Palestinians in Fiction for Young People

Monday 10 February 2014

Elsa. Marston

Wasafiri Issue 60, December 2009

Elsa Marston

No matter how subtly, or how well wrapped in drama, fantasy or humour, literary fiction for young people conveys values — and surely we would not want it any other way. Of quite a different order, however, is the reflection of a particular ideology in books for youth, meaning a set of beliefs directed towards a political end. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict offers a striking example, worthy of thoughtful scrutiny.
This seemingly endless struggle has produced a considerable body of juvenile literature in English which, while of literary quality, unmistakably carries political messages. Other conflicts have inspired books that justify resistance, favour one side or another or express fierce opposition to a particular regime; but the literary depiction of the Israeli-Palestinian problem is a unique contemporary case, because of the long and continuing period of interest in the subject, the potential for controversy and the large number of publications. For example, the English-language books for young readers that concern the Palestinians and Israel are roughly equal in number to those about all other Middle Eastern and North African peoples combined.
The following discussion is based on a total of fifty-two works of fiction, which includes most of the books and short stories (in anthologies) about Palestinians and Israelis published or translated into English since the 1950s. In addition, five recent non-fiction books demonstrate variety in treatment, perspective and appeal to youth. Although focus is on the present-day Palestinians, until very recently their experience has been seen mostly through the Israeli lens; thus the majority of these books – but by no means all – are written from the Israeli viewpoint.
Why emphasise fiction, rather than factual treatment of the issues? Because in a sense, fiction is more ‘real’: it speaks to the heart. When the young reader identifies with the main character in a good book, feeling his or her joys, fears and challenges, the reader tends to remember with sympathy that character’s story, an emotional response that can shape attitudes well into adulthood.
The political struggle between the Palestinians and Israel has gone through dramatic changes over the last sixty years, which have been reflected in literature for young people. The books and stories discussed in this article will, therefore, be grouped in terms of their effect in promoting particular ways of thinking, rather than by chronology or some other arrangement. Three main categories emerge: books that clearly advance the Zionist objective; books with an Israeli perspective but less manifestly colonialist; and those that represent a Palestinian viewpoint.

A Zionist Jewish state
For the first four decades of Israel’s existence, books on the subject published in the English-speaking world – with a very few exceptions – affirmed the Zionist cause. Following the Holocaust, establishment of the Jewish state in the former British Mandate of Palestine met the hopes of most Jews of European origin as well as the majority of Jews elsewhere, along with general approval by the Western democracies. To many people outside the Arab world, this momentous action appeared to be altogether fitting and just. The ingathering of Jews from all over the world and the early military, technological, social and intellectual successes of the young state, spoke well for its potential development. Few voices were raised with differing views.
Books for young children that convey this optimistic outlook include Joshua’s Dream by Sheila Segal (Union of American Hebrew Congregations 1985), an illustrated story in which a child’s mother tells him of a relative who was an early settler in Palestine; and On Eagle’s Wings and Other Things by Connie Steiner (Jewish Publication Society 1987), which celebrates the ingathering of Jewish children from different countries. A novel for older readers by Nava Semel, Becoming Gershona (translated from the Hebrew, Viking 1990) links a teenaged girl’s formative years with those of the early Israeli society. While the hard work required to develop the land and form a new nation is not ignored, the overall picture is one of great success. More recent examples are two picture books that extol the Jewish settlers’ planting of trees: The Never-Ending Greenness by Neil Waldman (Morrow Junior Books 1997) and Behold the Trees by Sue Alexander (Arthur A Levine Books 2001).
What ideological messages underlie these books about the creation of the Jewish state? Since there is no mention of indigenous people or other opposition, it appears that the territory of Palestine was virtually unpopulated and therefore readily available to the Zionists. The last two books mentioned above described a long neglected, barren, desolate place where ‘no one’ had ever planted trees before the Zionists came. A child reading or hearing these books could assume that Palestine was empty, waiting for Jewish settlers who would become faithful stewards of the land.
