In Search of Fatima
Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 17.06.2006:
A Palestinian Story Verso, London, 2002, 451 pages, $26.00
By Ghada Karmi
Ghada Karmi’s book tells the dramatic story of her search for personal and political identity. Her family was forced out of their comfortable West Jerusalem home by Jewish attacks meant to rid the area of Palestinians beginning in January 1948. Finally, the infamous Deir Yassin massacre of April 9, 1948 made them realize that their personal safety was at risk. The war that ended with the establishment of the State of Israel compelled Karmi’s family to leave Jerusalem when she was a child to live, ironically enough, in Golders Green, a well-known Jewish area of London. Since the author was a girl of nine at the time, she was young enough to be strongly influenced by English culture. Her attempts at assimilation into English society were gradually thwarted by both internal and external influences: her mother’s efforts at replicating Palestinian social customs in a London household, which she found increasingly frustrating, and political events in the world she had left the Suez crisis and the 1967 Arab-Israeli war in particular which prompted a growing sense of Arab identity and a re-examination of her sense of belonging in Britain.
In the 1970s, this disillusionment was channelled into political activism; she established Palestine Action in London and became a regular visitor to the Middle East, meeting Yasser Arafat and PLO officials, but still, as a Westernised Arab woman, she never quite fitted in. While practising medicine in a Palestinian refugee camp in South Lebanon in 1977 she found that her Western upbringing and habits made her even less welcome there than she was in England.
Karmi weaves Palestinian political and social history through her personal recollections. Among the treasures of this book are the glimpses we get along the way of buried historical events of special concern to Palestinians. For example we learn that it was the Iraqi contingent in the war of 1948 which saved Tulkarem, a town on the West Bank, from attacking Jewish forces; and she quotes an Israeli soldier who wonders why the Iraqis didn?t proceed along the road to Tel Aviv which might have turned the tide of the war. We learn that the Israeli Knesset is built on the Palestinian town of Lifta and that the Holocaust museum also is built on confiscated Palestinian land.
In Search of Fatima is a wonderful integration of history, psychology and culture all backed strongly by Karmi?s extraordinary literary abilities. It speaks also for the millions of people all over the world whose lives are forever suspended between the old and the new.
Karmi trained in medicine at Bristol University and practised as a doctor for many years. From the early 1980s until 1995, she worked as a specialist in the health of migrants and refugees, and held a number of research appointments on Middle Eastern politics and culture at the School of Oriental and African Studies (London), Durham University and Leeds University. From 1999 to 2001 she was an Associate Fellow of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, where she led a major project on Israel-Palestinian reconciliation. Her publications include Jerusalem Today: What Future for the Peace Process, and, as co-editor with E. Cotran, The Palestinian Exodus, 1948-1998.
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