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Susan Albulhawa :Scar of David (later:Mornings in Jenin)

In the afterword, to this novel, Albulhawa tells us it was was inspired by a short story by Ghassan Kanafani. She does not mention the name of the story but it is, in fact, Returning to Haifa.

The tone of this book is set in the opening scene when an Israeli soldier presses the muzzle of his rifle to Amal’s temple. We do not know what happens next till nearly the end of the book and, inevitably, it is not what we expected.

We go back to the Palestinian village of Ein Hod. The village economy is based on agriculture: olives, figs and so on. Indeed we get an idyllic description of the villagers harvesting the olives. The country is under British rule at the time but the Jews, many, of course displaced from Germany and Eastern Europe, are moving in. The family we are following consist of Yehya, his wife, Bashima, and their sons Hasan and Darweesh. It is Hasan who drives the lorry load of fruits to Jerusalem, where he has a Jewish friend, Ari, whose family had fled Germany. Yehya is not keen on his son studying. What does a farmer need with books? Yehya will later regret his decision and will apologise to his son for it. However, Ari’s mother helps him to study.

Hasan is attracted to a Bedouin girl, Dalia. His mother totally disapproves, not least because she is wild and independent. Darweesh is also attracted to her. Yehya, however, agrees to the marriage and her father is very glad to get rid of her. They soon have two sons, Yousef and Ismael. As a very young child, Ismael sustains an injury which leaves his cheek scarred. This has significant plot ramifications, as we shall see. Apart from the injury to Ismael, things are proceeding smoothly but we know what is going to happen and, very soon, so do they. They’re going to take land. They’ve launched a campaign across the world calling Palestine a land without a people. They’re going to make it a Jewish homeland.

Very soon, even before 1948, the Jews are attacking. First they attack the British, through lynchings and bombings, then the Arabs, through massacres, terror, and expulsion. The Ein Hod area sees its first attacks in 1947. Once the British leave in 1948, it gets worse. We follow in some detail what happens to our family. Those that survive – and not all do – head for the eponymous Jenin, where there is a refugee camp. So it was that eight centuries after its founding by a general of Saladin’s army in 1189 A.D., Ein Hod was cleared of its Palestinian children.

We now have a complex story of what happens to our family. In 1955 Dalia gives birth to Amal, whom we met at the beginning with the gun at her temple. She becomes the focus of the story. We also learn what is happening in Palestine as a whole, from the assassination of Folke Bernadotte to the the 1967 war which brings further tribulations for our family. When Jenin is attacked, Amal and her friend Huda hide and are rescued by a nun, who says to an Israeli soldier who wants to stop her You are no different from Nazis who stood in my way when I cared for Jews in the Second World War.

The family is further broken up. Yousef joins Yassir Arafat, Dalia loses her mind, Hasan, her husband disappears and Amal is injured by a missile but will later get a place in a school.

The focus is now on Amal, who goes to a boarding school with the usual problems (food, teachers) and from there gets a scholarship to a college in Philadelphia in the US. Initially she does not fit in but then gradually becomes American, with her name now being Amy. But, of course, the situation back home is getting worse with Black September and the Yom Kippur War. She is out of touch with her family when she finally receives a phone call from Yousef. He is working in the Shatila camp and she is soon joining him.

Things are getting worse (By April 1982, the United Nations had recorded 2,125 Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace and 652 violations of Lebanese territorial waters. Israel amassed twenty-five thousand soldiers on the border and continued to illegally deploy provocative manoeuvres to the south of Lebanon. However Amal, as she now is once again, gets a job and a husband.

We continue to follow her story against the background of the various key events in the Palestinian story, some of which affect her and her family directly, some less so. These include the PLO being exiled to Tunis, and the Sabra and Shatila massacre (This was a mass killing, an incident—how easily we used the word “incident” in Lebanon—that was also an atrocity. It went beyond even what the Israelis would have in other circumstances called a terrorist atrocity. It was a war crime, a comment by Loren Jenkins in the Washington Post. We also get the US Embassy bombing and the intifada. Amal and her family are affected by most of these.

While she is becoming, to a certain degree, American, her past keeps coming back and, of course, things continue to happen in Palestine, invariably to the detriment of the Palestinians and often to the detriment of her family and friends.

Albulhawa keeps her story going over three generations, while keeping us very much informed of the various horrors the Palestinians suffered during that era, showing us both their effect on Palestinians as a whole and on the family we are following, and their friends. Key characters are arrested, tortured, abused and killed. Key characters also disappear without trace. There is a key sub-plot concerning identity which we follow throughout the book. Above all, as with other Palestinian novels, we learn of the extensive suffering of the Palestinian people and the huge price they paid are still paying for the German-caused Holocaust.

Publishing history

First published in 2006 by Journey Publications (as Scar of David), in 2010 by Bloomsbury as Mornings in Jenin