This representation of Palestine, however, was completely false. The land was neither unpopulated nor neglected. There were plenty of indigenous residents, with centuries-old roots in the land, with strong cultural traditions and a long history, with well-tended farms and orchards. How should literature for youth deal with those people — assuming they could not all be simply driven out and forgotten?
In a few books for young children the Palestinians are present as a nameless, faceless enemy, shooting rockets for no ostensible purpose. In Alina, A Russian Girl Comes to Israel by Mira Meir (Jewish Publication Society 1982), a rocket attack takes place on a kibbutz without any explanation, just a fact of life. A missile does some good in Aviva’s Piano by Miriam Chaikin, (Clarion 1986), by making a hole in an apartment wall large enough for a piano to be hoisted through. Again, however, there is no clue as to why someone is shooting at the Israelis.
Some novels allow Palestinians to appear briefly but only in derogatory description and degrading circumstances. The Boy From Over There by Tamar Bergman (translated from the Hebrew, Houghton Mifflin 1988) refers to Palestinians as being filled with hatred and murderous intentions. Jewish children are told that the Arabs think the whole country belongs to them and don’t want to ‘share it’ (Bergman 71, 76-78, 80-82). An American girl in The Year by Suzanne Lange (S G Phillips 1970) speaks of seeing ‘our first Arab’, riding a tiny donkey while his three wives trudged behind him (Lange 28).
The pejorative image of Arabs has persisted in a few more recent books. A picture book, Tali’s Jerusalem Scrapbook by Sylvie Rouss (Pitspopany Press 2003), does include an illustration of an attractive Muslim woman and her child consulting an Israeli doctor; but the ongoing violence in Jerusalem is attributed only to unexplained bad behaviour on the part of Palestinians, all shown with angry faces.
A novel by the Israeli author Uri Orlev, The Lady with the Hat (Houghton Mifflin 1995), focuses on a Jewish family in pre-1948 Palestine, still nominally under British rule. They view the Arabs in association with the British officers; those officers who try to uphold their government’s promises to the Arabs are all villains, and those who want to give the country to the Zionists are all fine men. The Palestinians themselves are dismissed with stereotypes: donkeys, multiple wives, ‘hovels’ for homes. The Garden by Carol Matas (Simon & Schuster 1997) is about Jewish fighters on a kibbutz in 1948. While earlier there had been friendly relations with a nearby village, the perceived nature of the Arabs has changed. They are now the enemy, overwhelmingly strong AND capable of appalling atrocities. They must be driven away or killed.
The Singing Mountain by Sonia Levitin (Simon & Schuster 1998), primarily about a young Jewish man’s spiritual search, brings in some familiar charges against the Palestinians. They always want ‘“more and more’; they think killing is a ‘holy thing’ Levitin 51-52, 201). The cause of their violence is ignored, other than the fanciful but popular notion of Arabs’ atavistic hatred for Jews, the ‘age-old’ conflict supposedly going back thousands of years.
Palestinians play more prominent, but equally reprehensible, roles in other books. In The Mystery of the Kaifeng Scroll by Harriet Feder (Lerner 1995), the author seeks balance by having a sympathetic Palestinian girl become an ally of the mystery-solving American girl. Her sixteen-year-old brother, on the other hand, is a monster. Although his bitterness is partly explained by the loss of his father’s land to Israeli settlers, his character is so repellent – sleazy, violent, foul-mouthed – as to be quite ludicrous.
Two novels by the eminent British author Lynne Reid Banks present a troubling case. On one level they are excellent fiction, with sharply drawn characters, dramatic plot lines, exploration of deeply felt passions and moral dilemmas. In One More River (Simon & Schuster 1973, slightly revised 1992) a girl newly arrived from Canada, living on a kibbutz, meets an impoverished Arab boy. She treats him kindly and tries to ‘uplift’ him — until the 1967 war hardens divisions hopelessly. Broken Bridge (William Morrow 1994) revisits the same people twenty years later. The girl has become a peace activist, the boy a terrorist. In both of these gripping books, unfortunately, the Arab characters are a thoroughly bad lot, weak and ignorant at best, vicious, deceitful and totally warped by hatred at worst. For that reason – regrettably – Banks’s novels must be grouped with those that disdain the Palestinians as a people.
