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Return: A Palestinian Memoir

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An extraordinary memoir of exile and the impossibility of finding home, from the author of In Search of Fatima “The journey filled me with bitterness and grief. I remember looking down on a nighttime Tel Aviv from the windows of a place taking me back to London and thinking hopelessly, ‘flotsam and jetsam, that’s what we’ve become, scattered and divided. There’s no room fo An extraordinary memoir of exile and the impossibility of finding home, from the author of In Search of Fatima “The journey filled me with bitterness and grief. I remember looking down on a nighttime Tel Aviv from the windows of a place taking me back to London and thinking hopelessly, ‘flotsam and jetsam, that’s what we’ve become, scattered and divided. There’s no room for us or our memories here. And it won’t be reversed.’” Having grown up in Britain following her family’s exile from Palestine, doctor, author and academic Ghada Karmi leaves her adoptive home in a quest to return to her homeland. She starts work with the Palestinian Authority and gets a firsthand understanding of its bizarre bureaucracy under Israel’s occupation. In her quest, she takes the reader on a fascinating journey into the heart of one of the world’s most intractable conflict zones and one of the major issues of our time. Visiting places she has not seen since childhood, her unique insights reveal a militarised and barely recognisable homeland, and her home in Jerusalem, like much of the West Bank, occupied by strangers. Her encounters with politicians, fellow Palestinians, and Israeli soldiers cause her to question what role exiles like her have in the future of their country and whether return is truly possible.


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An extraordinary memoir of exile and the impossibility of finding home, from the author of In Search of Fatima “The journey filled me with bitterness and grief. I remember looking down on a nighttime Tel Aviv from the windows of a place taking me back to London and thinking hopelessly, ‘flotsam and jetsam, that’s what we’ve become, scattered and divided. There’s no room fo An extraordinary memoir of exile and the impossibility of finding home, from the author of In Search of Fatima “The journey filled me with bitterness and grief. I remember looking down on a nighttime Tel Aviv from the windows of a place taking me back to London and thinking hopelessly, ‘flotsam and jetsam, that’s what we’ve become, scattered and divided. There’s no room for us or our memories here. And it won’t be reversed.’” Having grown up in Britain following her family’s exile from Palestine, doctor, author and academic Ghada Karmi leaves her adoptive home in a quest to return to her homeland. She starts work with the Palestinian Authority and gets a firsthand understanding of its bizarre bureaucracy under Israel’s occupation. In her quest, she takes the reader on a fascinating journey into the heart of one of the world’s most intractable conflict zones and one of the major issues of our time. Visiting places she has not seen since childhood, her unique insights reveal a militarised and barely recognisable homeland, and her home in Jerusalem, like much of the West Bank, occupied by strangers. Her encounters with politicians, fellow Palestinians, and Israeli soldiers cause her to question what role exiles like her have in the future of their country and whether return is truly possible.

