COLUMN : Reviewing human rights

Shereen Ahmed Rafea | Website Editor

The Palestinian exodus that came after the declaration of the state of Israel followed years of displacement and suffering.

Writers, such as the late Ghassan Kanafani, who was amongst the hundreds of thousands Palestinians forced to leave their homes after the 1948 events, wrote about the life and struggles of Palestinians after the Nakba. He was a journalist, novelist and a short story writer, who immortalized the plight of the Palestinians and their culture in his work.

His short novel, “Men in the Sun” (originally published in Arabic in 1962 and then translated to English later on) describes three Palestinians who pay a smuggler to take them across the border to Kuwait, in hope of a better life.

Abu Qais, an old man, is the first character in the book. He lost his house and the trees he owned and is faced with poverty and a wife and son to look after. His mourning and sorrow over the life he lost is described using powerful imagery and haunting words.

“ Abu Qais rested on the damp ground and the earth began to throb under him with tired heartbeats,” writes Kanafani in the book, “ which trembled through the grains of sand and penetrated the cells of his body.”

“ Every time he threw himself down with his chest to the ground he sensed that throbbing, as though the heart of the earth had been pushing its difficult way towards the light from the utmost depths of hell, ever since the first time he had lain there.”

The other characters are Assad and Marwan.  Assad was taken advantage of by a smuggler and left alone in the middle of the journey, under the blazing hot desert sun and Marwan, is a young man taking care of his mother and siblings and wants to find work to provide for them. His brother had left for Kuwait, and stopped sending money to them after a while.

The book “ Men in the Sun and Other Palestinian Stories”, which is translated by Hilary Kilpatrick, also includes some of Kanafani’s other short stories, such as “ The Land of Sad Oranges,” “ Letter from Gaza”, “ If You Were a Horse…”,  “ Umm Saad (excerpt)”, etc… The themes in the stories include, the life of refugees, Palestinian family dynamics, culture and history.

In “Letter from Gaza,” a friendship pact is broken when one decides to stay in Gaza to take care of his brother’s widow and kids and not join the other in the United States. “ No, my friend I won’t come to Sacramento, and I’ve no regrets…this obscure feeling you had as you left Gaza, this small feeling most grow into a giant deep within you… I wont come to you but you return to us!”

“ Land of Sad Oranges”, tells the story of a family, the night they had to leave their home, when Israeli troops began to take over, and briefly describes the events that followed. Oranges are used as a part of a story to depict the sadness.

This book, along with Kanafani’s other articles, stories and writings in a way can form a backdrop to today’s current events.

You may have noticed that our newest section in the website is dedicated to Reviews.

In the world of human rights abuses and neglect, rights media and spreading awareness is crucial. The issues and hardships that people  faces reach us through documentation. This can be done by reporting on events, interviewing activists and writing about issues in our community. However the documentation of human rights also has other forms. There are many works of non-fiction such as books, documentaries and exhibits that transmit human plight and suffering to their audiences. Reviewing and thinking critically about the issue that the author/filmmaker is addressing is an important step in spreading awareness.

 Therefore the review serves as tool to critically address human rights and the many stories that exist. It also helps point out issues that you might have not thought about. For example, our contributor Eric White piloted the review section by writing about the book, Zeituon by Dave Eggers,and addressing the issue of racism post 9/11. It was his story pitch that inspired the section. Another contributor Alyssa Tremblay reviewed the documentary The Truth That Wasn’t Therewhich saw three students covering the aftermath of the civil war in Sri- Lanka.

A while after reading Ghassan Kanafani’s book, I looked up Amnesty International’s most recent Annual report on The State of the World’s Human Rights.  When it came to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, this year’s report, not entirely dissimilar to last year’s, cited numerous human rights violations committed by Israeli authorities. Those violations included, the ongoing Gaza humanitarian crisis, Palestinian home evictions and demolitions, torture and excessive use of force. Prisoner conditions and unfair trial information were also mentioned in the report.

This is why reviewing books, movies, and others forms of story telling about important issues, are vital in making us think and examine the state of human rights worldwide. As American anthropologist Margaret Mead once said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”


Editor’s Note: Click on the Contact Us section of the website to discuss writing for the review section or other sections as well. We love hearing from new contributors!


2 thoughts on “COLUMN : Reviewing human rights

  1. A very useful approach to tackling human sufferings in many parts of the world. It is only through powerful words of dedicated young journalists that truth is exposed and perhaps enlightens human consiousness. Well done.

  2. Pingback: COLUMN: Reviewing human rights « Shereen Ahmed Rafea

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