Real Time, by Israeli author Pnina Moed Kass (Clarion 2004), interweaves the back-stories and present actions of several persons, Israeli and Palestinian, culminating in a suicide bombing on a bus. The reader feels compassion for the unhappy youth who sees no hope for his or his family’s lives under Israeli occupation, and another episode shows two educated, professional Palestinians being treated badly at a checkpoint. Yet the novel leaves the reader with a dismayingly negative view of Palestinians. The young bomber abandons his deadly mission at the last moment, not because he realises how wrong it is, but because he notices a couple of Arab women among the Jewish passengers on the bus. In other words, he acts from amoral tribal loyalty, rather than a moral decision that could have been his redemption.
These books seem to confirm the argument that, quite apart from the principles of Zionism, Palestinians have no place in the Jewish state because of their very nature. The message comes across clearly that Palestinians, with few exceptions, are selfish and savage, untrustworthy, undeserving; and their hostility towards the Jews comes only from their innate low character. An ideology based on the denigration and ultimate elimination of another people, conveyed in books specifically for young readers, might well raise some objection; but for many years this aspect of the Zionist message seems to have been accepted without question in juvenile literature about Israel.
Yet even in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, some writers took the opposite view. There is much to admire in Arab behaviour and culture, they suggested, and a bi-cultural society could work.
Among the earliest books to advance this view is To Build a Land by Sally Watson (Henry Holt 1957), about Jewish orphans smuggled into a kibbutz prior to 1948 and welcomed by the mukhtar of a nearby village. Watson’s later books exhibit the same faith. Other Sandals (Holt Rinehart Winston 1966) includes a friendship between two girls; the Jewish girl tries to persuade the Arab father to let his daughter continue her schooling. The Mukhtar’s Children (Holt Rinehart Winston 1968) focuses sympathetically on an Arab village in 1949 and their relationships, largely friendly, with a nearby kibbutz. In Thelma Nurenberg’s novels, My Cousin, the Arab and The Tme of Anger (Abelard Schuman 1965, 1967), young people on a kibbutz try to maintain good relations with the neighbouring Palestinian village, including a love affair between a Jewish girl and the son of a local sheikh. Another young-adult novel, Lori by Gloria Goldreich (Holt Rinehart Winston 1979), describes the friendship between an American girl living in Israel and a neighbouring Arab family.
In all these books, the reader receives a reassuring message: a society that incorporates both Jewish and Arab peoples would not only be possible but desirable, and the Palestinians, enjoying full Israeli citizenship, would welcome such an outcome. Just under the surface, to be sure, lies the assumption that the Jews, being modern and from Europe and North America, would dominate. They would bring a higher level of education, mastery of modern technology, enlightened social attitudes and civilised traits in general, all of which they would willingly share. Those few Arab malcontents who might cause trouble – outside agitators, radicals, young people misled by Communists – would presumably be neutralised by the vast majority of peaceful Arab citizens.
What this hopeful message disregards, however, is the basic premise of Zionism. A Jewish state whose population is entirely, or almost entirely, Jewish could not possibly include large numbers of other kinds of people — especially people with high birth rates. Persons who insist that Israel be true to the Zionist ideal, therefore, would most likely find such books fantasy — if not actually subversive.
The first part of this essay has discussed three types of books; those that justify and praise the Jewish state, those that underscore the exclusive nature of Israel by vilifying the Arabs and, in contrast, others that propose a harmonious bi-cultural society. All, however, have one clear purpose; support for Israel. Their basic premise is that establishment of the Jewish state in Palestine was necessary, just and altogether right, no matter what the Arabs might think.
But children’s literature about Palestinians does offer alternative views.
Reconciliation: We can get past our differences
The books and stories in this section are similar to those that advance the idea of a bi-cultural state, but with a major difference; the portrayal of Palestinians has changed. Regardless of ongoing hostilities, they are now recognised as a people just as worthy of respect as the Israelis, and with reason to feel aggrieved at what has happened to them. Surely respect for the other side is a prerequisite to lasting resolution of any conflict, and it is an underlying premise of the following books. Most have been published since 1990, but some appeared earlier — evidence that publishers’ attitudes have never been totally monolithic.
For young children the idea of sharing is a familiar concept, which works well in picture books. A photo-story by Ann Morris and Lilly Rivlin, When Will the Fighting Stop? A Child’s View of Jerusalem (Atheneum 1990) follows a young Jewish boy as he wanders one day through the old city. Some of the Palestinians regard him with chilly indifference, while others treat him with kindness. In a little spat with an Arab boy he shouts, ‘This is my home!’ and the other child responds, ‘This is everybody’s home’ (Morris and Rivlin np). Snow in Jerusalem by Deborah da Costa (Albert Whitman 2001), scrupulously fair in text and illustrations, is an appealing story about two young boys, a stray white cat and her litter of kittens. The boys, Israeli and Palestinian, squabble over the kittens, then decide to share them.
In books for older readers, the resolutions – or non-resolutions – are usually more realistic. The Secret Grove by Barbara Cohen (Union of American Hebrew Congregations 1985) addresses prejudice on both sides. Two boys, Jewish and Arab, meet by chance and gradually recognise that they are both being ‘taught to hate’ in their respective schools. Indoctrination by slurs and cruel stereotypes, the Jewish boy admits, can be just as bad as ugly caricatures in Arab schoolbooks.
The Accomplice, by Adrienne Richard (Little Brown 1973), is about an American teenager visiting Israel with his archaeologist father. He develops a friendship with an Arab family and sympathy for the young resistance fighter they are hiding. While the existence of the Jewish state is not questioned, the novel clearly depicts the Palestinian family’s plight and the young man’s understandable bitterness, as well as the draconian collective punishment inflicted by the Israelis.
One of the very finest novels, My Enemy, My Brother by James Forman (Meredith Press/Scholastic 1970), describes some young survivors of concentration camps, contrasting those itching to fight for a Jewish state and others who simply want refuge and healing. A sympathetic young man becomes friendly with an Arab family, understands their fears, and witnesses results of Zionist terrorism when the village is attacked and its people massacred. There is no resolution, just a forecast of tragic decades to come.
Like a present-day, painfully realistic postscript to this prophecy, Marilyn Levy’s Checkpoints (Jewish Publication Society 2008) is about an Israeli girl whose grandmother has just died in a suicide bombing. Normally a rational and compassionate person, Noa now rejects her Palestinian friend and calls for all terrorists to be bombed “into oblivion” (Levy 94). In time she recovers; and although with little hope for the foreseeable future, she and her family determine to maintain their relationships with Palestinian friends. Levy offers a compelling psychological study of what happens to good people on both sides when caught in a disastrous political situation, and the Palestinian characters are shown in a fair light.
On a more optimistic note, Running on Eggs by Anna Levine (Front Street/Cricket 1999) envisages peaceful cooperation between the two communities within Israel. Two girls, one Jewish and the other Arab, on the track team at school, have been training together secretly on an abandoned hillside, each afraid of her own people’s disapproval. Finally the truth is discovered, and a joint project – building a track – helps heal suspicions.
In Levine’s short story ‘Yield! Narrow Passage Ahead’ in Lines in the Sand: New Writing on War and Peace (The Disinformation Company 2003), an Israeli boy meets a Palestinian on a dangerous city street. The two boys regard each other with fear and dislike — until a bomb blast literally throws them together and helps them realise how much they have in common, starting with the desire to go on living.
The Enemy Has a Face by Gloria Miklowitz (Eerdmans Books 2003), set in Los Angeles, involves a visiting Israeli girl and a Palestinian-American boy who meet at school. When the girl’s older brother mysteriously disappears, suspicion falls on the Palestinian (who is innocent, as it turns out). He speaks forcefully about Israel’s treatment of his people but is temperate in his own behaviour, and eventually he and the girl gain confidence in one another. The author sets forth the fears and anger of both sides with equal insight and compassion. Unfortunately, in one scene some other Palestinian teenagers indulge in hate talk that seems unnecessarily vicious for either plot or character development.
Samir and Yonatan by the Israeli writer Daniella Carmi (Arthur A Levine Books 2000) is the story of a Palestinian boy who has been injured in a fall and brought to the children’s ward of a Jewish hospital. Although he has lost a brother to Israeli bullets and worries about his family living under military rule, he gradually builds a meaningful friendship with a sensitive Jewish boy, and also makes peace with another boy who has been an obnoxious nuisance.
A Bottle in the Gaza Sea by Valerie Zenatti (Bloomsbury 2008) records the growing relationship between an Israeli girl and a young man in Gaza, via email correspondence. Intrigued and eager for connection, she persists despite his frequent silences and bitter, sarcastic language. Finally, just as he is leaving to study in Europe, he admits that he wants their relationship to continue. Zenatti’s earlier book, When I Was a Soldier (Bloomsbury 2005) is a memoir of her required two years in the Israeli army. More or less in passing, she reveals increasing sensitivity to the Palestinians’ rights and her conviction that the occupation must end.
Two other books of non-fiction fit here. In Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak by Deborah Ellis (Groundwood/Publishers Group West 2004), the author converses with Palestinian, Israeli and Jewish settler children. Most are distressed by the killing and destruction, and each side regards the other with fear and disapproval. The most hopeful note comes from an eighteen-year-old Israeli girl in a ‘Women in Black’ vigil, who is convinced that protest does work and that the only way towards peace is by maintaining connections with the Palestinians.
Children of Jihad: A Young American’s Travels Among the Youth of the Middle East by Jared Cohen (Gotham books 2007), for older teens, offers a view that no other book does: young members of militant organisations in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. While the author dismisses their criticisms of Israel and the USA as mere ‘indoctrination’, his perception of their misery as individuals, their feeling of helplessness, and their susceptibility to the appeal of radical groups is an important commentary (Cohen169-175).
Apropos of the supposed ‘age-old’ enmity between Arabs and Jews, Elizabeth Laird’s historical novel Crusade (Macmillan UK 2007) gives teenage readers a different perspective, suggesting how prejudices are inspired by external conditions rather than something innate. Around 1190, with Europe trying again to conquer the Holy Land, hatred, fear and religious fanaticism fester between Christian and Muslim. Jews, meanwhile, are largely left alone because of their skills and usefulness. The narrative juxtaposes the lives of two boys; one a poor servant to an English knight, the other a Muslim apprentice to a Jewish doctor with Saladin’s army. Eventually they meet and learn to value one another as individuals.
Although ideological subtext in “reconciliation” books is not so evident as in the earlier group, the political messages are still important. Palestinians are worthy adversaries and have rights that are being denied them. Jews and Arabs can share the land on a fair basis and learn to live in peace.
On the face of it, this prospect is the only civilised alternative to perpetual conflict. The idea of a single state including a variety of peoples, however, inevitably meets a conundrum. In these books there is no call for Israel to become a ‘melting pot’; it remains a Jewish state. If non-Jews do have full rights of citizenship, what would be their role in running the country? And what if the demographics should someday result in non-Jews becoming numerically superior? Meanwhile a two-state solution, one Jewish and one Palestinian, raises equally thorny problems, given the immense disparity between the two in size, power, military might, economic prosperity, water resources and so forth.
Yet one of the tenets of children’s literature is that the story should – if at all possible – end on a note of hope. We want the intimation, no matter how faint, that things are going to get better. For that reason, if for no other, these books and stories have to end in the cautiously optimistic way that most of them do. A relationship, a friendship, a cooperative effort for common good has taken shape — and that is something. Because literature about the Palestinians is so immersed in one of the real world’s most intractable problems, however, a longer-range political solution remains just beyond hope.

