Pay No Heed to the Rockets

Ceding the Palestinian narrative to Palestinians, reviewed by Samer Badawi in +972, 6 September 2018 (Counteopoint, 2018)

“Marcello Di Cintio’s Pay No Heed to the Rockets borrows its title from Mahmoud Darwish, Palestine’s most widely translated poet, who, amid the sounds of destruction accompanying Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, marks one night under siege with a how-to on coffee brewing. The passage, even in translation, brilliantly evokes the banal, methodical persistence of the civilian in wartime”…

“This idea, that the daily horrors of life under siege could be little more than an afterthought, especially to those who experience them most intimately, should be the least surprising takeaway of Di Cintio’s meandering, yet deeply satisfying survey of the Palestinian literary scene. But by ceding so much of the narrative to the authors he meets, he ends up revealing something discomforting about us, their English-speaking audience: our notions of life in the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel may have little to do with how Palestinians experience themselves.”

“This insight is not new, of course. In his 2012 memoir, Strangers in the House: Coming of Age in Occupied Palestine, Ramallah-based author Raja Shehadeh recalls an episode in which he was asked to recount his experiences before a roomful of Palestinian Americans. Di Cintio, who refers to all of his interview subjects by their first names, retells the scene: “Raja knew what they wanted to hear: ‘an inflamed passionate denunciation of the Zionist enemy as the source of all our troubles.’ Raja, though, could not oblige.”

“’Only later did I realize that to do so would have been a betrayal of my own existence,’ the Palestinian author wrote in Strangers. ‘To simplify my life and paint it in black-and-white terms was to deny my own reality, which I mainly experienced in tones of gray.’ While noting Raja’s impressive accomplishments as a lawyer and founder of the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq, Di Cintio heralds the author’s ability to express such nuance, even when the issues at stake can seem zero-sum (see, for example, Shehadeh’s recent measured response to Yossi Klein Halevi’s Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor). (more…)


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