30 review for Return: A Palestinian Memoir

  1. 5 out of 5

    Antenna

    Forced to leave Jerusalem as a child under the 1948 Nakba or Palestinian Exodus, Ghada Karmi felt the need to experience life in one of the semi-independent areas set up on Palestinian soil under the Oslo Accords of the 1990s. In 2005 she moved to Ramallah in the West Bank to worked as a consultant in media and communications for the Palestinian Authority. As she might have foreseen, this proved to be a privileged sinecure in a closed bubble of complacent bureaucrats and politicians bent on furth Forced to leave Jerusalem as a child under the 1948 Nakba or Palestinian Exodus, Ghada Karmi felt the need to experience life in one of the semi-independent areas set up on Palestinian soil under the Oslo Accords of the 1990s. In 2005 she moved to Ramallah in the West Bank to worked as a consultant in media and communications for the Palestinian Authority. As she might have foreseen, this proved to be a privileged sinecure in a closed bubble of complacent bureaucrats and politicians bent on furthering their status and material interests without rocking the boat, of expatriates caught up in romanticised demonstrations against an Israeli occupation which did not affect them personally, and poorly paid junior staff who kept their heads down for fear of losing their hard-to-obtain jobs. Despite this, she managed to witness examples of ongoing injustice: camps like those in Gaza, “islands of memory in an erased landscape”, increasingly the sole places where isolation and hardship keep the fight for an independent state alive; Qalqilya, a town on the Green Line between pre-1967 Israel and the West Bank, surrounded by a twenty-five foot wall with razor wire and watchtowers ironically reminiscent of a concentration camp, but justified by the need to keep suicide bombers out of Israel and to protect settlers from their Arab neighbours; one of the few farms in Hebron still Palestinian-owned, where the defiant owner agonised over his withered vines, deprived of water by the Israeli authorities which disconnected his piped water supply and blocked his well, as part of the process of connecting the surrounding Israeli settlers. Ghada Karmi made me realise for the first time how many Palestinians live outside camps, assimilated over time into countries like Jordan and Israel, inevitably resigned to the situation even if it makes them second-class citizens. She portrays the West Bank as a land of self-delusion: there is no sense of solidarity with Gaza, and many bright young people are employed by NGOs, precariously dependent on grants of foreign aid, to produce detailed research reports which remain unused. Likewise, frequent references to the conferences and political initiatives are depressing since we know now they failed to achieve any progress. It all seems like a displacement activity to allow the Israelis to consolidate their displacement of Palestinians. I was also intrigued to learn that middle class West Bank families wish to get their children educated at American universities, undeterred by the irony that it was US support which protected and empowered Israel. I was interested in the views of Ghada Karmi’s ageing father: when she expresses concern over the apparent increase in traditional Islam as a “retreat into the past” which will “play into the hands of the West”, he counters that it is the West which has armed Israel and left the Arabs “dependent and enslaved” – “Islam is all they have left”. Sadly, this is the closest we get to her sole major omission: an epilogue updating events on the rise of a democratically Hamas and the increase in fundamentalist terrorism in the Middle East. Although the author comes across at times as a self-absorbed and possibly difficult person, her intellect rises above understandable emotion to provide a revealing and thought-provoking analysis of an ongoing injustice which left me, like her, with a sense of “gut-wrenching despair” which needs to be more widely understood.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    The author left Palestine in 1948, and was raised in England. This book is the story of her return to Palestine in 2005 to work as a media consultant, mixed in with some personal family stories. I had a number of different reactions to the book. In one sense, it is valuable, because it supplies a Palestinian perspective not often viewed in the Western world. The daily humiliations and sense of powerlessness that pervade Palestinian life under Israeli occupation are well described. The wall-buildi The author left Palestine in 1948, and was raised in England. This book is the story of her return to Palestine in 2005 to work as a media consultant, mixed in with some personal family stories. I had a number of different reactions to the book. In one sense, it is valuable, because it supplies a Palestinian perspective not often viewed in the Western world. The daily humiliations and sense of powerlessness that pervade Palestinian life under Israeli occupation are well described. The wall-building, settlement activity and violence toward Palestinians are deeply disturbing. On the other hand, the book is frustrating because the author's perspective is so limited, Her world view is very simple. In 1948, an outrage was perpetrated on the Palestinians when their homeland was invaded by, and taken over by, the Jews. Everything Arab is good, everything Israeli is wrong. The Palestinians are a peaceful people who are constantly victimized without justification by the Jews. Her ideal solution is to turn back the clock to the Palestine of her memory - the Arabs get all of the land back, and the Jews leave. She has no empathy for the Jews, never mentions the Holocaust, acknowledges no validity to any attachment that the Jews might have to the "Holy Land," and ignores any security concerns that Israel might have. Violence against civilian populations, including "suicide operations," are viewed as justified resistance to a hostile, occupying enemy. Her world is very black and white. The book is irritating in some respects, because page after page is devoted to the details of the bureaucratic infighting involved in her media consulting. The author had little or no respect for the Palestinians attempting to work within the Palestinian Authority and she regarded most of the work that she was doing as wasted time and effort. Those who lacked her revolutionary fervor are portrayed as tools of, or collaborators with, the evil Israelis. Those who choose non-violence are seen as buffoons. The book does evoke sympathy, however. Many, many persons were displaced to make way for the establishment of the State of Israel. They lost their land and their homes. Increasing settlement activity, checked by no one, adds to the outrage, and it seems that nothing can be done about it. They lack land, jobs, and a means to defend themselves. Unlike the author, many Palestinians have moved on. They do the best they can in the circumstances in which they find themselves. The author, seeking a long-cherished ideal, is dismayed that her dream is so far from realization. The personal stories are, in many ways, the best part of the book. They add some personal faces to the author's story and illustrate the injustices better than she does in the descriptions of her activities. So I'm ambivalent about the book. There is much in the story of Palestine that needs to be illuminated, and it can be done better than the author has here.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Yasmin

