Home » Palestine » Selma Dabbagh Out of It)

Selma Dabbagh: Out of It

We follow the story of the Mujahed family and their friends and neighbours. The book opens at an unspecified date in an unspecified place but it seems clear that it is Gaza during the 2000s. The father, Jibril, lives and works in the Gulf and sends money home. Mother runs the family, though she has three adult children. Sabri is the oldest. Sadly he was a victim of a bomb attack which took his wife, young son and both of his legs. He is looked after by his mother and spends his time writing about his political experiences though is somewhat sceptical about them.

He has younger twin siblings. Rashid works for a centre which provides information to a British group lobbying the British Parliament about Israeli war crimes. He is planning to go to Britain to study, to assist the British group and because the woman who is his contact with the group, Lisa, came over to Palestine and they met and started an affair which he is eager to continue.

His twin sister is Iman. She belongs to a woman’s group which discusses the political situation but she is eager for more concrete action and has been contacted by another woman in the group about joining another group (invitation only) which is engaged in more concrete action.

The family are fortunate enough to live in a house but their neighbours had their houses destroyed by the Israelis and now, for the most part, live in tents.

At the start of the novel, a young woman suicide bomber has blown herself up. The Israelis have sought revenge by bombing the hospital, including killing a couple of people known to our family. During the course of the book, they will take further revenge, including blockading the city so supplies cannot get in or out. They will also destroy other buildings including the centre where Rashid works. Rashid watched the bombing while high on marijuana which enhanced the viewing experience.

AS the title tells us, Rashid wants out. At the beginning of the book he and we learn he has been given a scholarship to study in London under Professor Myres. Professor Myres is a keen devotee of Palestine. He had served as soldier in Palestine during the British mandate and is ashamed of what the British did. He will tell Rashid later that he could have picked another oppressed minority tio study such as the Kurds or Armenians but chose the Palestinians. He comments you see, these accounts show how some of these early Jewish immigrants to Palestine were absolutely shocked. There they were, just escaped from the jaws of hell in Nazi Germany or elsewhere in Europe. They’ve arrived in Palestine, this Holy Sacred Land, this place of new beginnings, where they soon find themselves witnessing the same tactics being used by their people against the Arabs – the Palestinians – as had been used against them.

However, before he gets to London we follow Rashid and his friend Khalil as they carry on with their work, wondering whether it is really worthwhile, despite Lisa’s encouragement. We also get their perspective of hiw grim and run-down the area is – damaged buildings, bodies in the street, road full of potholes and, once the Israelis blockade the city, the rotting flowers of the flower seller.

Meanwhile Iman is trying to get into this special group but it goes terribly wrong. Moreover she is accosted by Ziyyad Ayyoubi, son of two famous and now dead Palestinians who seems to be in the PLO who tries to warn her off.

Rashid makes it to London but comes across cultural differences with his roomate Ian, Lisa, her family and her friends. The British seem to have little awareness of what is going on in Palestine and even less interest. When he says he is from Palestine, someone thinks he means he is from Pakistan. He even gets called a wog.

Meanwhile Iman visits her father in a Gulf state, presumably Kuwait and the visit does not go well. She then heads for London to join her brother and again things do not go well.

Behind all this, there is a plot involving Iman and Rashid’s parents and their past, who fingered Sabri and Ziyyad Ayyoubi, now in the (corrupt)PLO. This plot drifts from Gaza to London and back to Gaza.

We are following what is going on in Gaza and, to a lesser extent, in London with the Israelis increasing their attacks in Gaza, bombing, shooting and bulldozering buildings . We also see brave actions not just by Palestinians such as Khalil, Iman and Ziyyad but also by the odd British person, turning up to help.

However despite all of this, the key person is surely Rashid. We had seen him do his bit with the Centre, early on in the book and then later at a demo in London. However Rashid is not your Palestinian hero. He seems to be happiest smoking dope and both early on and later, all he wants is to be out of it which means being anywhere but Palestine, somewhere he can have a normal life, with a girlfriend and dope and nice cafés. Of course it does not work out like that. He is in Gaza. He has no money. The Israelis are attacking. He has learned the truth about his parents. Even his mother does not recognise him as a hero, leaving him few options.

This book does not take the general approach that all Palestinians are heroes in their fight against Israel and focusses on Rashid and others for whom life should be lived in a normal way. The comparison is made clearer when Rashid and Iman are in London but we see it in Gaza as well. We do, of course, see heroic actions and the horrors of the Israeli attacks but by mixing in both, we get a far more interesting novel.

Publishing history

First published in 2011 by Bloomsbury