Who are the Palestinians? In this compelling book of interviews, Arthur Neslen reaches beyond journalistic clichés to let a wide variety of Palestinians answer the question for themselves. Beginning in the present with Bisan and Abud, two traumatized children from Jenin’s refugee camp, the book’s narrative arcs backwards through the generations to come full circle with two elderly refugees from villages that the children were named after. Along the way, Neslen recounts a history of land, resistance, exile, and trauma that begins to explain Abud’s wish to become a martyr and Bisan’s dream of a Palestine empty of Jews. Senior Fatah and Hamas figures relate key events of the Palestinian experience—the Second Intifada, Oslo Process, First Intifada, Thawra, 1967 War, the Naqba, and the Great Arab Revolt of 1936—in their own words. The extraordinary voices of women, children, farmers, fighters, drug dealers, policeman, doctors, and others, spanning the political divide from Salafi Jihadists to Israeli soldiers, bring the Palestinian story to life even as their words sow seeds of hope in the scorched Palestinian earth.
In Your Eyes a Sandstorm Ways of Being Palestinian
Bisan, 12, and Abud Abdul Khadr Fihad, 15
Students, Jenin Camp, West Bank
A bird flying over Palestine
In a small house crunched into the maze of Jenin's refugee camp, Bisan and Abud lived with their parents and one younger brother. Sitting in the family's salon with their mother and a translator, Bisan said that she rarely saw Abud these days. He changed after the Israeli army's invasion of the camp in 2002 and was now always on the streets. During that invasion, at least fifty-two Palestinians were killed and the old refugee camp was demolished.
Bisan was named after the family's hometown, which now lies within Israel. In 1948, the Palmach, a standing army of Jewish troops, captured it and expelled its Arab residents, renaming the town Beth She'an as they went. The Fihad family were among those displaced.
Abud said he visited the town of Bisan once for a wedding and found it "a beautiful village, more beautiful than the Jenin camp." He would have liked to live there, he said, but could not "because of the occupation." Beth She'an is now a Jewish town in Israel, and no Arabs remain. Bisan has visited Jericho, Jerusalem, and Haifa only once, on a school excursion. "I prefer Jerusalem because of the holy places," she said. "It keeps me in contact with our Islamic origins. I love my religion, and insha'allah I will go to Mecca." Both children prayed regularly in order to satisfy God and so that they might reach heaven one day. "It's a way of feeling okay," Bisan explained. Her smile was often bright and precocious, but in a moment it could turn pale and expressionless. Abud was more fixedly hunched and sullen.
When I asked the children what their favorite lessons were at school, Bisan piped up, "I love English!" with a grin. Abud said nothing. Bisan told me that they played Intifada games in the Jenin camp by dividing themselves into two groups-Jews who shot, and Palestinians who threw stones. The Palestinians always won.
What do you want to be when you grow up, I asked Abud. "It's difficult to say," he replied. "I can't say." My translator suggested that Abud felt inhibited by his mother's presence in the room, and we asked her to leave. Finally Abud muttered that he was afraid. "I want to be a fighter," he said quietly. 'I don't want to be with any political parties, just to be a fighter. I saw many people dying in the camp, and because of that I