Voices from the West Bank

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Chris Jones and Michael Lavalette

There is a growing body of literature exposing the crimes of Israel and attacking the lies of Zionist historiography. This book provides a different contribution. It is almost entirely based on the testimony of ordinary Palestinians, specifically young people in their teens and early twenties. One obvious reason for this focus is demographic - 60 percent of people in the West Bank are under 20. But also young people tend to be more open and critical about established narratives and the Israeli occupation affects young people in particularly harmful ways.

The struggle to get an education is one of the major themes. Many interviewees describe the difficulty of concentrating amid the emotional turmoil caused by the Israeli army's attacks. But this is compounded by the physical barriers put in the way of getting to their classes. The chapter on the checkpoints that inhibit movement in the West Bank brings home the daily struggles to live a normal life.

Many other forms of Israeli persecution, such as arbitrary arrests, random shootings on their way to school, even venting noxious fumes from chemical factories only when the wind is blowing towards Palestinian towns, are all described by the authors and their subjects.

Yet the book manages to avoid the pessimism and despair that are often characteristic of such descriptions. Chris Jones and Michael Lavalette place repeated emphasis on "sammoud", meaning steadfastness and resilience. This is central to the spirit that has kept Palestinian resistance alive through three generations of exile and occupation. And it is the descriptions of resistance that give hope amid the horrors. Resistance for many can mean continuing to live their lives as normally as possible and persevering with their education as well as political activity. The uses and roots of popular and armed resistance are explained in the final chapter.

Perhaps the most revealing chapter for readers will be the exploration of the divisions within Palestinian society, which in some cases are overcome. The chapter focuses on the tensions caused by growing social divisions between refugees in the camps, residents in the towns and a growing class of rich returnees, all nevertheless having a strong sense of identity united against the occupation. This is described with a finely judged balance between testimony and analysis that is a hallmark of the book. However, the growing gap between ordinary Palestinians and the corrupt and collaborationist Palestinian Authority (PA) is a real problem. As a number of interviewees argue, the next intifada will have to challenge the PA as well as Israel.

This is no small task. But the Arab revolutionary process offers hope that such a struggle will be successful.