MARCH 14, 2012: Conference
What are some of the main themes in Jabra Ibrahim Jabra’s memoir?
Poverty- examples such his difficulty paying for a pencil and notebook, and his
family having to sell his new Christmas boots to ay for their Christmas meal
Religion- He was Syrian Orthodox (Christian). His father deals with religion very
piously. Can be related how Leila Ahmed’s assertion that men’s religion is textual
religion. Jabra does not make a distinction between how men and women interpret
Education- His father would stress him staying in school, even if it meant he couldn’t
work and contribute to the family expenses. The fact that his brother had to drop
out of school but still learns on his own, which shows how much their family value
education. Education was a way out and a provider of new opportunities. The focus
on language in the Rashidiyya School was a secular, nationalist school, and he had to
demonstrate his skill in Arabic. Class was taking a more important role that religion
at this time, and Muslims and Christians both had to learn Arabic. This common
language worked to foster an Arab identity. Secular schools were used to enforce a
certain identity, which is when we started to hear about Palestinian nationalism was
emerging. Common language became a rallying point for identity.
In talking about his Palestine, he describes the wells, the water, and the olives.
There is a deep connection in the Palestinian identity with the land and the
landscape. Memories and identity are embedded in the landscape. In a way, talking
about these things that only exist in the mind, they help to think about the truth and
things that stand out in the minds of Palestinians.
All that is avoided in the memoirs is politics, which he deliberately avoided in
writing. But in reality, he is making a political statement. He is saying that
Palestinian identity is attached to what happened after 1948. When he talks about
Palestinian identity, you get images of Nakba and the exile, but he is trying to
portray a truer and different projection of Palestinian identity- before 1948.
He is also saying that for those who say that there was no one living there, he is
making his claim to the land.
When walking to the other town, they discuss the Jewish stereotypes- that they “eat
children.” This idea of libel comes from England was taken to Palestine by the
Why is there so much debate around the question “when did Palestinian nationalism
To be a “people,” you need a territory or a national identity. National identity
became much more important when they no longer had the land of Palestine.
There were two approaches:
Nationalism approach: They looked back to see if they were ever described in texts
as “Palestinian” or “peoples.” If they were described as such, they could argue that
they were a nation with a right to self-determination.
Nationalism was a European construct: the idea that it is not fair because
nationalism as a approach is defined and has its history in Europe. He argues that
they did have a community, but did not use those terms because it is European.
Although they didn’t see it in the specific terms of Europe, does not mean that they
didn’t consider themselves a people (scholar- Doumani). The debate is relevant politically because people do not know how to approach it,
and if they are not a nation, then why are so many people trying so hard to get back
Why do groups need to be a “people” to have a claim to land? The land is tied to a
way to identify yourself, and having control of land and having control of people
The Ottoman Empire was organized into a villayette system, and the way different
people congregated was based on the millet system, where people were broken
down into religions and grouped as such.
If the Palestinians did not have an idea of nation, the Israelis could have used it
against them. If they could prove that Palestinians living in Israel were a
community, they could use it as a counter argument to the Israeli occupation.
Nationalism is your identification with your particular cultural group. It can be
centred on religion, language, culture, etc.
One scholar said that nationalism is just a construct, and he used novels and
newspapers to show that there are things promoting the idea that they are a people
How has the history of the 1948 War been written and what are some of the main debates
(a question about historiography)?
The group of Israeli scholars who started writing about 1948 tried to debunk the
myths in narrative. They based their information on declassified archives.
The counter arguments found in the same documents show the subjectivity of
history. Your writing depends on your focus (you can’t cover everything), you will
be subconsciously ignoring some things.
The assumption behind history is that no one would hide evidence; it just depends
on how you use sources and construct your argument.
It seems that all of the historians were Israeli and they were primarily writing on
the issue of 1948.
Why weren’t the Palestinians as organized? These myths are also being
reconstructed from the Palestinian side; except for the fact that if you want
government documents you probably have to go to Israel.
How would we go about analyzing Ghassan Kanafani’s short story Land of Sad Oranges as a
piece of fiction?
It gives a holistic account of what happened, but it only gives one side of the story so
it must be taken as not the whole truth.
When someone writes a non-fiction memoir, there is still subjectivity because they
can emphasize some things and not the other.
Historical interpretation is still a way of looking at something that happened, but is
subject but that may not be how it actually played out.
Looking at it as fiction, you would look at metaphor and imagery to describe to
explain his feelings and thoughts at the time. You would look at the voice (which is
told through a memory, one family member to another). The child has a more
mature view of what is happening and the parents seem more hopeless and exposed
to political agenda (especially the father).
It is a first person narrative, so he is talking, not describing. What difference does
He is talking to someone who was probably younger when it happened. How well did he develop these characters?
Near the end, the protagonist said that the father stopped talking about Palestine,
and formed the “massive walls of tragedy.” This is not the language a historian
would use, because it is filled with imagery and bias.