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Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land Under Siege [Paperback]

Amira Hass
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 Jun 2000
In 1993, amira hass, a young Israeli reporter, drove to Gaza to cover a story-and stayed, the first journalist to live in the grim Palestinian enclave so feared and despised by most Israelis that, in the local idiom, "Go to Gaza" is another way to say "Go to hell." Now, in a work of calm power and painful clarity, Hass reflects on what she has seen in Gaza's gutted streets and destitute refugee camps. Drinking the Sea at Gaza maps the zones of ordinary Palestinian life. From her friends, Hass learns the secrets of slipping across sealed borders and stealing through night streets emptied by curfews. She shares Gaza's early euphoria over the peace process and its subsequent despair as hope gives way to unrelenting hardship. But even as Hass charts the griefs and humiliations of the Palestinians, she offers a remarkable portrait of a people not brutalized but eloquent, spiritually resilient, bleakly funny, and morally courageous. Full of testimonies and stories, facts and impressions, Drinking the Sea at Gaza makes an urgent claim on our humanity. Beautiful, haunting, and profound, it will stand with the great works of wartime reportage, from Michael Herr's Dispatches to Rian Malan's My Traitor's Heart.

Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Owl Books,U.S. (1 Jun 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805057404
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805057409
  • Product Dimensions: 20.8 x 14 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 301,802 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"Not only has Amira Hass done the reporting that makes this book a moving and eloquent advocate of Palestinian humanity, but she is also a blunt and beautiful writer" (Amy Wilentz, Newsday)"Shatters stereotypes ... Hass reveals the surprising contradictions of Palestinian society."(Susie Linfield, Los Angeles Times)"Hass observes with something like despair, and writes with skill and passion." (Graham Usher, The Economist)

About the Author

Amira Hass was born in Jerusalem in 1957, the daughter of Yugoslavian-Jewish refugees. A journalist for the Hebrew daily "Ha'aretz, " she covers Gaza and the West Bank. She received the UPI's International Award and the Sokolow Prize, Israel's highest honor for journalists. For her work in Gaza, Hass was been nominated for the Robert F. Kennedy Award

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53 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amira Hass CapturesThe True Spirit of Gaza 23 Nov 2000
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Amira Hass is a correspondent for Haaretz a daily newspaper in Israel who was honoured by the World Press in May 2000 as a Freedom hero. Hass understands Gaza and its people because she shared the every day reality their lives. As an Israeli who took the momentous step to live in the Gaza Strip, her account of the people and the life in Gaza is based upon respect and insightful journalism. Hass discovered what most expatriate workers find, that in the midst of human suffering and poverty there is a solidarity and dignity birthed through injustice that typifies the people. Drinking The Sea At Gaza is unique in that not least, it is written by an Israeli and a woman. Feeling at home with the people, Hass had their confidence and provides personal accounts of how the politics of the State of Israel and the Palestinian Intifada has affected their lives. In demythologising the popular held media image of the Gaza Strip as a small patch of anarchy where Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism rules, Amira Hass shows us the true spirit of Gaza, a gentle enduring warm family spirit. Statistics and social commentary is one aspect, however, more importantly we see a portrait of Gazans as human beings, ordinary people reacting to the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords that heralded the post Intifada period and the 1994 return of Yasser Arafat. There are moments when the book sings with poignancy, frustration and humour as the people who confided in Hass leap from the pages. Some material whilst familiar takes on a new dimension through the eyes of the people. In terms of rating it is a five star book, especially for its portrayal of the true spirit of the people living in the Gaza Strip.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable book 13 April 2005
By A Customer
Amira Hass I consider one of the best journalists of the Middle East. Especially when it comes to this dreadful subject of the relationship/non-relationship between Israel and Palestine. Having lived and worked in Gaza for a couple of months I really appreciate every word Amira Hass is writing, be it in a newspaper, a journal or in her books. I especially treasure her writing because she knows excactly what she is writing about. In this book she describes her experiences sharing life with the Palestinians in Gaza. This gives a vivid picture of all the problems Palestinians are facing day by day and how they are dealing with these problems and how they are struggling to solve them as well as they can.
This book gives 'a view behind', it rounds the picture, makes one more understanding. It can enable one to be more compassionate.
I highly recommend this Title and all other books by Amira Hass. One gets first hand and honest information about the situation there.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terra Incognita ... 8 Dec 2010
By John P. Jones III TOP 500 REVIEWER
I first saw Amira Hass in a joint presentation with Ahdaf Soueif at the Lensic Theater in Santa Fe, NM several years ago. It was almost a full house, most were in awe of the quiet demeanor of this most courageous and unusual woman. She was a reporter for the Israeli newspaper, Ha'aretz, is the daughter of Holocaust survivors and a person of remarkable empathy for the dispossessed.

