I try not to participate in the spectacle of the U.S. presidential debates, but comments by Republican candidate Newt Gingrich aligned rather oddly with the memoir I’m reading: Mourid Barghouti’s I Was Born There, I Was Born Here, trans. Humphrey Davies.
Gingrich apparently said:
I think that we’ve had an invented Palestinian people who are in fact Arabs, and who were historically part of the Arab community. And they had a chance to go many places, and for a variety of political reasons we have sustained this war against Israel now since the 1940s, and it’s tragic.
It’s interesting that he uses the first-person plural (“we’ve had”), but that’s not my focus here. Instead:
“I think that we’ve had an invented Palestinian people…”
Sure, the Palestinian narrative—like all nation-group narratives—had to be created and thus “invented.” For reading material on the invention of group identity that particularly impacts Palestine/Palestinians, you might read Israeli historian Shlomo Sand’s The Invention of the Jewish People. Or else, why not, The Formation of Croatian National Identity or The American Musical and the Formation of National Identity. (Note: I haven’t read any of these books.)
“…who are in fact Arabs, and who were historically part of the Arab community.”
Well, yes, most Palestinians were and are Arabs. But, if Gingrich wants to hark back to a time “before Palestine,” then it makes more historical sense to flip back to a time before nation-states, when Palestinians were part of the Ottoman (not Arab) Empire. Possible reading here: A Rift in Time: Travels with My Ottoman Uncle, by award-winning Palestinian memoirist Raja Shehadeh. Novelist Randa Jarrar also suggests Anton Shammas’s Arabesques.
“And they had a chance to go many places…”
This interesting sentence-fragment can be spoken to in different ways by many lovely books:
Mahmoud Darwish’s Journal of an Ordinary Grief, trans. (beautifully) Ibrahim Muhawi
Mourid Barghouti’s I Saw Ramallah, trans. (also beautifully) Ahdaf Soueif
Suad Amiry’s Nothing To Lose But Your Life (written in English, and quite funny)
Raja Shehadeh’s Palestinian Walks (written in beautiful English)
…and it is also spoken to by Barghouti’s I Was Born There, I Was Born Here, which I am currently reading.
“and for a variety of political reasons we have sustained this war against Israel now since the 1940s,”
I haven’t included a graphic novel yet, so Joe Sacco’s Palestine and Footnotes from Gaza bear mentioning for a “variety of reasons.” As do so many other works: I’ll note just Naji al-Ali’s classic cartoon collection A Child in Palestine and Sahar Khalifeh’s Wild Thorns, trans. Paula Haydar.
“and it’s tragic.”
Too many to mention:
Emile Habibi’s The Secret Life of Saeed : the Pessoptimist
Ghassan Kanafani’s Men in the Sun and other Palestinian Stories
Elias Khoury’s Gate of the Sun
A.B. Yehoshua “Facing the Forests”
If you prefer video, Mourid Barghouti talks about the book I’m reading: