Return to Palestine: One Woman’s Journey

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Finally, we bring you the story of a group of young Syrian activists who built a secret library in a hidden basement in a suburb south of Damascus. Their goal was to save the books of Daraya, which they rescued from abandoned houses, destroyed offices and ravaged mosques. One woman followed their journey and compiled it in a book.

She joins us in the studio to tell us more. The page no longer exists or did not exist at all. This logic is bolstered by a common belief among Palestinians that, deep down, Israeli Jews must also acknowledge these assertions. When they go to sleep in their once Arab homes, they must know they are the perpetrators of injustice, violence, and theft. To many of my Palestinian interlocutors, this deeply held conviction explains why Israel believes it must arm itself to the teeth: to safeguard a reality that could prove to be ephemeral. For many Palestinians, Israeli bravado registers as an unconscious acknowledgement of wrongdoing.

In Freedom and Despair , Shulman takes us on another journey, through a collection of entries written in the first person. With full knowledge of their likely failure, they stand alongside Palestinians who are facing the wrath and hatred of Jewish settlers working assiduously to dispossess them of their lands. In their mere presence, the activists sometimes successfully deter settlers from beating up Palestinian shepherds. Or they accompany Palestinian villagers to gather water from their wells, which the Israeli government has appropriated for the sole use of nearby Jewish settlements.

Or they work to dismantle a roadblock, whose only purpose is to hinder the freedom of movement of Palestinians. Small triumphs are fleeting. A roadblock dismantled is a roadblock that will be reconstructed the following day. The only sure thing in those hills is that victories will be swept away by the unrelenting machinery of Israeli colonization. Shulman recounts how he and his fellow activists travel weekly to the South Hebron Hills.

With full knowledge of their likely failure, they stand alongside Palestinians who are facing the wrath and hatred of Jewish settlers. Shulman is a master storyteller. He tells how, in the West Bank villages of Gawawis and Khalail al-Khair, he and other activists accompany a father and his son to their fields that had suddenly been declared a closed military zone.

A nonsensical and bewildering exchange ensues, with rising stakes, until the tense standoff dissipates when the Palestinian father and son back off, too fearful of risking arrest.

palestinian journeys | overall chronology

In another anecdote, Shulman intervenes on behalf of a child, Ahmad, who had somehow managed to so egregiously offend an armed Israeli officer in a conversation over Ramadan fasting that he faced the possibility of being detained. Palestinian children are frequently held for months on end in a labyrinth of Israeli jails, away from their families and from due process. A Palestinian boy makes his way to school through his Gaza City neighborhood which witnesses say was devastated by Israeli shelling on Nov. Insanity, so the saying goes, lies in doing the same thing, over and over, and expecting different results.

Yet Shulman—like hundreds of other Jewish, Arab, and international activists—persists. His reflections are a thought-provoking and touching ode to activism and action—even when such activism is not, or cannot be, ultimately victorious. And herein lies the crux of the matter. For Shulman, victory might be relative and, possibly even, irrelevant.

It sounds the alarm. There is an inherent comfort in this call to arms. Is this celebration of Sisyphean resistance—all too common on the left—sufficient, or is it, more likely, a form of defeatism? Is it merely a fetishization of activism as an act of goodness despite its failure to bring change? Good despair, Shulman argues, is the kind that drives people toward action even when change is unlikely. Bureaucratic actions, even though given a modicum of propriety in offices and state buildings, are far worse than the actual acts of violence that take place in the hills.

In his view, a broader willful passivity lulls Israelis into inaction. It is in the act of doing the right thing that the essence of life itself can be found. For them, resistance and activism are not about transcendence but survival. Palestinians are instinctively familiar with the moral universe that Shulman chronicles in his diaries. The Palestinian struggle rests on the bedrock of sumoud , of steadfastness, of the drudgery of remaining rooted in opposition to all attempts at physical removal and political elision. Very few Palestinians in any of these areas, or in the diaspora, could verifiably claim that their struggle is gaining them the justice they, their parents, or their grandparents deserve.

Yet in what is perhaps one of the darkest moments in their centurylong struggle for self-determination, Palestinians in Gaza still march for their rights under the threat of gunfire from Israeli snipers; schoolchildren in the West Bank put up desks next to their demolished schools to study; Palestinians in refugee camps in Lebanon dream of return.

The alternative to Palestinian sumoud is oblivion. Their persistence is neither a choice nor a pursuit of fleeting emancipation. Their struggle is existential. So too with women.

The union taught them needlework and weaving in order to provide them with an income. The most notable decision was to teach young girls the art of flower making; they began to create artificial flowers.

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Shihabi herself would happily join them in their work and would join them also as they manufactured beauty creams. The union frequently organized charitable markets to sell its diverse products and spend the proceeds on charitable projects. After the Nakba she redoubled her activities.

Jerusalem remained her primary residence, but she frequently traveled to Amman. In she added to her other responsibilities the presidency of the Union of Charitable Societies in the Jerusalem District.

Al-Lydd massacre

She was an ideal representative of the Palestinian woman and the most eloquent in explaining the Palestine cause in public forums. This was attended by members, and the PLO Department of Popular Organizations contributed to the creation of the Union on the constitutional, organizational, and administrative levels. The union then came into existence. However, the intervention of several states and the United Nations forced Israel to allow her to return and resume her work as president of the union. She continued to work tirelessly until her death at age She died on 13 May Her funeral prayer was held at al-Aqsa Mosque and was attended by many prominent national figures.

Khalidi, Anbara Salam. London: Pluto Press, Skip to main content. Overall Chronology. Introduction Events.

A life in resistance: Naila Ayesh and the women of the First Palestinian Intifada

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