She conveyed her mother's memories of Sarajevo before the Second World War, "a tolerant city, almost idyllic..." where Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together peacefully. Her book was for sale in the lobby after the lecture, and in it she explains her reason for choosing to live in Gaza, a place name many Israelis use interchangeably for "Hell." "In the end, my desire to live in Gaza stemmed neither from adventurism nor insanity, but from that dread of being a bystander, from my need to understand, down to the last detail, a world that is, to the best of my political and historical comprehension, a profoundly Israeli creation."(p. 7). Her approach is the antithesis of the "Big Man" theories of history, stating that: "... it has always been my conviction that history is made more in the currents of ordinary life than it is by rulers and their ceremonies."

She documents that ordinary life unflinchingly, in achingly painful detail. The daily humiliations that Palestinians endure in dealing with the Israeli bureaucracy she calls appropriately "Kafkaesque." For example, she says: "Israel's profound need to rewrite Palestinian history was evident in the identity cards issued to refugees born before 1948. If the card holder was born in the Gaza Strip, the space for `Place of Birth' was filled in with the name of a specific town or village, such as Khan Yunis or Jabalia.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Truth About the Israeli Occupation. 13 Nov 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The middle East conflict has been raging off and on since 1948, that much we know but until now the news reports and books for the most part have been slanted in favour of US and Israeli policy and as we all know, if you go against popular opinion and the mainstream press, you risk censure and ridicule. If you dared criticise Israel you were accused of anti-Semitisim or maybe neo Nazi sympathies, these days you'd be accused of being a secret Al Qaeda supporter.
Enter Amira Hass, an Israeli journalist for Ha'aretz who took the unusual stance of moving to the Gaza Strip so as she could report on the Palestinian crisis. Hass's mother remembers the women who stood by watching the cattle trains carrying them to Belsen during the war, they were bystanders and her daughter didn't want to be a bystander hence her unusual decision. What she found in the occupied territories changed not only her life but the lives of many others who had been pro Israel. She found Gaza to be under the heels of a brutal occupation army and called it for what it was, a siege with the West Bank and Gaza the largest open air prisons in the world. She covers the years 1993 through to 1998 in the aftermath of the intifada and just after the Oslo treaty when Palestine was given a small measure of home rule. Her accounts of what happened in those years are vitally important to understanding the current situation today.
Her book outraged the mainstream press because it challenged popular opinion but that is what happens when you move from bystander to activist. The book is easily read and has a great many facts and figures to support her arguments. She also points out the failures of Arafat and the splintering of Palestinian groups to bring about a Palestinian civil war.
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  20 reviews
78 of 83 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Walking in Palestinian Shoes 28 Dec 2000
By Philip Greenspan - Published on Amazon.com
Amira Hass is an Israeli citizen. She is the daughter of holocaust survivors. She is a reporter for the newspaper, "Ha'aretz".
In 1992 she became a resident in the Occupied Territories (OT) because as a resident "I learned to see Gaza through the eyes of its people, not through the windshield of an army jeep...". She was warned that her neighbors were savage, violent and hostile to the Jews. Her experience proved to be quite different. Everyone knew she was an Israeli Jew; still they welcomed her into their homes. Those Palestinians who spoke Hebrew spoke to her in Hebrew.
Palestinians in the OT suffer many indignities, harassments, and cruelties. The Israeli military, the IDF, is always present and watching. Palestinians are restricted to the OT and can leave only with permission. Obtaining a permit can be quite difficult. Even those with medical emergencies have been denied permits. Unmarried men and men under forty can not leave.
Making a living is onerous. If a Palestinian is able to find work in Israel he will work at a low end unskilled job for substantially less than an Israeli doing similar work--but he would still be making more than someone who works in the OT.
The Israeli military, the IDF, is constantly watching the inhabitants. People live in constant fear of arrest; being subjected to brutal, humiliating interrogations; being held for months, without seeing a lawyer, without being tried, without charges being brought against them, without being told their offense, without seeing members of their families. Homes have been demolished long before guilt or innocence has been extablished. The army, when searching for wanted men, will break into homes, usually in the middle of the night, and needlessly shoot, destroy and vandalize the contents. Mere suspicion will sometimes lead to long prison sentences, and those sentences will usually be accompanied by torture.
Even though they earn less than Israelis they are taxed more heavily. Typical tax rates on identical annual incomes for Israelis and Palestinians would be: no tax against 4%; and 7% against 15%. The Israeli economist Ezra Sada, a member of a right-wing party admits that the tax burden creates hatred and is onerous, oppressive and arbitrary. Unemployed Palestinians can be taxed on a hypothetical income--the `life tax' (if you're alive, you must have income). Disputing the tax is useless.
