Stranger in My Own Land

Tony Richardson reviews Stranger in My Own Land by Fida Jiryis (2022) published by Hurst and Company

 

When the writer of this book spoke to my Palestine Solidarity Campaign group three weeks ago, I thought it would be interesting, but I was surprised at how interesting it was. Fida Jiryis and her family have led a very remarkable life, quite unique in its totality but common in all its parts to most Palestinians.

The first part is based on her father’s early life. She deals with the Nakba. Fida interviewed and researched this well because it deals mostly with her own community and the people her family knew. It shows the horror of the ethnic cleansing with the murders, rapes, and destruction of villages, followed by the settlers’ takeover of Palestinian land. Not for the first time, you realise that what Israeli propaganda accuses Palestinians of doing has been done on a monumental scale by Israel.

Sabri (her father) trained as a lawyer in Israel; the family was from a village called Fassuta in northern Israel/Palestine. He tried to work the system politically in every way possible. But for the first 14 years, Palestinians were under separate military rule. He was constantly arrested, put under house arrest, and harassed. He was a close friend of Mahmoud Darwish, who later became a friend of Yasser Arafat.

Lebanon

Book cover for Stranger in My Own Land

The family moved to Lebanon, where Sabri worked in the document library of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). Then there was the invasion of Lebanon and the slaughter at the Sabra and Shatila camps, organised by the Israelis using right-wing militias. Again, rape and slaughter took place. The Israelis treated prisoners badly and used torture in the camps. The Israeli government refused to allow the Red Cross access for two months. Israel has made accusations of Palestinian brutality in recent times, but its record is far worse.

The PLO was driven out, and Sabri was forced to move after his wife, Fida’s mother, was killed by a bomb aimed at Sabri. The family then moved to Cyprus, where Sabri remarried, and Fida went to the UK for education. She later moved back to Cyprus and got a job at a tech company.

The return

The Oslo Accords meant that the family could return to Palestine. A small number—in the end, only ten families—were allowed to go back to Israel; this included Sabri, who returned to Fassuta.

The first place where the Palestinian Authority was based was Gaza, where they built their headquarters. It was only later that they were allowed to use Ramallah, and Arafat went to live there.

This part of the book is mainly Fida’s own story. She attempted to get jobs near her village or in big cities, but was rejected when employers found she did not have an army number.

She did get low-paying jobs in small tech firms with Israeli staff who mostly ignored her. She and her husband decided to emigrate to Canada, where she first had menial jobs. Even when she succeeded in getting a better position, she was so miserable and isolated that, having gained Canadian citizenship, she returned to Israel.

She finally went and worked in the West Bank, where her father was now based, before he retired back to Fassuta.

In summary, as you can see, she has lived the Palestinian experience. Her family made the horrible decision to first stay during the Nakba; their village was Christian and not destroyed (although some Christian villages were). As a Palestinian in exile, she was able to access higher education in the West.


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