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Beautifully written story of courage and survival
on 24 March 2013
To write a book about the situation in Palestine is to risk either the blank wall of silence, or that heated response that subverts any calm and open-minded consideration of the issue itself. This parallels the physical obstacles that have been placed in the way of the outside world appreciating what is actually taking place there, what has been taking place now for decades, the purposeful dispossession and demoralization of the Palestinian people. It is perhaps not surprising that it was Dervla Murphy, the bold and prolific octogenarian travel writer from Ireland, who should have pushed through the gap in the blockade of Gaza opened up by the revolution in Egypt in June 2011. She provides us with an extraordinarily honest and balanced account of her time in an isolated corner of the world that we have colluded in reducing to a miserable prison, but about which we have had so little reliable information for years. Her narrative is not 'balanced' in the BBC sense of suppressing one's moral sense or political intelligence in a vain attempt not to offend the powerful. The position from which she writes will offend many. But their offence has to be borne, and the convictions that lie behind such offence challenged, if we are to come to terms with what we - Britain and the West, as much as Israel itself - are doing in Palestine. Historical and political analysis - with the personal opinions of the writer always clearly described as such - are never dry or abstract as they explain, provide the essential background to, the unbelievably difficult lives of the individual men and women that Ms Murphy encounters in the course of her stay. We hear voices from across the spectrum of Gazan society - taxi drivers, students, 'internationals', mothers of 'matyrs', fishermen, politicians... The author is clear-eyed about all, and does not shy away from those aspects of violence and intolerance that mar Palestinian society. What she will not do is join the noise that condemns: all the time she provides the context that helps to humanise and explain even that which she cannot accept or agree with.
No book about Gaza is going to be fun. But, as in so many other instances, our humanity is touched reading of such resilience in the face of so much loss, and so much wantonly inflicted pain and destruction. Vain hope that our politicians will read this book, and reflect upon the story it tells so well.