Mornings in Jenin: a novel by Susan Abulhawa

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I have read almost every book published on the Arab-Israeli conflict. In part, I’ve read them all because I live in the United States where, as a Palestinian, I hunger for the truth about the Arab Israeli conflict. Here in the United States, the book publishing industry has been biased. Those few books that manage to make it into print under small usually left-wing book labels, have never satisfied my contempt for the bias in this country.

I’ve read all the books — or, maybe to be more precise, I have tried to read all of them and have read most — also because I continue to look for the Palestinian version of “Exodus,” the propaganda novel penned by Leon Uris at the urging of a publicist hired by the Israeli government that recognized the power of compelling literature, something that has for far too long been missing from Arab literature in English.

Exodus was the benchmark of American understanding of Palestine, a story of poor victims of the Holocaust (victimized not by Arabs but by European Nazis and anti-Semitic Western countries like the United States). It told a great story even though much of it was false.

A lifetime of searching for one book that might have a shot at grabbing the heartstrings of American audiences in the same way that Uris’ compelling and well-written propaganda moved Americans to embrace injustice against Christian and Muslim Arabs in Palestine, the original homeland of Christianity.

I may have finally found that book, although after a half century of seeking, I may not be able to stop myself from continuing a hunt for the perfect Palestinian literary novel that has become my second avocation in life. That book is “Mornings in Jenin.”

“Mornings in Jenin” has everything I have found in Exodus and that has been missing in most literature written by Arabs about the tragedy of Palestine. Human compassion. A compelling human story. A believable narrative that is written not only from the perspective of a trouble Palestinian writer, and refugee from the second Nakba, 1967, but from the perspective of wanting to tell Americans and the West a story that by its nature would easily mesh into what Americans want.

I have always said in hundreds of speeches around the world that the real battle for justice in Palestine is not on some hate-driven web site or in an emotion-driven protest in the streets of Chicago or the Middle East, but in the pages of a book that is so compelling it will grab the heart strings of its readers. A book that is so compelling that the story rises above the politics and the message is delivered not with a sledgehammer, typical of most Palestinian and Arab narrative, but with a style and grace that flows like a creek through the American Dream.

Author Susan Abulhawa has written that book, one that takes the reader through a believable and captivating story of drama, tragedy and human life. For the first time, a palestinian has actually set aside the politics and with a literary finesse, has embedded that tragedy in the pages of an inspirational story that demands that you read it through the end, even if at times it challenges the stereotypes and false notions that have been spoon fed by a propaganda machine and a media bias in America and the West.

The 330 pages is more importantly an easy read. It flows with cries that force you to want to finish the book, and distracts you from the hot buttons that are ingrained in Western brainwashing that they can’t even think for themselves.

This is the book I hope one day is made into a movie. The book that Americans can easily pack away in their luggage and carry with them to the battlefield for the minds and hearts of the Palestine-Israel conflict, vacation beaches where more novels that have damaged the Arab image have been absorbed and swallowed and believed by hundreds of millions of Americans who have never had their false notions and beliefs challenged by truth. I always run in to tourists readings books like Exodus that tell the Israeli story or cast Arabs as the villain. But I have never come across one tourist carrying the great literary political works by Edward Said, Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, my mentor in Palestinian identity, nor any of the other thousands of authors who have told and retold the tragedy of Palestine in the same clinically boring politics and academic rhetoric that has rendered or heart wrenching story into one that could so easily be brushed aside. That is not to say that Edward Said is not one of our great writers. But his writings have never appealed to the masses of Western audiences, an audience we as Arabs have failed to properly address.

Susan Abulhawa’s novel will put its readers in a headlock they will not be able to escape until they finish every last word in this compelling drama taken from the pages of history and presented as a human story rather than some political argument or narrative.

This is the book I hope to one day see in the hands of tourists as they lazily lounge on the world’s simmering beaches, absorbing truth in the ultimate moment of exposure to truth. This is the book I hope to one day watch on the big screen, in a theater filled with American audiences waiting for the next word.

Mornings in Jenin
Susan Abulhawa
Bloomsbury Books, New York
Paperback edition
2010
Formerly titled “The Scar of David.”

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This post has already been read 66 times!

Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and Columnist who began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He covered Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992 (Mayor Daley to Mayor Daley) and has expanded to writing for newspapers around the world focussed on Middle East and American politics.

Hanania loves to write about American Arabs in politics, and focuses on Arab life in America.

Currently, he writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com. He writes on American politics for the Des Plaines Valley News, Southwest News-Herald, The Regional News newspaper and the Reporter Newspapers. He also writes for the online websites TheArabDailyNews.com and NewsAmericaNetwork.com (Illinois News Network at IllinoisNewsNetwork.com).

Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Hanania began in journalism as an activist publishing Chicago’s first English-language American Arab Newspaper “The Middle Eastern Voice” from 1975 through 1977. In 1976, he was hired by the Chicago community newspaper The Southtown Economist (Daily Southtown) and in 1985 was hired by the Chicago Sun-Times and covered Chicago City Hall for both. In 1993, he launched the “The Villager” Newspapers which covered 12 Southwest Chicagoland suburban regions. In 2004, he published “The National Arab American Times” monthly newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East ethnic food stores in 48 American States.

Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media;In 2009, he received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. Hanania has also received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.

Hanania’s writings have been published in newspapers around the world. Formerly syndicated by Creators Syndicate, Hanania also has written news, features and Opinion Columns for Al Jazeera English, the Jerusalem Post, YNetNews.com, Arab News, Saudi Gazette, Newsday in New York, the Orlando Sentinel, the Houston Chronicle, The Daily Star, the News of the World, the Daily Yomimuri in Tokyo, Chicago Magazine, the Arlington Heights Daily Herald, and Aramco Magazine. His political columns are published in the Southwest News-Herald and Des Plaines Valley News, Regional News and Palos Reporter newspapers in Chicagoland. Hanania is the President/CEO of Urban Strategies Group media and public affairs consulting which has clients in Illinois, Florida, Michigan and Washington D.C.

Hanania is Palestinian Christian from prominent Bethlehem and Jerusalem families. His wife and son are Jewish and he performs standup comedy lampooning Arab-Jewish relations, advocating for peace based on non-violence, mutual recognition and Two-States.

His Facebook Page is Facebook.com/rghanania

Email him at: RGHanania@gmail.com