Friday, April 18, 2008

Broken Promises, Broken Dreams:Stories of Jewish & PalestinianTrauma and Resilience

Broken Promises, Broken Dreams:
Stories of Jewish & Palestinian
Trauma and Resilience
By Alice Rothchild
Pluto Press
238 pages/

By Thomas Gagnon

In what is clearly a labor of love, Dr. Alice Rothchild brings amazing clarity to the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict (most of the time; periodically, it stops making sense). Not only does she clarify a conflict that usually defies clarification, but she describes it from a new angle, of the feminist physician. She achieves all this with a fiction writer’s focus on specifics: specific people and their stories, quotes and scenes, sometimes involving herself. She also writes helpful overviews of the situation in Israel and her method of examination.

Meanwhile, although Rothchild is Jewish, she does not have a pro-Israeli bias. Sometimes, it seems that she has a guilt-induced pro-Palestinian bias, but that is not the case, either. She does have a feminist bias, translating to “dove” rather than “hawk,” but she presents this without expecting or demanding us to share it. Above all, Rothchild is presenting valuable information—do what you will with it.

At the outset, Rothchild writes emphatically about major events that I’ve been only vaguely aware of, for instance, “Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza since the 1967 war.” (16) She calls it “military occupation,” not “disputed territories,” as Israel does. She is clarifying that this is not a conflict, or dispute, between political equals, but a horrible vicious cycle perpetuated by master (fearful Israel) and slave (desperate Palestinians) demolishing each other. In short, the occupation is creating war. Ending the occupation is the beginning of peace. She is not alone. On the contrary, she writes, “I have learned from Israeli peace activists that there are inspiring ways to frame this ongoing conflict. In the words of Jeff Halper, “I am on the ‘side’ of Israelis and Palestinians who seek a just peace that addresses Palestinian rights of self-determination as well as Israeli concerns of security and regional integration…”(20)—versus Israelis and Palestinians operating within the “box” of the occupation.

Although not primarily focused on women’s rights, Rothchild is obviously coming from a feminist angle. She works with several human rights organizations, “to bear witness to voices that are rarely heard…” (19-20). Bearing witness to rarely heard voices is a very feminist activity (I wonder why). Rothchild begins her activist/sociologist journey in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, by meeting with a woman who is in her late sixties and not economically or politically powerful. The feminist plot thickens. This woman, Dr. Ruchama Morton, speaks of the First Intifada, the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation in 1987. Specifically, she speaks of the shockingly unsanitary conditions of a hospital in Gaza, prompting protests by an association of Israeli and Palestinian physicians, which evolved into Physicians for Human Rights—Israel (PHR-I). She talks about the separation wall between Israelis and Palestinians as a kind of splitting, that allows “the ZIC (Zionist Israeli Collective) self not to see itself as aggressive, violent, cruel, possessive…by projecting all these traits on the Palestinians beyond the Wall.” (39) This is a crucial, memorable insight.

The specificity of Dr. Ruchama Morton’s experiences and opinions, recorded into a story, is an effective way to shed light on a dark cave of ever-potential sabotage. Many people and their narratives come after Ruchama, also shedding light on darkness. Gila Svirsky speaks of Women in Black, an Israeli movement to end the occupation. Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman speaks of political confusion in Israel resulting in “a right-wing party pushing a [left-wing] peace plan that pretty much speaks to the needs of the big center in Israel.” (95) Dr. Allam Jarrar recounts the story of a frightening and politically charged conflict at a checkpoint. Dr. Muntaha Hamarsheh demonstrates the challenges of managing a maternity home in the West Bank. These are only a few.

Along the way, Rothchild describes herself in the midst of disturbing scenes, for instance, her paranoia on a bus to Jerusalem. She recalls that “…half of the bus riders are soldiers, late teens, early twenties, men and women in military uniform with their automatic rifles leaning between their legs…I have never been this close to so many weapons in my life.” (86)

Are there irritating moments in Broken Promises, Broken Dreams? Yes, such as rhetorical questions with incredibly obvious answers. Is this a major flaw? No, of course not. Therefore, find your way to the Book of Alice! Read, learn, enjoy!

Thomas Gagnon/Ibbetson Update/ April 2008/Somerville, Mass.

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