Saturday, 17 July 2010

Book Review: Drinking The Sea At Gaza, by Amira Hass (1996)

Israeli journalist Amira Hass lived openly within the Palestinian community in Israeli-occupied Gaza in the early to mid 1990's. This was the post-Palestinian Intifada period, and also the period when the Oslo Accord was signed and a form of Palestinian autonomy was introduced in Gaza and the West Bank.

Drinking The Sea At Gaza is both unflinching and eye-opening. Hass presents a unique look at a society of more than a million people under siege. While accomplishing that most rare of achievements in humanizing the people of Gaza, she systemically explores, and in great depth, issues related to the day-to-day functioning of their society. She investigates the chasm between Gaza's original residents and the refugees, and delves into Gaza's economy, health care, education and politics.

Backed by extensive research and a large amount of socio-economic data measured by international organizations, Hass describes the living conditions created by Israel in Gaza as less than humane.

She is scathing in her criticism of Israel's policies, particularly the restrictions on movement through ever more frequent and longer closures of Gaza. Hass draws a straight line between Israel's treatment of Gaza's citizens and their ever increasing extremism.

She is equally blunt in her criticism of the Palestinian Authority, which took administrative control of Gaza after the Oslo Accord. The PA, under Yasser Arafat's incompetent leadership, succeeded in immediately squandering years of goodwill through corruption, mismanagement, and cronyism. The citizens of Gaza found themselves having to deal with a corrupt PA whose strings were still pulled by Israel. It's no wonder the Oslo Accord was effectively stillborn.

While Drinking The Sea At Gaza is a haunting book, it does have its share of faults. The early chapter dealing with the political origins of the Intifada is mind-numbing and ultimately aimless. And in particular, Hass is never satisfied with two examples when twenty would do. She continues to press home her points long after they are well made, to the detriment of readability and flow.

But this remains a book of remarkable importance and perception. Years after the book's publication, the level of frustration among Gaza's citizens with both Israel's brutality and the Palestinian Authority's incompetence and corruption resulted in the election of the extremist Hamas Party into power. This predictably prompted Israel's full economic choking of Gaza, compounding the misery of Gaza's residents.

Drinking The Sea At Gaza is to be commended for both presenting in human terms the facts as they were at the time of writing, and starkly explaining the painful reasons for worse events that were yet to unfold.

Subtitled "Days And Nights In a Land Under Siege".
Translated by Elana Wesley and Maxine Kaufman-Lacusta.
English version published in 1999.
Published in hardcover (1999) by Metropolitan Books.
352 pages plus Notes and Index.

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