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Journal of an Ordinary Grief

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There is much rage in this book. Darwish condemns Nazism as inexcusable, but proceeds to compare Israeli actions to those of Nazis. However, there are reasons for his fury. One particularly horrific incident that understandably raises his ire is the Kufr Qasem massacre of 1956, when 49 unarmed Israeli Arab civilians – including women and children – were murdered by Israeli border police for having violated a recently imposed curfew of which they were unaware.

The perpetrators were tried and convicted but pardoned shortly thereafter.

Despite his faith in armed resistance, one of Darwish’s strengths is his humanistic approach to Israeli Jewish society. He has Jewish friends, knows Hebrew, and is conversant with Israeli literature. Yet with such a nuanced existence comes a good deal of mental strain. During the 1967 Six-Day War – in which Israel captured East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip – Darwish’s thoughts turn to his Jewish ex-girlfriend: “She may be in Nablus, or another city, carrying a light rifle as one of the conquerors, and perhaps at this moment giving orders to some men to raise their arms or kneel on the ground.”

The book largely covers events in the 1960s; this means that discussion of Israeli Arabs (Palestinian citizens of Israel), who lived under military rule from 1948 until 1966, is often dated. But other topics remain uncannily relevant. The chapter entitled “Silence for the Sake of Gaza,” which salutes the indomitable people of that impoverished strip of land, might just as easily have been written today, given the suffering of Gazans under the Israeli-Egyptian blockade. Indeed, Muhawi dedicates his translation of “Journal of an Ordinary Grief” to “the people of Gaza.”

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