    An interesting look at Palestine and its politics through the eyes of this Palestinian author albeit seen through a western prism.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Foxglove

    A surprisingly good read, against the better efforts of the author, who tries to use it as a political vehicle. Through Karmi's eyes, one sees a narcissistic and embittered woman, who wants to resurrect her childhood, even though 50 years have happened and the world has moved on. With haughty disdain, she looks her nose down at the Palestinians who remained. How could they not be more like her, refined and sophisticated and demanding of an ethnic cleansing of Jews? Most just want an ordinary lif A surprisingly good read, against the better efforts of the author, who tries to use it as a political vehicle. Through Karmi's eyes, one sees a narcissistic and embittered woman, who wants to resurrect her childhood, even though 50 years have happened and the world has moved on. With haughty disdain, she looks her nose down at the Palestinians who remained. How could they not be more like her, refined and sophisticated and demanding of an ethnic cleansing of Jews? Most just want an ordinary life. Karmi deeply hates Jews (she calls them "nervy", "these people", and other nasty little insults) and spares no bile in every encounter. She has no problem erasing any Jewish history. The Tomb of the Patriarchs being a Jewish shrine dating back to Herod? Nope. Al Aqsa also being the Temple mount? Heavens to Betsy, that can't even pass through her mind. In many ways, she's the mirror image of the settlers she so despises, she envisions a world where they just don't exist and so do they. She listens to Hamas partisans discussing how Jews need to "learn their place," and doesn't blink, same as they listen to violent religious leaders. They deserve each other. It's glorious to see this hateful woman put in her place by Palestinians who live there, who have no patience for this wealthy foreigner telling them how to live their lives, and the realization that the majority of Palestinians don't want to "return," and have lives, and most importantly, that the world has moved on.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Mandy

    Ghada Karmi is a doctor, author and academic, born in Palestine but forced to flee with her family after Israel occupied her country. In this eye-opening and extremely illuminating memoir she recounts the story of how she returned to her native land to work for the Palestinian Authority and describes the problems, obstructions and difficulties the Palestinians face today in their own country. Essential reading for anyone who want to learn more about the reality of the Palestinian-Israeli conflic Ghada Karmi is a doctor, author and academic, born in Palestine but forced to flee with her family after Israel occupied her country. In this eye-opening and extremely illuminating memoir she recounts the story of how she returned to her native land to work for the Palestinian Authority and describes the problems, obstructions and difficulties the Palestinians face today in their own country. Essential reading for anyone who want to learn more about the reality of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    This is a fascinating look into the everyday lives of a handful of Palestinians living in Remallah. The author travels from London back to the place of her birth (or near it at least) to work in the media section of the Palestinian Authority. While she does a good job of giving some background information about the Israel/ Palestine situation, I found her daily encounters with her coworkers to be the best part of the book.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I admire her strong conviction, and determination to the Palestinian cause and it pained me to find in the end she became disillusioned by the Palestine of today, when in her heart she hoped to find the Palestine of her memory.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Iacovetti