Formerly ‘Unthinkable’: Books from the Palestinian Point of View
In almost all of the books and stories discussed thus far, no matter how respectful and ‘balanced’ some may be, the perspective is consistently from the Israeli side. Now, at last, the Palestinian voice starts to tell the story — in books that, as recently as ten or fifteen years ago, most writers on the Middle East would have thought absolutely unpublishable, at least in the United States.
To be sure, a small handful of books from the Palestinian viewpoint had appeared earlier than the mid-1990s. One of the most powerful portrayals of Palestinian experience appeared as far back as 1976 in a novel by Iris Noble, titled Mahmud’s Story: the Journal of a Palestinian Refugee (Julian Messner/Simon & Schuster). Mahmud, a young boy in a middle class family, starts his journal before the ‘Catastrophe’, as Arabs describe 1948. He records the increasing threat of war, then his family’s life as refugees and the early days of resistance. Historical details and reflections of Palestinian culture are woven into the gripping narrative. This book should be a classic, but unfortunately has been out of print for many years.
A picture book called The Flag Balloon by Frances Stickles (American Educational Trust 1988) tells of a young village girl who defies the soldiers’ prohibitions against Palestinian flags by attaching a flag sticker to a balloon and letting it fly. Another picture book, Sitti and the Cats by Sally Bahous (Roberts Rinehart 1993), is a fairy tale but includes titbits of factual information such as the importance of olive trees, an attractive glimpse of traditional Palestinian culture. With these exceptions, the Palestinian voice was silent — or silenced.
Then, starting in the late 1980s, the first intifada (uprising) called world attention to the seriousness of the conflict and the justice of Palestinian grievances, leading to the Oslo Accords of 1993. The resulting surge of optimism seems to have encouraged a significant change in children’s literature, and some publishers evidently became more willing to take chances on books with a sympathetic stance toward Arabs.
The striking success of two books by an already well-known Palestinian-American poet, Naomi Shihab Nye, showed the way. Her picture book Sitti’s Secrets (Four Winds 1994) describes a young Arab-American girl’s visit to her grandmother in Palestine, a beautifully illustrated eulogy to traditional village life.
Next came Shihab Nye’s winning novel Habibi (Simon & Schuster 1997). An American teenager, visiting her father’s natal village in the West Bank, is fascinated by everything she observes of local life. What is groundbreaking, however, is the frank account of the Israeli military presence. Scenes of wanton destruction and humiliation inflicted upon the Palestinians leave no doubt about the nature of the occupation, even though described with restraint.
A more sombre novel is Cathryn Clinton’s A Stone in My Hand (Candlewick 2002). Set in Gaza during the first intifada, the story explores the mentality and emotions of a young girl who has retreated into silence following the death of her beloved father. As her brother turns increasingly to an extremist resistance group, she becomes more engaged with the sad and dangerous world around her.
A novel by the highly respected Elizabeth Laird (author of Crusade) created a storm when it came out from Macmillan in Britain in 2003. A Little Piece of Ground tells the story of a twelve-year-old boy in the West Bank living under rigid curfew, who yearns for a safe spot where he and his friends can play soccer. He sees Israelis only as soldiers, the enemy, an ever-present threat. It was the lack of any ‘good’ Israeli characters that provoked criticism — which in turn drew vigorous defence and favourable publicity for this excellent book. Nonetheless, American publishers refused it until the progressive house Haymarket Books successfully produced an American edition in 2006.
An extraordinary novel in several ways is Dreaming of Palestine (translated from Italian, George Braziller 2003). The author, Randa Ghazy, of Egyptian parentage living in Italy, wrote the book at the age of fifteen. She describes the bleak existence of eight young Palestinians who, having lost all other family to Israeli military repression, decide to live together and keep each other going. The book tends to overwhelm with its high pitch of passion, but vigorously conveys the characters’ confusion, frustration and helpless fury.
