palestinian memoirs.

In terms of the Zionist-Palestinian conflict, Sami’s diary is mostly apolitical, apart from one short entry in which he predicts that the Zionists could drive the Arabs out of Palestine. The diary is almost totally prosaic, sometimes boring. The star of the book, however is Kimberly Katz, who translated Sami’s diary from the handwritten Arabic manuscript. This professor of Middle East history also introduces the work with a 65-page historical contextualization (the diary itself is only 83 pages long) as well as embellishes the diary itself with copious explanatory footnotes on almost every page.

Sami’s work is not a memoir, but a diary recounting day-to-day events: his career aspirations, his family problems and, most of all, his preoccupation with finding the right woman to marry. Although Katz notes that Sami later hoped it would be published, it certainly doesn’t read as though it were ever intended for public viewing.

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The Receiving End of our Dreams: book review of “A Living Revolution: Anarchism in the Kibbutz Movement”

Originally published on the New Left Project.

‘A Living Revolution: Anarchism in the Kibbutz Movement’ by James Horrox (AK Press, 2009)

"Early members of ‘HaShomer’ at the beginning of the 20th Century"

In his seminal book Expulsion of the Palestinians, Palestinian scholar Nur Masalha writes of Israel Zangwill’s infamous slogan “a land without a people for a people without a land” that it was not intended as a literal demographic assessment: “[Zionists] did not mean that there were no people in Palestine, but that there were no people worth considering within the framework of the notions of European supremacy that then held sway” [1].

James Horrox’s book on anarchism in the kibbutz movement marginalises the Palestinian people in a similar way – they do not really exist in his narrative of how the Israeli collective settlements were established and then functioned. He is writing about Palestine, a country whose population was around 90% Arab (Christian and Muslim) when the first kibbutz was established in 1910, as if its primary importance was as a plaything for European experiments in group living [2].

The book is a strange attempt to blend Zionist mythology with anarchism. In the forward, Israeli anarchist Uri Gordon questions “the validity of applying anti-colonial hindsight to people that any progressive would otherwise consider economic migrants or refugees” (p. iv).

Gordon is, in part, referring to the Jewish refugees who fled the Russian Empire because of antisemitic pogroms in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Horrox similarly claims that “Palestine was rapidly becoming the destination of choice for Jewish refugees” with the rise of the Zionist Organisation (later renamed the World Zionist Organisation) and the pogroms of 1903-1906 (p. 14). In reality it was a relatively small minority of ideological Zionists who chose to go to Palestine. As Mike Marqusee points out in his extraordinary memoir, 1.7 million of the 2 million Russian Jewish refugees between 1881 and1921 in fact left for the USA [3]. Estimates suggest that from the mid-1850s to 1914, the number of Jews who fled Czarist Russia was about 2.5 million of whom about 50,000 (2%) emigrated to Palestine [4].

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