Monday, April 6, 2020

Where The Streets Had a Name, by Randa Abdel-Fattah

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Hayaat is a Palestinian living in Bethlehem's West Bank in 2004. She and her family are separated from the land they grew up in, Jerusalem, by a massive wall. Hayaat had spent a portion of her childhood there (through the age of 9), her mother had grown up there, and her grandmother before her. But the Israeli army forced them out, along with the other Palestinians there. Now Hayaat is thirteen, living in a dingy apartment, with her mother, father, sister, two brothers, and her grandmother.

The Palestinians, who are Arabs and mostly Muslims, are restricted by travel laws, curfews, and checkpoints. Protesters are often shot, sometimes even if they are kids. People trying to leave illegally are jailed, even if they are only trying to visit family. People out after curfew are arrested. People jumping over the wall are arrested. Hayaat's friend Maysaa was shot dead when she was caught in a protest. She was only around ten years old.

Hayaat and her friend Samy and everyone living in the West Bank hate the Israeli occupation, hate the people who forced them out and are now living in the homes and the towns and the cities that used to be theirs.

Her grandmother often tells stories about what it was like before the occupation, when she lived in a beautiful villa with her family, in Jerusalem. When her health starts failing, she tells Hayaat that she did not want to die in her daughter's house, but in her own homeland. So Hayaat hatches a ridiculously dangerous plan.

She and her friend Samy will go (illegally) to Jerusalem and collect soil from Hayaat's grandmother's village, the one she lived in before the occupation. They will bring it back to her so she can have a piece of her land with her.

The journey to Jerusalem is only about six miles, but with all of the obstacles in the way, the wall, the checkpoints, and the army, the trip could very well take forever.

Where The Streets Had a Name is about the Israeli occupation of Jerusalem, told from the point of view of a Palestinian teenager. Hayaat and her family represent all of the Palestinians who were forced out of their homes and into dirty towns and refugee camps. If they had legal deeds to their land, the deeds became void. Some homes were given to Israeli citizens, others were destroyed in demolition projects.

I'm not speaking ill of the Jews; I come from Jewish roots myself, but I am talking about what has been happening since 1967. People being inhumane towards other people, all for the sake of religion. But I don't know why I'm surprised. People have been doing things like this, in the name of religion, and politics, ever since civilization began. But author Abdel-Fattah seems to go out of her way to present most of the Israelis as one-dimensional or evil, so there are definitely some issues with bias and one-sidedness.

Still, I loved this, it is a truly moving story.

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