Friday, 28 September 2007

Teenage memories...

Whilst preparing for the conference, I tried to get hold of some books I remembered reading as a teenager that were about the situation in Israel/Palestine. One was set during the Six Day War and its sequal was set in 1992. I couldn't find them (couldn't remember the titles for one thing!) but memories of the books kept coming back to me whilst I was there.

A couple of weeks ago I found the first book in the Oxfam bookshop near work (it's an absolute mecca for book lovers & only 2 days later I got the brand new edition of Holy Land, Unholy War for £2.50!). Then I found the sequel online, and finished it this morning.

The author, Lynne Reid Banks, is more well-known for her landmark novel The L-Shaped Room and her children's series The Indian in the Cupboard, but has also written a few books about Israel. Between 1962 and 1971 she lived in Israel, spending some time teaching on a kibbutz, and this has clearly had an impact upon her work.

One More River (1973, revised 1992) chronicles the life of Lesley as her parents decide to emigrate from Canada to Israel and end up living on a kibbutz in the months leading up to the 1967 war. Broken Bridge (1992) returns to the same characters and their children, and explores the effect that the death of one of the children (at the hands of a Palestinian) has on the family and the community.

In both books, the traditional Israeli ideas about Arabs are challenged. Lesley makes friends with an Arab boy across the river (in Jordan) from the kibbutz and this has a lasting impact on her life. In the second book the adult Lesley is fluent in Arabic and works for an organisation highlighting humanitarian issues faced by the Palestinian community. Returned soldiers share their feelings about the conflict and teenagers' views are challenged.

In Broken Bridge there is a moving scene where the grandfather (whose choice it was to emigrate in the first book) is talking to his grandson about the conlict and the role that Israeli soldiers have had to play in it:

"It's what I'm always saying, Nimrodi, I've been saying it for 25 years. It's the cursed Occupation. You can't have a nice, kindly, humane occupation of one people by another. Never, not in history, not in this world. You can't liberate land, as the right wingers called it when our forces won that miraculous victory in 1967. There were a million people on that 'liberated land'. The people weren't liberated. They were conquered." [Broken Bridge, p. 218]

The historical setting is well researched and essential to the story, so they are a really good introduction to the conflict for young people. Both books have a glossary of Arabic and Hebrew terms used as well as detailed maps. Her other novels set in Israel explore similar themes - An End to Running and Children at the Gate.

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