When Will There Be No More Strangers in the House?

Strangers In The HouseLast Friday, I finished reading the autobiography-cum-historical account “Strangers in the House” by Raja Shehadeh.

Drawing from the jacket, “Shehadeh was born into a successful Palestinian family with a beautiful house in Jaffa, overlooking the Mediterranean. When the State of Israel was formed in 1948, the family were driven out of the provincial town of Ramallah. There Shehadeh grew up in the shadow of his father Aziz, a leading civil rights lawyer. Raja vowed not to enter a career in politics or law but inevitably did so and became an important human rights activist himself.

In 1985, his father was killed in suspicious circumstances. The Israeli police failed to investigate the murder properly and Shehadeh, by then a lawyer, set about solving the crime that destroyed his family. In “Strangers in the House”, he recounts the painful, complex relationship he had with his father, and his frustrating, disheartening search for justice and closure.”

I chose this book because I wanted to go beyond the headlines and news reports I’d read, the photos and films I’d seen about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In a way, I wanted to go back to the beginning. And I knew that a pure history book would lose me along the way. The line that sold me was a review on the back cover by Amos Elon: “Explains better than a hundred political treaties why there is still no peace in the Middle East.”

And it does. Set against the backdrop of the continuing disappearance of Palestine, the book is a poignant coming-of-age memoir of loss that combines the personal and the political to devastating effect.

The edition I have comes with a foreword by Pulitzer-prize winning columnist Anthony Lewis, a detailed map, a chronology and an afterword by Shehadeh himself.

Here are my favorite quotes from the book. When you read them, you will know why I chose to save them.

– The sad thing is the inhumanity on both sides. Too many people have been killed and wounded. It is heartbreaking.

– Rather than counting on peace as the best guarantee for its security, Israel continues to count exclusively on its military might refusing to recognize its Palestinian foe as a national group entitled, like all national groups, to self determination.

– In the twenty-first century, the case of Palestine remains one of the last surviving examples of a country usurped by a colonial project exploiting religion to deprive Palestinians of their land.

– Only when these weird contortions of history, religion and international law are challenged will Arabs and Jews come to accept each other, as my father and I were able to do. No strangers will then remain in our house.

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