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Mornings in Jenin

by Susan Abulhawa

Ein Hod was a small village east of Haifa. Forty generations of farmers had passed their land from father to son, growing and improving their olive groves, grape vines, figs, vegetables and orchards of citrus fruits. Life in Ein Hod, as in every Palestinian village, consisted of prayer, childbirth and funerals, weddings and dance, cooking and eating, neighbours and friends, the harvest of the olives and the pressing of the oil and the marketing of their produce at Haifa, Tulkarem and Jerusalem. Sunshine and rainfall, the safe delivery of women in childbirth, the freshness and fullness of the wells, the secrets and scandals as well as the good nature and generosity of the villagers, and time to drink tea and play backgammon of an evening, were, as the making of babies in one's own good clean bed, were all God-given blessings.

In July 1948, as the hot winds of Naqab ripened the olives and children ran barefoot, Jewish foreigners using tanks and planes turned guns and bombs on the unarmed and unprepared villagers of Ein Hod, driving them for three parched days into the arid hills as far as Jenin. Fathers of families died trying to resist; old people and small children died of thirst and exhaustion, and several women miscarried. At last they were allowed to stop, and they made a rough camp, hoping and expecting to return to their farms in time for the harvest and pressing of the olives. The Zionists announced to the world that Palestine was 'A land without a people', and changed its name to Israel. The old folks of Ein Hod would die refugees in the camp, bequeathing to their heirs the large iron keys and land registers and deeds of their ancestral homes. Their children and grandchildren have never given up their longing to return to the only home their forbears ever knew, that they still have title to, and can never forget, or be allowed to forget.

In 1949 the five major powers, Britain, the Soviet Union, France, China and U.S.A., met and appointed a mediator to the conflict. Serving in his commission as UN Mediator, the Swedish Count Folke Bernadotte stated "It would be an offence against the principles of elemental justice if the innocent victims of the conflict were denied the right to reurn to their homes while Jewish immigrants flow into Palestine". But Count Bernadotte was murdered by Israeli assassins and Jews continued to loot Palestinian homes, singing and shouting slogans as they moved into the farms and onto the land, so the United Nations built crowded and stifling cement hovels for the 20,000 Palestinian refugees at Jenin.

One of the few Palestinian children who survive to be born full term to her refugee mother is Amal Hasan Yehya Mohammad Abulheya. As an orphan she is saved by the nuns, spends years in an orphanage, and wins a scholarship to study at University in U.S.A. Her story and that of her family is the theme of MORNINGS IN JENIN. The historical events and figures in the book are not fictitious.

Susan Abulhawa, author of this exceptional novel, was born to refugees when her family's land was seized and Israel captured what remained of Palestine, including Jerusalem, in 1967. She writes with honesty and tenderness, and, notwithstanding her Arab love of poetry, entirely without sentimentality. She does not shy away from her home truths, and has fun with Arab crudeness of expression, especially in relation to a protagonist's immediate genealogy, and with Arab cheerfulness, courage, diffidence, and generosity. It may help the reader to know that there is a glossary of Arab words at the back of the book, and that a woman is known as Um (mother-of) the name of her eldest son, rather than Mrs So-and-So. And that a nye is an ancient Middle Eastern flute. Readers should be careful to have a box of paper handkerchiefs to hand, as they will weep buckets over this book.

Paula McMaster


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