Not very often does one see literature on the Palestinian side of the Israel-Palestine conflict: that too, outlining the story right from the genesis until as recent as two years ago. Doing just that, is Susan Abulhawa’s debut novel, Mornings in Jenin.
Rendered in the voice of a young girl, Amal, the story traverses the trajectory of Amal, with Palestine as the backdrop. Beginning with the 1948 “nakba” or catastrophe that the first invasion of Palestine was, which ultimately culminated in the birth of Israel, the story starts before Amal is born. A young Palestinian baby is snatched from his Palestinian mother, and goes missing for years together. A twist of fate slaps the story with a brittle dash of irony: the boy was kidnapped by an Israeli soldier, a Holocaust survivor, and brought up by his family as a Jew, hating Palestinians.
Baby Ismael grows up as David, an Israeli who will unwittingly fight against his own people in wars to come. The story follows the life and times of four generations of the Abulheja Family, as they live their lives through upheaval and violence in their homeland. The family sees their home, and the life that they knew, shatter before their eyes. The entire family whose roots were in the interiors of Palestine, in a little village of olive farmers called Ein Hod, is now forced to up and move into Jenin, where they live in squalor, deprivation and abject penury – the life of a refugee.
Whilst in Jenin, the Abulheja family has a daughter, Amal. Young Amal spends many Mornings in Jenin, listening to her loving father, Hasan, telling her stories and Arabic verses, of times past in the Palestine they knew and belonged to. In the infamous 1967 War between Israel and Palestine, Amal loses her father, and with that, her mother loses her senses. Amal barely survives a week’s worth of hiding inside a bomb-shelter. A time comes when Amal is forced to leave Jenin, and on her way, she stops by Jerusalem. Susan Abulhawa has written a spine-tingling chapter on Amal’s love for her motherland – the words leave you in a crescendo of awe and poignant pain at how harsh reality truly is. She comes to Lebanon for a while, where she meets the man of his dreams – and marries him in the hope of a promising tomorrow.
With the rising tensions between Israel and Palestine, in 1982, Amal loses almost everyone she loves in the Lebanon War – her husband, a remaining brother, her friends. With a newborn daughter in tow, Amal decides to go back to the United States of America, scarred forever by the loss and the tragedy that has become a part of her life. While over there, she learns of one of her brothers’ complicity in a terror attack, an attack of vengeance against the years of atrocities her people have faced. A twist in the story brings her brother Ismael/Daniel back into her life, as the end of the story meanders into a heart-rending conclusion that leaves you in tears.
Mornings in Jenin is truly the human face of literature: 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.