This tale, told pretty much through the eyes and experiences of a 13 year old Palestinian child named Hayaat, is tender, tragic and humorous all at the same time. It seeks to illuminate the issue of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in a gentle and largely non-confrontational way. It is told in simple truths, although the truth is often only on one side of the issue. Still, I would recommend it as a teaching tool in the middle grades so that this side of the issue, rarely covered, is explored more fully.
Hayaat lives with her family in a small home in the walled off area of Israel on the West Bank. Her former home was bulldozed to make room for a road in Israel, leading to new settlements. Her father has been fairly despondent ever since he lost his land. Hayaat’s best friend is murdered by Israelis during a demonstration and Hayaat is scarred physically and emotionally during the incident. She and her friend are innocent victims. The demonstration, however, was not innocent. The young soldiers got spooked when they were attacked. Dispersing the crowd, tragedy occurred.
The problems encountered by the families trapped behind the wall are huge and seemingly insurmountable. Traveling and/or working in Israel is a nightmare for them. It is time consuming and erratic in nature. Their very existence is cause for suspicion. New checkpoints can randomly appear depending on the turmoil occurring. Suicide bombings bring increased security checks, searches, bulldozing of homes and humiliation for them.
Hayaat’s sister is engaged to be married and a wedding is being planned. There is happiness and joy in her home which is a warm and loving environment. Her grandmother is old and ill and she wants to see her homeland again before she dies; she yearns for the land she left behind in Israel. Hayaat adores her and is obsessed with the idea of sneaking into Israel and bringing back some soil from her grandmother’s former land. This is an exceedingly dangerous thing to chance but she and her friend Samy decide to try. The people she meets and the dangers she encounters serve as the medium for the story to unfold. Memories are aroused and the hazards of normal daily life are exposed. As philosophical and hopeful as Hayaat is about her life, Samy is angry and defiant. Through their remarks and behavior, we are presented with a picture of how the Arab Israeli conflict is viewed and acted out in the larger world. The larger problems of the conflict and the peace talks are illustrated through the lives of these children.
Via their experiences, the hardships faced and the sometimes frightening events they witness, some healing takes place. They do come to the realization that everyone, Israeli and Arab alike, really wants to just be allowed to live with dignity, that not all Jews are hateful enemies, that some work to help them achieve freedom and respect. However, the reason for their plight is never fully explored so they never quite come to the realization that they bear some responsibility for how they are being treated because of the past behavior of their brethren. The subject of the many wars the Arab nations have declared against Israel is never fully explored.
Hopefully, it is through the innocent eyes of children, the future generations, that this conflict will be resolved. Hayaat says “I live in an open air prison…so long as there is life there is love…” Her message of hope is what the world needs to hear. Her yearning for dignity and purpose and freedom is the message of the book.
The reason I gave the book four stars and not five is because the point that the Arabs are monitored because of the security threat that they pose, not because they are Arabs or Palestinians, is never quite made nor is the point that Jews are attacked and hated because they are Jews trying to live in their own country. The point that the Arabs do not want to accept the legitimacy of Israel is never quite made, as well. The Arabs are made to seem largely as innocent victims who had no part in the causal relationship between their suffering and their behavior.
Perhaps this book could be an effective weapon to fight hatred and serve as a teaching tool for students if another book with the opposing position is read at the same time and then both are dissected and analyzed for the reasons the conflict exists and the true history behind all the events is taught so that one side or another is not always demonized, so that both sides can begin to understand each other’s needs and engage in mutual respect.
The glossary at the end of the book is very helpful as there were times when I was totally confounded with the meaning of words.
For further information on the history of the conflict, check out these websites.