The bureaucrats claim they must raise a fixed sum to cover the civil administration's budget but Palestinians contend the money is not being used for benefit of the local population. The World Bank substantiates their claim. Israel's response, "Expenditures of Security"-- Palestinians benefited from money spent to suppress the uprising "Our taxes are paying for the bullets and the tear gas".
There is a rotting infrastructure-a lack of clean running water, paved streets, reliable electricity, and modern sewage systems. A West Bank economist found that between 1967 and 1994 Israel had invested an average of $15 per capita in the OT compared to $1000 per capita in Israel.
The settlements are a particular sore point. The Israeli settlers occupy one-fifth of the total area of the Gaza Strip. They comprise only one-half percent of the people who live within its borders. The settlers receive an average of 280 liters of good quality water per day while the Palestinians subsist on only 93 liters of poor quality--foul tasting-- irregularly supplied water.
The people hoped that the Oslo agreement would bring normalcy, peace and quiet. Those hopes did not materialize. The Palestinian Authority took over certain administrative functions-but the Israeli military government remained. Living conditions did not improve because the Authority responds to instructions from Israel.
The newly formed Palestinian State Security Court became synonymous with speedy secret trials, and judges with little or no legal training. Lawyers for defendants had no advance knowledge of their client's cases and no time to prepare. Families were not kept informed of proceedings and the accused themselves never knew where they were being taken when they were hustled out of their homes without warning in the dead of night. There was a continuous stream of arrests and releases and secret summary trials. An Amnesty International report criticized the State Security Court trials for violating minimum standards of international law, including: the right to a fair and public trial by a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal; the right to have adequate time to prepare one's defense; the right to be defended by a lawyer of one's choice; the right to appeal to a higher court.
Reporters who dared transmit critical news were detained for long periods of time. One editor was arrested for an article on the economic monopolies; another editor was arrested for not printing a news item flattering to Arafat on his front page. Offices of an opposition newspaper were broken into and new machinery destroyed. An Islamic Jihad paper was shut down after it published an article exposing corruption. The message to all reporters: these subjects are taboo. What the papers don't print the people pass on by word of mouth.
With high unemployment, Arafat was able to create a local police force whose members felt a sense of loyalty and personal debt to him for the guaranteed monthly paychecks. Arafat exploited disagreements and personal rivalries so as to foster divisions within the opposition.
After the Palestinian Authority was installed, its elite profited extensively. Symbols of riches--gleaming new apartment buildings, lavish hotels, shiny king-size cars--contrast sharply with the economy's general deterioration. Monopolistic arrangements with several Israeli firms--on gasoline, diesel fuel, and cooking and heating gas--eliminated hundreds of Palestinian retailers, importers, and truck drivers. Consumers were adversely affected as prices rose.
These are just a few of the many facts that are exposed and explored in "Drinking the Sea in Gaza". Amira Hass is that rare journalist who is dedicated to the truth even when it conflicts with cherished beliefs, government policies, etc. She is set in the image of George Polk--the journalist for whom the George Polk Award was named (the Acadamy Award of Journalism). To learn more about George Polk try to get hold of an out of print copy of "The Polk Conspiracy".
If you have an open mind and suspect that the media has not presented this conflict with an unbiased perspective, read this book. You may come to believe, as I have, that resolution of this problem will take a long, long, long, long time!
58 of 62 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Important, if Difficult Read 28 April 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
As an American Jew, this book was highly informative if equally difficult. It isn't the writing that makes this book hard since Hass is clear and ultimately convincing. What was hard, small h, was the way she left anecdotes aside after the first few chapters and went into somewhat tedious details about Gazan lives, their suffering while losing her initial sense of story. Yet what was Hard, capital H, were the truths embodied in this book. As a loyal visitor to Israel, it was really Hard to know that what Hass documents about Israeli cruelty to the Palestinian peoples had the undeniable ring of truth about it. That what she says here is authentic, however hard to reconcile with how we lovers of Israel see "our" homeland. It helps that Hass is an Israeli citizen and that she is the child of Holocaust survivors--that helps to understand her empathy with suffering. I finally have decided that she is not anti-Israel but pro-Justice and that is the framework I suggest others use when reading this difficult, important report from the frontlines.
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read this book first 23 Aug 2004
By Jeremy Gilling - Published on Amazon.com
This book is as extraordinary and inspiring as its author. Hass is an Israeli, a Jew, a woman and an atheist who, uniquely in Israel, has chosen to live among the Palestinian people she writes about. To most people this would be as fatal a combination of attributes as could be imagined. Yet throughout her book she tells only of the warmth, generosity and acceptance she is offered, in a region regularly described as among the most dangerous on the planet.