Palestinians’ sense of being caught in a trap without escape also comes across in a book for young children. The Boy and the Wall was published (2006) by the Lagee Cultural Center at the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, Palestine. Written by Amahl Bishara and charmingly illustrated by children at the Center, it reveals the longing and dreams of children imprisoned by the so-called separation wall. The text and pictures are imaginative and lyrical, poignant and powerful, without hatred or anger.
Some Palestinians, on the other hand, have managed to escape their prison. In Randa Abdel-Fattah’s lively novel Does My Head Look Big in This? (Scholastic/Orchard 2007), about Palestinian emigrants to Australia, a teenaged girl dithers at great length about adopting Islamic head-covering as assertion of her Arab/Muslim identity. But she is a charmer, and her story suggests the emotional dilemmas experienced by emigrants, along with the benefits of life in a safe new country.
Perhaps it can be considered a step forward when Palestinian characters
appear in stories that are not primarily about the Palestinian experience. In other words, they may be characters ‘like anyone else’, although possibly with distinctive roles, traits and problems determined by their cultural background. American author Caroline B Cooney uses a Palestinian character in a suspense novel set in London, The Terrorist (Scholastic 1997). He is a student at an elite international school, an acquaintance of an American girl whose younger brother has been killed by a terrorism-type bombing. Despite her early suspicions, he proves to be neither villain nor victim but simply one of her most helpful friends.
Although the Middle East has little to do with the basic plot line of another novel sent in the United Kingdom, in Sisterland by Linda Newbery (David Fickling Books 2003, Laurel-Leaf 2006) two Palestinian-British brothers play interesting secondary roles and enhance the growth of the main character, an English girl. One is gay and becomes the victim of racial/homophobic prejudice, while the other is attracted to the girl. As their love blossoms, he tells her of the grim conditions in his homeland, which later contributes to a brief hitch in their relationship.
The most recently published book is one of the most appealing and at the same time most distressing. The title of Anne Laurel Carter’s novel, The Shepherd’s Granddaughter (Groundwood 2008), suggests an idyllic life in the West Bank hills, where a young girl has taken charge of the family’s sheep herd; and that is indeed how the book starts. But then an Israeli settlement is built – illegally as always – on one of the nearby hilltops, along with an Israeli-only highway. Backed by the military, the settlers determine to drive the Palestinians away from their land. The sheepdog is shot, the herd poisoned, homes bulldozed, protesters imprisoned and their families’ lives threatened. The reader gets a shocking view of what has been going on for years in occupied Palestine, fuelling Arab anger, despair — and non-violent resistance.
Short stories in the Palestinian voice have appeared in several recent young-adult collections. ‘The Second Day’ by Ibtisam Barakat in Shattered: Stories of Children at War (Knopf 2002) describes a Palestinian family fleeing during the 1967 war. My own
stories include ‘Lines of Scrimmage’, in which a Palestinian-American football player finds a way to handle racist insults on the field, published in First Crossing: Stories About Teen Immigrants (Candlewick 2004); and ‘The Olive Grove’, about an encounter between a young Palestinian stone-thrower and Israeli soldiers, originally published in Searching: Thirteen Stories About Faith and Belief (Simon & Schuster 2002). This story and ‘The Plan’, about a boy in a refugee camp in Lebanon who undertakes to get a wife for his older brother, are in my book Santa Claus in Baghdad —and Other Stories About Teens in the Arab World (Indiana UP 2008).
The last two works in this section are non-fiction — but could not be wider apart in style or intent. Ibtisam Barakat describes her youth in Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood (Farrar Strauss Giroux 2007). Among memories of the hardships her family experienced after the 1967 war and the ongoing threat from the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank, the author shares, in lyrical prose, glimpses of semi-traditional Palestinian life, the village home and the landscape.
Palestine by Joe Sacco (Fantagraphics Books 2001), for older teens, combines in one volume Sacco’s previously published short graphic works about his visit to the West Bank in the 1990s. The episodes are relentlessly sad, outrageous, brutal; and the drawings, for emotional impact, are visually ugly — Arabs and Israelis equally distorted. Whether or not one accepts the graphic story as ‘literature’, Sacco’s work is a devastating revelation of Palestinians’ lives under military rule.

