Arthur Neslen – In Your Eyes a Sandstorm : Ways of Being Palestinian

Who are the Palestinians and in what way do they live, survive if you prefer? Arthur Neslen is journalist and writes for the Guardian, Observer, Haaretz, the Jane’s information group and, as a correspondent, for the websites of the Economist and al-Jazeera. In 2006, he wrote  Occupied Minds: A Journey Through the Israeli Psyche. Now he’s back at the Palestinian side, with tens of interviews with Palestinians bundled in eras like the disengaged generation, first and second Intifada, Oslo Accords generation, Thawra generation, 1967 (Naksa) generation, the 1948 (Nakhba) generation and the 1936 ( the Great Arab Revolt) generation. From young to old you can read a variety of people, traumatized youth, dancer, gay, drugs dealer, farmer, soldier, lawyer, model, comedian, men and women. In the introduction, Neslen describes himself as the son of “left-wing and anti-Zionist Jewish parents.” He also mentions that “trust was often difficult to establish” with his Palestinian interviewees. These people often find themselves locked up, not only as a people (Palestinians, Druze, Israeli Arabs, Arabs), but also because of their religion (Muslim in a Jewish state, Christian in a Jewish state, Christian in the West Bank or Gaza Strip), sexual preferences (gay in a Hamas controlled Islamic Gaza Strip) or practices (dancing, dealing drugs, rapping). From Neslen’s viewpoint: “the source of the animus (between Jews and Palestinians) was the practice of Zionism rather than anything inherent to the Jewish religion, culture or people. The complicating factor was that Zionists, then as now, claimed to act in the name of the name of the Jewish religion, culture and people.” (p. 5) Neslen expected the Palestinian hatred to be bigger under such circumstances. (p.5).

Sharif al-Basyuni experienced Israeli healthcare, the warmth of Israelis taking care of him. But he didn’t get psychotherapy, was left alone back in the Gaza Strip. He didn’t learn to forgive and would support ‘resistance groups’ without doubt. Niral Karantaji won the Israeli tv contest The Models, but wouldn’t get a fashion label contract because she’s an Arab. Ayman Nahas and Hanna Shamas work as comedians, and struggle to get along as Christian Israeli. Ayman’s father worked as a bus driver for Egged. Each time a bus exploded during the Intifada, the family came close to his death. It takes to parts to co-exist. Asmaa al-Goule worked as a journalist in the Gaza Strip, but her job costed her her freedom, since Hamas agents imprisoned her. Neriman al-Jabari is a widow of a ‘martyr’. In Palestinian society widows of martyrs are revered for their men’s work, but neglected as well, left without a living, and forced to restain from remarrying. Abu Abed, tunnel engineer in the Gaza Strip reveals the economic reality of the ‘tunnel industry’: many local investors have become millionaires, others ripped-off in Ponzi-like scams. With the Oslo Accords, first the Palestinians dreamed, and then nothing happened. In Your Eyes a Sandstorm: ways of being Palestinian, tries to reveal, let Palestinians speak for themselves, give them a voice. And, as you read along the 51 interviews, differences exists and it’s not only the Israeli or Zionist who’s to blame. Was signing the Oslo Accords a mistake, as lawyer Diana Buttu states? What’s becoming of the Palestinian state, as more than 40% of the people would emigrate as soon as they get the chance? Is Israel practicing Apartheid, as lawyer Tawfiq Jabharin believes? And can religious and secular Palestinians get together, even without a common enemy in Israel? You get a picture from policemen, plastic surgery specialist, lawyers, NGO director, Fatah leaders, judges, zoo keepers, fishermen and musicians. Among them well-known like Hanan Ashrawi, Raleb Majadele and Ahmed Yousef in the older generations. Don’t expect easy answers, quick solutions, insights from Hamas, imams or Israeli Peace Now. And so, of course our eyes are biased again, but at least we’re able to remove some grains of sand and see beyond borders.