Many of the best, most relentless and devastating critiques of Israel's colonialism come from Israelis, and none more so than Hass. The most powerful passages are where she likens the lot of the dispossessed in Gaza to the experiences of her own family, Holocaust victims and survivors, in being uprooted by the Nazis from their ancestral homes in Romania. It was her mother's account of the indifference on the faces of the German women who watched as she and the rest of the human cargo were herded from the cattle train en route to Bergen-Belsen that convinced Hass that "my place was not with the bystanders".

This book is no hagiography. She savages the Palestinian Authority leadership for their corruption and brutality (while giving it the necessary context of "a land under siege"). She meticulously documents the inferior position of women in Gaza - their exclusion from the few positions of authority, their lives of domestic drudgery while their unemployed husbands and brothers sit idly by.

Hass gives voice, humanity and a history to a people who live wretchedly on the doorstep of the homes and the lands from which they were expelled barely fifty years ago; who must now accept that neither their own leadership nor the world at large any longer insists on their right of return.

If you are thinking of buying Joan Peters's preposterous From Time Immemorial - a systematic denial of the Palestinians' history and identity, built on misused statistics and fraudulent records - read Drinking the Sea at Gaza first. Then save yourself the money.
35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Important and essential reading 22 Sep 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
For anyone who truly wants to understand the plight of Palestinians - in Gaza in particular, in Israel in general - this is the book to read. Compassionate and brave, the Israeli journalist Amira Hass holds up for examination the 1001 administrative rules which hold Palestinians back from the chance to live with dignity - rules which imprison and control every aspect of their lives. This book was a bestseller in Israel, read and discussed by all who cared about the nature of their developing country. It should be read with attention and admiration in America too.
28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent piece of reportage. Essential reading. 31 July 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
I thought this was a remarkable book - for its compassion and for its insight. This is an essential book for anyone who is interested in the Middle East. Hass piles fact upon fact, and observation upon observation, to demonstrate how coldly Palestinians are treated by the government of Israel. Hass makes her case by describing the details of daily life - for instance, that people born in Palestine, before it "became" Israel, live with the constant indignity of having the place of birth on their papers marked .... Israel. I was particularly disturbed by the ironies detailed in the chapters "A Tax on Being Alive" and "We Are from the Same Village." The amazon reviewer comments that this book is unlikely to change minds. I disagree. This book changed my mind and I hope I don't forget the lessons I learnt from it.
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