Fadwa: A Tale of a Palestinian Poetess. The Green Bird. A match on Thursday Afternoon. Al QUds — My City.

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The South Atlantic Quarterly Anxious to preserve this important period of Palestinian history from political extinction, the author uses a complicated, palimpsest-like narrative that weaves together the threads of fiction, personal testimony, documentation, and oral culture to produce a compelling narrative that seeks wholeness amid chaos and fragmentation in an attempt to highlight the machinations of abjection that confront her characters on a regular basis.

These tensions were exacerbated during the outbreak of the Lebanese civil war, when Palestinian refugees became victims of political and ethnic scapegoating that culminated in a bus massacre of Palestinian civilians by militiamen. These men were known to belong to right-wing Christian factions such as the Isolationists that comprised the Phalangists, Ahrar, and the Guardians of the Cedars.

This tragedy marked the entry of the Palestinians into the Lebanese conflict under the coalition of the Joint Forces or the Nationalists that were made up of members of the Palestinian Liberation Organization PLO militia as well as leftist, nationalist Lebanese militias such as those belonging to the Progressive Socialist Party of the late Druze leader Kamal Jumblatt. The camp was ultimately destroyed and "there were about 4, casualties and some 12, Palestinians fled to other parts of Lebanon.

What remained of the camp was razed. The subsequent interplay of journalistic entry, historical documentation, and fiction endows the novel with the powerful force of veracity and accuracy that draws the reader into a spellbinding narrative that is at once disturbing and poetically evocative.

The masculinist version of national survival retains a skewed perspective without the insertion of the necessary interrogations of gender that question, contest, and re-create gender ideologies in a Palestinian context.

The double bind of national and gendered disenfranchisement that dominates the lives of the women nevertheless instigates the creation of an effective woman-centered war story or narrative of resistance in the face of loss and alienation.

These narratives simultaneously contest and conform to dominant gender paradigms wherein the women use conventional gender roles such as care-giving and nurturing to subvert patriarchal authority and political repression. The women thereby provide a gender-constructed document of the Palestinian struggle to feminize the intifada or popular uprising through their efforts to wage peace in the diasporic setting of Lebanon.

The women demonstrate their active participation through their status as the mothers of the resistance fighters as well as their role as the "feeders" of political ideology in the form of oral culture such as storytelling and domestic skills such as baking. Consequently, the women inscribe [End Page ] themselves in history through the permanence of memory symbolized by the very act of naming.

The thyme plant, while bearing witness to the survival of the entire camp in general, establishes an intimate relationship with the women in particular, who use the plant to sustain their communities through the preparation of food. They metaphorically transform themselves into sturdy sprigs of thyme that hold together fragmented communities through their care and communal labor.

Their activism exemplified by Um Jalal and Um Hassan highlights the pioneering role played by traditional middle-aged women in the intifada, as the original trailblazers of Palestinian feminism.

By politicizing conventional gender roles, these women elaborate a war-inspired politics of mothering that simultaneously reveals gender inequities as well as the efforts to protect communal welfare under conditions of siege. The politicization of the maternal role goes beyond the determinants of biology to represent a culturally determined, woman-initiated strategy of resistance, an alternative war narrative that highlights the "subversive" guerrilla warfare that Palestinian women engage in to protect their family and community from political extinction.

The mothers, in their conventional roles as cultural agents, embrace a philosophy of insurrection behind enemy lines as a strategy to discreetly contribute to the war effort not only by producing the martyrs of the revolution but also by providing the necessary networks of family and kinship ties, communal organization, and economic entrepreneurship to sustain the physical and moral well-being of both the freedom fighters and their extended communities.

By providing a blueprint for contemporary Palestinian feminism, the maternal role also demonstrates the complexities of gender negotiations where female agency is mediated at the price of backbreaking labor, self -sacrifice, and loss. While [End Page ] women are caught in these movable fault lines, they are also able to assert themselves within the interstices just like the sturdy thyme plant that survives within rocky crevices. Badran argues that the "discrete" nature of invisible feminism rescues it "from being understood as an exclusively public and explicit phenomenon, and thus provides an analytic framework within which to locate and explain the more comprehensive feminist historical experience.

Within the Palestinian context, the external experience of war has further interiorized gender issues whereby the fight for a nation-state has not necessarily been accompanied by the equal affirmation of gender. The recognition that female emancipation is an essential component of the total struggle for political freedom has not been self-evident, creating a disjunction between the revolutionary ideology of freedom and the status of women within this discourse of liberation.

