“She took from me the belief that absolute evil exists in this world, and the belief that I was avenging it and fighting against it. For that girl, I embodied absolute evil ... Since then I have been left without my Holocaust, and since then everything in my life has assumed a new meaning: belongingness is blurred, pride is lacking, belief is faltering, contrition is heightening, forgiveness is being born.”
The Girl Who Stole My Holocaust is the deeply moving memoir of Chayut’s journey from eager Zionist conscript on the front line of Operation Defensive Shield to leading campaigner against the Israeli occupation. As he attempts to make sense of his own life as well as his place within the wider conflict around him, he slowly starts to question his soldier’s calling, Israel’s justifications for invasion, and the ever-present problem of historical victimhood.
Noam Chayut’s exploration of a young soldier’s life is one of the most compelling memoirs to emerge from Israel for a long time.
What follows is an extract from Palestine Speaks: Narratives of Life Under Occupation.
Farmer, day laborer, 32
Born in Bethlehem, West Bank
Interviewed in the West Bank
[Editors] The first thing we notice as we drive to Laith Al-Hlou’s home southeast of Bethlehem is the challenge presented by the roads. Some roads are almost too steep to climb, and others almost too muddy or rocky to navigate. The bottom of our car crunches and scrapes as we creep along toward his village. Eventually we reach the compound where Laith lives with his family. Laith’s house, the family’s olive trees, and two other houses belonging to his extended family are surrounded by a short rock wall topped with barbed wire. When we pull up in our car, a dozen or more kids come spilling out to greet us—Laith’s children and nieces and nephews. Some wear cracked plastic shoes, some wear no shoes at all. Laith is a skinny thirty-two-year-old with a wife and five young kids. The seven of them sleep in a twelve-foot by twelve-foot room that includes a wardrobe, a crib for the baby, and twin bunk beds piled with blankets. This is the main room of the family’s living space. They also have a small kitchen and toilet, all of which is on the second floor, above a chicken coop.
After a tour of his house, we sit with Laith on plastic chairs outside, and he tells us about the ways his community has changed since 1996, when Israeli settlers first moved near his home. His wife stays close by, and even though she is hard of hearing, she interjects periodically with her own stories. Laith is one of up to 300,000 Palestinians living in Area C—the roughly 60 percent of the West Bank that is still under full military and administrative control of Israel following the Oslo Peace Accords of 1993.1 Area C also contains many of the West Bank’s Israeli settlements, a collection of villages established by Israeli citizens following the occupation of the region in 1967. Today, there are 400,000–500,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank outside of Jerusalem. The guard tower of a nearby settlement looms above Laith’s property as we sit and talk. He tears up as he tells us that pressure from the settlements may force him to someday relocate his family.
Ghada Karmi and Ellen Siegel, 1973
By Ghada Karmi in Return: A Palestinian Memoir
As I sat at my father’s bedside, listening to his irregular breathing and the sound of the pulse monitor attached to his finger, I thought how frightening it was to be brought up sharp against the awareness of one’s own mortality. I feared death equally as much as I knew my father did. He was a very old man, but age had not dimmed his ardour for life and I imagined I would be the same. Like most people, I did not like to contemplate my dying and avoided thinking about it, but it was always there, waiting in the background to be attended to. An elderly doctor I knew once told me, ‘I believe that people must prepare for death. Avoidance and denial are foolish. If we face up fair and square to the inevitability of death it will lose its terrors.’