This review was originally published at the Palestine Chronicle. It has been republished here with permission from the author.
My Father Was A Freedom Fighter – Gaza’s Untold Story. Ramzy Baroud. Pluto Press, London, 2010.
Ramzy Baroud has written what should become an icon of historical-cultural writing for the people of Palestine. My Father Was a Freedom Fighter is an amazingly powerful and wonderfully well written tapestry of the modern history of Palestine, combining a family history focussed on the individual of Ramzy’s father Mohammed with the overall history of the Jewish-Zionist/Palestinian-Arabic conflict in the area. The latter evolves at two levels: the first as was most visibly seen and understood by Mohammed Ramzy; the second encompasses the larger view of the ‘near’ Middle East as revealed by historical records.
It is a highly emotional read, ranging from bitterness and anger to outright laughter – and books seldom if ever make me laugh. The bitterness and anger is obvious from Mohammed’s personal history of dispossession, poverty, the anxiety for his family and the losses they suffered and endured. It carries over into the larger geopolitical scene where the callousness of the Arabic elites and the Israeli military and political system strikes hard against the resident and dispossessed populations. The humour comes suddenly, revealing the essential spirit of the Baroud family and the people of Gaza in general in face of the violence perpetrated against them on a daily basis. The humour is both subtle and obvious, a combination of the macabre pathos of the situation combined with the undying spirit and resilience of the Palestinian people and Gazans in particular. Simply existing in the face of the imposed hardships becomes a supreme act of defiance in itself.
The Baroud family lived in Beit Daras, a small village north of Gaza, west of Jerusalem, just south of Jaffa. It provided a peaceful and comfortable living for the families that lived there not without the usual travails of life in general. When Mohammed was nine years old, “the Zionist military campaign to take over Palestine rolled into action. No one…was to foresee the atrocities that followed: the uneven war, the dispossession, the massacres, the betrayal, and the lifelong suffering.” Through all this, while everyone suffered, the “children hardly understood why their lives would be forever altered.”
From the brief historical introduction that leads up to that point, the story proceeds through the events that devastated the lives of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. It is a family story, of births, deaths, murders, weddings, love, humour, arguments, anger, and frustration. The story of Mohammed is as unique as his personality that is revealed through the actions he undertakes in order to try and survive, to one day be able to return to the village and home that he had known as a child, a village that was destroyed after a strong yet hopeless resistance against the attacking Zionist military.
The story is also a history of the Palestinian people in general, all of whom suffered similar fates of dispossession and the imposed military law of the Israelis people. The two aspects cannot be separated, one intertwined with the other. Nor is one story larger than the other as the life of Mohammed is an integral part of the overall fabric of Palestine – to follow that one thread is to be woven deeply into the anxieties, frustrations, anger, fear, loves, and humour of the larger view.
In relating the story of his father, Ramzy Baroud has created a history as it should be told, from the overall political setting and machinations of the powers that shape the world, but even more strongly the history of the sufferings of a people, of one person’s family, of the one individual, that expresses clearly the true nature of war, occupation, and dispossession – and to this day for those of the family who have grown in that environment, the history that they have remembered and will remember and will pass on to their own children and future generations so that these injustices will never be forgotten.
If you are to read one book on Gaza and Palestine, this is it. It shows up ‘history’ and war and imperialism for what they truly are. I read this book in one sitting, an unusual circumstance, but I would recommend that unless one already has some general understanding of the overall historical context of the region – either from the Israeli perspective or the Palestinian perspective, either will do – more time will be needed to absorb the historical background information and the ongoing military-political situation as the life of Mohammed Baroud and his family weaves its noble, vital, tragic path through events.