    'After the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians were drawn up in 1993, Yasser Arafat and the rest of the leadership returned to Palestinian soil from forty years of exile. And with them, the centre of gravity of the Palestinian cause and the real political action shifted inside. This made the rest of us still promoting the cause outside Palestine feel left behind, like people trying to catch a train that has long departed. Until that happened, the cause had been with us in exile.' 'Pa 'After the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians were drawn up in 1993, Yasser Arafat and the rest of the leadership returned to Palestinian soil from forty years of exile. And with them, the centre of gravity of the Palestinian cause and the real political action shifted inside. This made the rest of us still promoting the cause outside Palestine feel left behind, like people trying to catch a train that has long departed. Until that happened, the cause had been with us in exile.' 'Palestinian society in Jordan was markedly different from that in the West Bank. To a certain extent it was understandable, given the military occupation there and the relative freedom of life here. Nevertheless, that did not explain the parochial and often petty nature of people’s preoccupations in Amman, their inability to look beyond their own lives and see a larger picture. They behaved as if the only issues that mattered were those concerning their families and daily lives. The political apathy they displayed towards events not far from their own doorsteps, and their inertia in the face of the often unfavourable political situation in Jordan itself were remarkable. It was not that they felt nothing for their fellow Palestinians, but rather that decades of living in a relatively stable Arab country where they had citizenship and a measure of rights had created a certain complacency and a desire to protect that status. It was as if they saw the depredations suffered by Palestinians at Israel’s hands, the insecurity visited on them in many Arab countries from which they could be deported at will, and the struggle so many had had to survive in faraway places, not to speak of the refugees incarcerated in their camps, had made them decide they wanted no part of that misery and to cling to what they had.' 'And I remember realising then what it was that distinguished [Baqa’a] and all Palestinian refugee camps from their surroundings. On the outside, Baqa’a was a place in Jordan, but inside, it was a corner of Palestine that still lived on. No wonder the Israelis so hated the camps and attacked them at every opportunity. They too understood that, despite their poverty and marginalisation, the camps were islands of memory in an erased landscape, faithful repositories of a Palestinian history Israel had wanted obliterated. And for that Israel wanted them dismantled and their refugees turned into "immigrants", scattered and dispersed in the various countries that would take them.' 'Why on earth did I ever come to this place, I asked myself again? What had made me imagine that there was anything here for someone like me? I looked back on my whole assignment in ‘Palestine’ and realised that I had achieved none of my aims because it would never have been possible in the Palestine that I found. I had travelled to the land of my birth with a sense of return, but it was a return to the past, to the Palestine of distant memory, not to the place that it is now. The people who lived in this Palestine were nothing to do with the past I was seeking, nor were they part of some historical tableau frozen in time that I could reconnect with. This Palestinian world I had briefly joined was different: a new-old place, whose people had moved on from where I had them fixed in my memory, had made of their lives what they could, and found ways to deal with the enemy who ruled them.' 'The gap in time of over fifty years in our collective history since then had made us different people, with new lives and new identities. How was it possible after so much disruption to bring us all together again as if nothing had happened? And had Israel finally succeeded in fragmenting us beyond recall? As this thought struck me, I felt a shiver of alarm. Ever since we left Jerusalem and throughout my life I had held on to our cause as that of a nation which was dispossessed, and must one day return to its country. It was the underlying theme of all my writings, my lectures and my political work for Palestine. I could not accept for that national cause to be whittled down to one of local occupation after 1967.' 'Had Israel kept us out of our homeland for so long that we were forced to make alternative lives and thus suspend indefinitely our right of return? And in such circumstances, would any of us ever go back? The thought was unendurable. Even to contemplate it sickened me. What my time in Palestine had really shown me was that the two fundamentals I had always lived by were transformed out of all recognition. There was no national cause any more, and no unified struggle for return. What future we all had lay with those who lived here, in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem under Israel’s occupation, at the mercy of their success or failure to rebuild our cause. And if ever we went back, it would be through them, and no one else.'

  9. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    I wonder what this author would think of my family.... Insightful read— learned many new things.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Karolina

    I won this book in a Goodreads giveway. This is a memoir about a woman who returns to her homeland of Palestine to work as a consultant for the Palestinian Authority. The chapters describing the impact of the land and people are eye-opening. I enjoyed the stories of her childhood and life, especially on her circumstances of motherhood. The chapters relating to work in the PA were very kafka-esque.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Alia Al

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jihane

  13. 4 out of 5

    peema

  14. 4 out of 5

    Ayala Levinger

  15. 4 out of 5

    Carolynmmc

  16. 5 out of 5

    Veronica Heney

  17. 5 out of 5

    Sofia

  18. 5 out of 5

    Laila Bourha

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sajith Buvi

  20. 4 out of 5

    Walid Elkhattabi

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ella Nalepka

  22. 5 out of 5

    Mel

  23. 4 out of 5

    Pj Zettle

  24. 5 out of 5

    Maurice Ebileeni

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sarah boukhchat

  26. 5 out of 5

    Louiselee22yahoo.Ca

  27. 5 out of 5

    Allyn Glenn-burns

  28. 4 out of 5

    Alyaa Bakeer

  29. 5 out of 5

    Richard Morris

  30. 5 out of 5

    Chelsey

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