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.
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. But if the card holder was born within the borders of what had since become the new Israeli state, then only one word appeared in that space: `Israel.' (p179). She describes the sadism that Yigal Amir, an Israeli soldier, practiced on the Palestinians, and which he eventually turned on Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister he assassinated. (p 23).
She is equally meticulous in documenting the economic inequalities and injustices committed on the Palestinians, the higher taxes they must pay compared to their Israeli counterparts, and the pitiful governmental services they receive in return. She explains the infamous "life" tax, even if you have no income, you must pay a tax for simply being alive - you must have income is the "reasoning" of the bureaucracy, otherwise you would be dead! She sums up these arrangements with that word that Jimmy Carter has also had the courage to use: "apartheid." (p148)
She lived in the Gaza for three years, never having her personal safety threatened. During this period, she also documented the corruption of the senior Palestinian leadership, which was a prime cause of the rise of various Islamic fundamentalist groups. It is even sadder to realize that this was during the "optimistic period" immediately following the Oslo Accords of 1993. Conditions today must be much worse than what she has described, and no hope is really in sight.
She deserves all the journalist and peace awards available for illuminating what she calls "terra incognita" for Israelis (but also for the world) "and easier now to demonize as a breeding round for terrorist intrigue and fundamentalism." (p342). This book should be read in every school, "war college," and diplomatic post.
(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on May 25, 2008)
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. She is merciless however when it comes to criticising her own government and after all, isn't that what a true patriot is supposed to be doing? A highly recommended book for anyone who has become suspicious of the US-Israeli relationship. Hass deserves the Nobel Peace prize for her efforts to uncover the truth behind the occupation. It's heartbreaking reading but it stirs the blood and arouses a righteous anger in your soul. Hopefully it will draw more bystanders to speak out against the continuing human tragedy. Politicians will only move to act when enough people threaten their precarious hold on the reins of power. This book is your starting point.
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.