For anyone who thinks that the birth of Israel has everything solely to do with the Holocaust, a reading of Jean Sasson’s Ester’s Child and Susan Abulhawa’s Mornings in Jenin is in order. Stories that chronicle a very, very prudent truth: both, of how babies can teach us important lessons, and of how it is not who we are told that we are that matters, but it is who we truly are, deep down.
That said, the premise of Jean’s and Susan’s books are similar: although the plots are larger and variant in both. The core premise of both books – and no, this is no spoiler because a perusal of the respective blurbs will tell you this much – is that a Palestinian baby is kidnapped/abducted/stolen and taken by an Israeli family. The antagonism, the hatred and the sense of disregard for all things Arab and Palestinian is passed on to the stolen child, wittingly or unwittingly – but all the same, regardless of the fact that the blood flowing through the child is truly Palestinian.
And that makes you think. Profoundly.
What is it about conflict, really, that keeps it alive? Is it that we as a people are inherently termagant fighters that we simply cannot consider anything in our path to trounce what we assume is wrong? Is it about making a point, a point that what the right hand gives should be kept from the knowledge of the left hand? Or is it, that we have an inherent sense of disregard for questioning that which is wrong overtly – while we covertly do exactly what we want?
In both of the books, there is one simmering undercurrent: that a conflict is ultimately one between brothers. Some, related by blood. Some, not related by blood – but bound by the greater ethos of the religion of humanity. Whether it is in Jean’s fluid style of narration with an authentic charm that starts from the thick of the Holocaust and ends in the cusp of the worst eras of the Israel-Palestine conflict, or in the incredibly emotionally charged and beautifully woven fabric of Palestinian society by Susan Abulhawa that chronicles the story through the eyes of a Palestinian girl, the point they make is simply beautiful, and makes you want to question yourself.
What Jean’s book does for you is to narrate a tale in as straightforward a manner as one could tangibly expect, with the tenor of a gifted story teller. Susan’s book, on the contrary, has episodic snatches from here and there, with almost a documentary-movie feel that etches the core facts of a difficult reality in your mind, with a beautiful storyline.
Whether Mornings in Jenin or Ester’s Child, there is one common element that you take home from both: the beauty in the human face of literature that they have both carved with ease. Showing you the quintessence of humanity, projecting that it doesn’t matter what you grow to be: A Jew, A Palestinian – you are human, deep down; projecting that these divisions between man and man are a creation of man – that the true essence of humanity does not involve any discrimination.