Women have thereby taken it upon themselves to reevaluate their cultural roles within the parameters of the intifada to elaborate a new poetics of life in which the qualities of care-taking and nurturing have taken on an explicitly political dimension to demonstrate their initiative in creating an alternative war ethic that converts marginality into resistance. This transformation is highlighted on several occasions in the novel through the mothers and daughters of the revolution who refuse to play a secondary role.

Their rejection of victimhood is best reflected in their deliberate [End Page ] acts of collective and individual survival that position them as freedom fighters in their own right. Women create a personalized war narrative to eliminate anonymity as personified by the appellation Um Jalal or Um Hassan, where women are reduced to their prescriptive role as the mothers Um of Jalal or Hassan instead of being referred to by the proper name.

The reduction of womanhood to its procreative function whose parameters are defined and conferred by the male necessitates an individualized contestation of gender marginality to conflate the social and political into a more affirming model of action instead of the traditional one-sidedness of passive representation. Re creating Feminist Space.

Um Jalal represents the situation of women who are afforded limited choices within the domesticity of home space. As the novel reveals, "Her mother would answer her impassively. What else can I do. This situation demonstrates how a situation of war disrupts gender "normalcy" whereby the man becomes immobilized within the domestic sphere due to his lack of financial input, while the woman is offered the possibility of a transgendered mobility whereby her job as a domestic maid engages her in border crossings.

Women and Labor. In fact, all the women are engaged in active labor wherein they see their value mirrored in hard work as a sign of self-reliance, creative resourcefulness, and economic initiative. He barely accepts that she should walk on the street! Um Jalal takes great pride in her maternal heritage: "Now, amidst this hell of gunpowder and flying shrapnel thundering down on her, she discovered that the only reason for her extra pride in her destiny, which she thought was different, was due to the fact that she was the daughter of a strong woman, who had been raised amongst the threshing floors and olive groves, a woman whose hands had grown used to hard work at a young age" — Dating back to Roman times, olive trees have been a major source of livelihood and communal identification in several Arab countries.

In the Palestinian context, [End Page ] olive trees represent an enduring connection to the land and cultural identity by serving as a major branch of connection among the many displaced Palestinians. Constituting a woman-labored and -sustained economy, the cultivation of olive trees has, in fact, supported female self-reliance in the rural sphere by providing women with some form of sustainable income. The identification between women and olive trees goes beyond "natural" imagery to embrace a politicized representation of endurance, resistance, and foundational roots passed down from mother to daughter.

As the novel demonstrates, "Her mother began to consult her about everything she intended to do, especially about how best to convince the Red Crescent employees to give her a regular monthly salary for working as a cleaner instead of simply employing her on a daily basis" Um Jalal advocates a new literacy in the absence of formal education through her awareness of the security of regularized employment. Her actions demonstrate that women can have access to alternative choices provided that they have access to the necessary support systems that uphold these choices.

As the novel indicates, "During that period, Um Jalal began making candles at home to augment her livelihood. As the siege had tightened and power lines had gone down, the people of the camp had discovered an abandoned factory which contained quantities of unmanufactured wax" The ability to maximize the use of limited resources reveals the ingenuity of female enterprise that can convert the domestic economy of the home into commercial enterprise through the whole sale of candles that replace a failed electrical system.

Her personal gains through the sale of candles engender the collective [End Page ] gain of the camp that is provided with an alternative source of lighting, independent of state-controlled electricity and fuel.

Each candle thereby represents an individual survival story that shines like a beacon amid a sea of darkness and gloom. Instead of being immobilized by her weight weight as a symbol of confinement and lack of choice , Um Jalal experiences a certain weightlessness in her ability to transcend "choicelessness" through her creative input.

Orality As Necessity The creativity of orality serves as an important ritual of memory to preserve collective history in the face of war. In the novel, the mothers become active cultural agents who ensure this preservation through the "ordinariness" of daily rituals that nevertheless acquire profound historical significance.

While referring to the cultural productivity of her Arab foremothers, Joanna Kadi affirms, "Most of their cultural achievements are not recorded in any tangible form. But those achievements are every bit as important as books and pieces of art, they carry as much wisdom, sustenance, beauty and meaning. Memories, as sociocultural fictions, are endowed with a fluid dynamism that opposes the static and one-dimensional representations of Palestinian history as a history of violence and victimization.

By drawing on the richness of Arab oral culture, Badr immortalizes the refugee camp in the narrative imaginary where ". In the context of war, storytelling becomes a ritual of healing to transcend traumatic experience by initiating a transformative process of recuperation indicated in the text: "During the morning when the shelling would become less intense or when it would stop during a perfunctory truce, she would steal away to the house of one of her female relatives to get her worries off her chest.

