The Monday Book: Caught in the surreal world of Occupation

Sharon and my Mother-in-law: Ramallah Diaries Suad Amiry Granta, pounds 12.99/ pounds 11.99 (free p&p) from 0870 079 8897
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The Independent Online
SUAD AMIRY'S book is a journey into the absurd reality of Occupation, a voyage into a world which, like Alice's Wonderland, can shrink to the dimensions of a besieged kitchen or expand to a landscape in which a journey that should take 10 minutes can exceed seven hours. In this land, a dog can acquire a passport easier than a person, and a woman's husband can be held to account for out-staring a soldier.

Amiry's account joins a list of diaries, reminiscences and meditations on Palestine, such as those by Edward Said, Ghada Karmi and Raja Shehadeh. The more a sovereign Palestine recedes into the rose-coloured future of George W Bush's fantasies, the more the Palestinian voice reverberates, on the age-old theme best expressed by Shakespeare's Jew, Shylock. If you prick us, do we not bleed?

This book is a symptom of the condition affecting most Palestinians, for whom decades of conflict and brutality have exhausted the slogans of defiance and replaced them with a simple emphasis on the value of everyday things: the solidarity of neighbours, the comforts of family life - often interrupted by exile, arrest and sudden death - or the beauty of a landscape rediscovered because a detour is forced by Israeli army checkpoints. As Palestinians are often locked in their houses by lengthy curfews, Amiry comments wryly that "excessive eating, screaming at one another and producing babies were the only three possible activities. No wonder the Israelis are totally obsessed with demographics".

Amiry and her husband, the scholar and peace activist Salim Tamari, are part of a small Palestinian middle class, as familiar with Ann Arbor University as the bakeries of the West Bank. It is ironic that the burden of Occupation has blurred old class barriers, and subjected rich and poor alike to the same humiliation. They beg for permits granted at the whim of an officer or wait in line, during the 1991 Gulf War, for gas masks that are never provided.

Like all occupiers, the Israelis have stiffened resistance, calling forth the demons of terrorism that validate ever harsher measures. As Israeli peacenik Uri Avnery wrote, Israelis are conditioned "to justify any means because compared with the Holocaust any bad things we do are negligible by comparison" - but hardly negligible to the targets.

Caught in the spiral of today's war of Gog and Magog, George and Osama, the Palestinians can do little but reaffirm their humanity while their leaders dance to new global tunes. This is a deceptively slight book, an unexpected success in a dozen countries, which conveys a determination to endure against the odds in a good-humoured, fragmentary narrative of everyday events. It prompts us to wonder why ordinary rights we take for granted should be so difficult to achieve for others.

The reviewer's `Mae West' is published by Faber in October

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