Ramzy Baroud’s “My Father Was A Freedom Fighter” is more than a book, it is actually a masterpiece. In an overwhelmingly evoking personal style Baroud manages to bring to light the history of the Palestinian people and their battle with Israel and Zionism. Through the story of the Baroud’s family the book outlines every event in the history of the conflict and reflects on the way it transformed the Palestinian reality.
The book is a heart breaking depressing story of the Baroud family’s journey from paradise to hell. It is a flight that starts in Beit Daras, a small pictorial village in the south of Palestine. It ends in a Gaza refugee camp. It is a tragic journey of a rural self-sufficient population that is driven into total dispossession, humiliation and absolute poverty. And yet, there is a beam of light along the book namely resistance: Ramzy’s father Mohammed, was a freedom fighter. He didn’t win a single war, not even a battle, yet, against all odds, in spite of his poverty and illness, he managed to educate his children and to plant hope in their young souls, to fuel Ramzy with fierceness, which along the years transformed the young man into a monumental inspirational writer and an icon of intellectual resistance.
“My Father Was A Freedom Fighter” may be one of the saddest books ever written, yet,Baroud peppered it with his witty sarcastic humour. In between sobbing and laughter we come to intimately grasp the depth of the Palestinian misery. We come also to understand the level of the depth of Israeli brutality. We comprehend why the Palestinians and Arab nations failed for so many years. As the tide is changing and people around the world gather a better understanding of the sinister murderous capacity of the Jewish state, we come to realise that there was not much of a chance for the Palestinians in 1948 to grasp what they were up against. I would even take it further and argue that even nowadays, some fail to fully grasp the depth and strength of the viciousness of Israel and the Zionist ideology. However, reading Baroud’s book reveals the dark truth: the people of Gaza at least know it all by now.
In a very thorough manner Baroud manages to review the political shift within the Palestinian society. Through the story of his father, a self taught intellectual and a Russian literature enthusiast we learn about the complexity of the relationships between Marx, Arab Nationalism and Islam. The magical power of the book is due to its natural insistence to explore the Palestinian history from a Palestinian perspective. It is Palestino-centric in every possible good sense. After so many years of left and Jewish hegemony within the Palestinian solidarity discourse, now is the time to learn what Palestinians think about their reality, about the Left, Islam, Pan-Arabism, Hamas, PLO, Nakba, Naksa*, Israel, Zionism, USA, their priorities and so on. Rather than suggesting what should happen in Palestine, what kind of a state it should be and what political model the Palestinians should follow, we have here an opportunity to understand what Palestine and Palestinians are as themselves.
The Austrian philospher Otto Weininger taught us that “in art, self-exploration is exploration of the world…..” (Weininger Otto, 2003, Sex and Character, Howard Fertig, New York: Author’s preface, pg. I). The scientist is observing the material and physical world, the philosopher is looking into the realm of ideas and the artist is looking into the inner self. As interesting as it may be, the artist is telling us something about the world just from looking inside. To a certain extent, “My Father Was A Freedom Fighter” is such a Weiningerian poetic artistic exercise. Baroud takes us into his own world. Through the poesis, the tears, the pain and the joy we understand the world we live in, how merciless it is, yet, Baroud reminds us all along that we are also free to resist and to hope for a change.
Here are Baroud’s words describing his transforming moment while confronting IDF soldiers around the outbreak of the 1st Intifada. Baroud was a High School student at the time.
“Engulfed by my own rebellious feelings, I picked up another stone, and a third. I moved forward, even as bullets flew, even as my friends began falling all around me. I could finally articulate who I was, and for the first time on my own terms. My name was Ramzy, and I was the son of Mohammed, a freedom fighter from Nuseirat, who was driven out of his village of Beit Daras, and a grandson of a peasant who died with a broken heart and was buried beside the grave of my brother, a little boy who died because there was no medicine in the refugee camp’s UN clinic. My mother was Zarefah, a refugee who couldn’t spell her name, whose illiteracy was compensated for by a heart overflowing with love for her children and her people, a woman who had the patience of a prophet. I was a free boy; in fact, I was a free man” (My Father Was A freedom Fighter. Ramzy Baroud, pg’ 132)
Baroud is not just a free man, he is also a free spirit, a spirit that can guide others through the Zionist darkness that threatens to swallow what is left of ethics and universalism. To resist is apparently the true meaning of freedom.
Long Live Palestine.
* Naksa- an Arabic name for the defeat of the Arabs during the 1967.