Um Hassan would have feminine talks with women of her own age" The articulation of her worries has a calming effect on Um Hassan due to the cathartic power of words that serve as a medicinal balm to help her overcome her daily insecurities.

Feelings of negativity are converted into creative energy through the narration of daily experiences. Personal narrations over a cup of tea sustain the history of the camp where tea becomes a catalyst for conversation: "Spontaneously, Um Jalal went into the next room, which was sectioned off by a flimsy cloth curtain, lit the kerosene stove, and made us some tea" Spontaneous conversations and storytelling sessions symbolize a certain humanity of expression by providing an integral curative space to comprehend the inhumanity of destruction.

Survival stories counter tales of genocide and cultural erasure to become "enabling narratives. As she reminisced about the land, the figs and the spring greens, bright rainbow colours would shine in her eyes and on her skin.

She would return to the prime of her youth, her face would blossom and she would be engulfed by a sheen" — At the same time, the memory of figs, grapes, olives, and almonds evokes plenitude in the face of current dispossession: "One minute we were well off and living comfortably, the next we were poor and had absolutely nothing.

We [End Page ] would sit in the tents with the rest of the women and cry. A private story is inscribed within the public history of the Palestinian people to reveal the politicized content of survival stories that bear testimony to their triumphs and travails amid adversity. Personal testimonials humanize the camp through individual experience to counter the politics of depersonalization that characterize refugee camps as a state "problem" and reduce their inhabitants to anonymity and homelessness.

As Um Hassan declares, "We were dragged around and made homeless. Nevertheless, the capacity to tell stories strengthens the will to survive as a means of keeping these stories alive and re-creating history. Women become the preservers of stories through their capacity to create and sustain life. Joanna Kadi identifies female cultural agents as cultural workers whom she defines in the following manner: "To be a cultural worker is to give life, to give back to the community, to tell our stories, to pass on recipes, to tell us who we are, to mark a trail.

The impulse to feed family and community is as basic as the need to bake bread as the very staff of life. Both Um Jalal and Um Hassan bake bread to sustain an age-old female tradition and to provide nutrition for the freedom fighters.

Um Jalal taught her how to mix the flour and water, how to wait for the dough to rise, and then to cut it into round pieces. The mother put a white muslin cloth over the tray to keep the flies off it. Bread-making represents an enduring tradition of intergenerational continuity where the ability to bake bread corresponds to the act of preserving cultural memory.

Each fold of dough is inscribed with the history of a particular family or tradition whose kneading together creates a palimpsest-like imprint of local memory. The baking of bread is therefore synonymous with the process of documenting individual and collective history. Each loaf represents a particular chapter to be digested and preserved by the people. Consequently, women become the chronicles of history through the ritualized act of baking that takes on political meaning in instances of war.

Bread sustains the community in the absence of basic necessities in the war-torn camp to symbolize the creative spirit of the women who urge their people to resist starvation and malnutrition. For Um Hassan, baking is as essential to life as actively supporting the intifada is by creating healthy soldiers.

Bread becomes a form of ammunition to feed the war effort by providing food for the freedom fighters. In this case, each loaf represents a bullet of protection that provides a protein-enriched medium to sustain the body under the duress of war.

By stating that a woman has an embedded knowledge of how to sustain life, Kadi affirms that "she knows how to create things that allow her loved ones. The knowledge is inside her. The recipe she needs has been handed down, one generation to the next. She is secure in the knowledge of what to do. Aware that good nutrition creates healthy soldiers, Um Hassan participates directly in the war through her nonviolent contributions that nevertheless collapse the spatial distinctions between home [End Page ] space—as represented by the kitchen—and the battle front to provide an undistinguishable barrier of resistance.

Consequently, the bread-producing oven transforms itself into a military cannon. Dough balls are creatively metamorphosed into cannon balls. By using domestic skills for political purposes, the women give visibility to domestic labor that has often been taken for granted for its inevitability and "common-ness. The novel highlights the resourcefulness of the women: "The thrifty women, who had cooked the frozen meat and preserved it in glass jars for bad times, had roamed around in groups looking for new sources of food" Women, as the chief producers of food, are also aware of dietary supplements that may be used to ensure a balanced meal.

In fact, the novel indicates that when women do not consistently "protect" the war effort through their life-sustaining participation, they unconsciously become agents of irreparable loss and destruction themselves.


Лиана Бадр



Liana Badr



The Modern Novel


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