In the early decades of the period covered, almost all books for young people about the Arab-Israeli conflict served the Zionist purpose of portraying Palestine as the rightful home of world Jewry. In some, the Arab population was denied, disparaged or somehow wished away. Other books envisaged peaceful coexistence, but had to ignore two essential factors; the Zionist demand of exclusivity and the Palestinians’ actual experience of misery and dispossession caused by Israel.
In the ‘Reconciliation’ group, the ideological drive is much less evident. Israel’s continuation as a viable Jewish state is a basic premise, but its nature no longer so rigidly defined. Yet essential questions such as how to have a state composed of both Jewish and non-Jewish populations are not addressed — and cannot be, realistically, since the ongoing assault on Palestinian society and territory continues to defy resolution.
As for the books and stories in the Palestinian voice, there is no ideological content that would correspond to that in the Zionist-viewpoint books. No one calls for a Palestinian state to replace the present state of Israel, and expression of hatred and maligning of Jews as Jews are virtually absent. At the same time, no well-conceived design emerges for a peaceful future that would guarantee both Palestinian and Jewish rights. Rather, emphasis is on individuals, characters in the story who grow wiser, stronger, and more confident. Thus a significant underlying message may be detected in these personal mini-victories by youth: one day, these young people can provide a more solid foundation for larger change.
The Palestinian-viewpoint books and stories do, therefore, convey a definite political message. Simply this; the Palestinian people exist. They always have existed. They did not conveniently vanish to suit the demands of others. Palestinian traditional culture is vigorous and distinctive and, in some ways, Palestinian communities are growing stronger. The deprivations inflicted upon the Palestinians are unjust, cruel and criminal, and must be recognised as such. These assertions clearly counteract the Zionist ideology about Arab inferiority that is implicit in so much literature about Israel..
Today’s literature for young people is forcing open doors that have long been locked by the prevailing view, especially in the United States, that the Palestinian voice did not merit publication. Authors and publishers are now rising to the challenge of being open-minded, imaginative in the sense of ‘wearing the other’s shoes’, and courageous in speaking painful truths. Let us hope that these and future books will help upcoming generations to defy all the walls that channel and close off clear thinking.

Works Cited
Abdel-Fattah, Randa. Does My Head Look Big in This? New York: Orchard, 2007.
Alexander, Sue. Behold the Trees. New York: Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, 2001.
Bahous, Sally. Sitti and the Cats. Niwot, CO: Roberts Rinehart, 1993.
Banks, Lynne Reid. Broken Bridge. New York: William Morrow, 1994. Avon Books, 1992.
---. One More River. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1973. New York:
Barakat, Ibtisam. ‘The Second Day’. Shattered: Stories of Children at War. Ed. Jennifer Armstrong. New York: Knopf, 2002.
---. Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2007.
Bergman, Tamar. The Boy From Over There. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1988.
Bishara, Amahl. The Boy and the Wall. Bethlehem, Palestine: Lagee Cultural Center, 2006.
Carmi, Daniella. Samir and Yonatan. New York: Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, 2000.
Carter, Anne Laurel. The Shepherd’s Granddaughter. Toronto: Groundwood, 2008.
Chaikin, Miriam. Aviva’s Piano. New York: Clarion, 1986.
Clinton, Cathryn. A Stone in My Hand. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick, 2002.
Cohen, Barbara. The Secret Grove. New York: Union of American Hebrew
Congregations, 1985.
Cohen, Jared. Children of Jihad: A Young American’s Travels Among the Youth of the
Middle East. New York: Gotham/Penguin, 2007.
Cooney, Caroline B. The Terrorist. New York: Scholastic, 1997.
Da Costa, Deborah. Snow in Jerusalem. Morton Grove, IL: Albert Whitman, 2001.
Ellis, Deborah. Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak. Toronto:
Groundwood, 2004.
Feder, Harriet. The Mystery of the Kaifeng Scroll. Minneapolis, MN: Lerner, 1995.
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