Book Review: The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle January 19, 2015 22:30
By Ramzy Baroud, Pluto Press, 2006, 216 pp.
Reviewed by Prof. Fred A. Wilcox
All too often, historians and scholars write about war from a comfortable distance. Readers do not feel the pain of families driven from their homes by invading armies, or hear children scream in terror when their siblings and parents are murdered in front of them. Human suffering is just another episode in a war-torn world.
In The Second Palestinian Intifada, Ramzy Baroud defies such polite conventions by taking readers on a journey into the heart of the Palestinian people’s struggle to survive war, massacres, assassinations, poverty, and exile.
A prominent writer, scholar, historian, and editor (Searching Jenin: Eyewitness Accounts of the Israeli Invasion), Baroud grew up in a poverty-stricken refugee camp. He lived among Palestinians who grew old holding the rusted keys to homes confiscated by the Israeli government. His own grandfather kept hope alive by listening to the radio, believing that one day he would hear the call to return to his beloved olive orchards and the only way of life he and his ancestors had ever known. Instead, the author’s grandfather died hearing the sounds of an army determined to destroy the will of the Palestinian people.
Baroud was a high school student in Gaza when the first Palestinian intifada broke out in December 1987. At the time, he writes, “grief-stricken residents of my Gaza refugee camp were consumed with other, more worldly matters; would they eat today, would they find clean water, would they seize their long-awaited freedom?”
In spite of these concerns, Palestinians rose together against an illegal and relentlessly brutal occupation. Writes Baroud:
“It was an awesome awakening which forced all parties that had traditionally laid claim to the Palestinian struggle to relinquish their stake. Ordinary Palestinians took to the streets, defying the Israeli army and articulating a collective stance that echoed a seemingly eternal commitment across the generations.”
The author does not romanticize violence. He simply describes, without rancor and with a quiet passion, what it is like to live, not year after year, but decade after decade, watching children go hungry and suffer brain damage from malnutrition, watching the Israeli army harass, insult, disappear, and murder friends and family; watching, perhaps most tragically, young men and women blow themselves to pieces in crowded Israeli cafés. Baroud wants readers to understand the reasons behind these attacks, but argues that suicide bombers mimic the indiscriminate brutality of the occupation.
Palestinians who resist the occupation suffer terrible consequences, but they are not alone. An Israeli sniper in the Jenin refugee camp wounded Ian Hook, a United Nations coordinator. Hook bled to death because the IDF refused to permit an ambulance to take him to a hospital. On the same day Hook was murdered, Israeli soldiers shot and wounded a 23-year-old Irish activist, Caoimhe Butterly, who was standing in the line of fire between the IDF and Palestinian children. On March 16, American peace activist Rachel Corrie was attempting to keep an Israeli bulldozer driver from destroying a house in the Rafah refugee camp south of Gaza City. Although she was wearing a florescent orange vest and calling through a megaphone, the driver deliberately ran her over, then reversed his machine and ran back over her body again. Commentators in the United States called Rachel “stupid,” while the “pro-Israeli crowd” claimed that she was offering protection to a gang of terrorists.
The Second Palestinian Intifida chronicles the crimes that former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and many other Israeli politicians have committed against the Palestinian people. But these details are less important, really, than the questions the author poses time and again in this book: Why does the United States continue to fund the expropriation of Palestinian land? Why have a succession of U.S. administrations supported Israel’s illegal occupation of Gaza and the West Bank? How could it be that the lives of Palestinian children are so much less important than those of their Israeli counterparts?
Writing about the Camp David accords, the author points out that Israel did not place a legitimate offer on the table. On the contrary, according to Palestinian intellectual Hanan Ashrawi and others, Israeli negotiators failed to present a written proposal to the Palestinian delegation. The “offer,” touted by the American media as a reasonable settlement, was for the occupied territories to be cut into three cantons, “separated by Israeli military zones and Israeli-only bypass roads, of the continuous presence of illegal settlements, and of Israel’s domination over Occupied East Jerusalem.”
This is not a book for those seeking a facile, sanitized account of the Palestinian Diaspora. Ramzy Baroud is committed to truth telling, and his new book will undoubtedly disturb, shock and outrage his readers. One can only hope that those who claim to love and support the state of Israel will not only read, but study, this important book. Not to make anyone feel ashamed, but so that even Israel’s most ardent supporters will understand that no nation can brutalize, indeed terrorize, an innocent people forever.
Prof. Fred A. Wilcox is an associate professor of writing at Ithica College in New York.