Gaza, Mohammed and My Mother – Book Review

By Elana Golden

(My Father Was A Freedom Fighter – Gaza’s Untold Story. Ramzy Baroud. Pluto Press. 2010)

My Father was a Freedom Fighter is a page-turner though I read it in small bites, the way you would eat a rich chocolate cake. It is a great read not only for those interested in the Israel/Palestine conflict but for anyone who loves books about family, courage, hope and resilience. 

For while clearly illustrating the trajectory of the long and complex history of the conflict – My Father was a Freedom Fighter tells a story of survival that is beyond this particular conflict. It is a personal story told through the keen eye of Ramzy Baroud, it reads like a novel, and is universal in its tone, its humanity, its psychology.

Mohammed Baroud, the 1948 Palestinian refugee, the subject in the book’s title, who lives in a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip “is” my Jewish mother who lived under the military fascist regime in Bucharest, Romania that collaborated with the Third Reich. Or anyone who’d been occupied and brutally treated! Mohammed “is” also my mother for they both share an exaggerated concern for their children, choices they were forced to make to feed their families, a cynical view of the world, their humor, dignity and pride, and down to the long-Kent-cigarettes they each smoked, Mohammed in Gaza, my mother in Tel Aviv.

On the personal level, I appreciated the disclosure of family dynamics, the dark side, the wound: Brothers’ rivalry, domestic violence – patterns and attitudes that are part and parcel of many societies at all socio economic and educational strata. On the political level the book sheds light on the growing split between the factions in the PLO and how this split was created. And why Mohammed, an atheist and a Marxist, puts on his best suit and goes to vote for religious Hamas.

The book is filled with unforgettable scenes, many that bring tears, but what’s a Palestinian story without humor? In his desperate attempts to keep his dignity and his livelihood, Mohammed falls into all kinds of mishaps and disastrous traps that would make a great comedy of errors. You really don’t know whether to laugh or to cry. And he is so intelligent, so resourceful, that I wished I could get his advice on my own problems! But Mohammed is also a man who never got over the loss of his family’s house and field, and his people’s lands and freedom!  His brokenness is inconsolable. It is one face to a dispossession and expulsion tragedy.  

As someone who grew up in Israel, it hurt me so much while reading the book to think back at Palestinians like Mohammed who worked in Israel after the 1967 war, how they were humiliated, shamed and exploited. I also remembered Prime Minister Rabin’s policy “break their bones.” To experience this policy from the point of view of young boys in Gaza, as so movingly described in the book, broke my heart and made me understand the emotional mind set of a Palestinian boy who holds a stone in the face of a tank, the mixture of fear and revenge, and the moment the stone is hurled toward an Israeli soldier and the boy becomes a man…

My Father was a Freedom Fighter was written from a generous heart and will appeal to the hearts of many worldwide, not only to those interested in political science or the Palestine/Israel conflict. 

Though get ready for a story that is very different from those told on FOX TV and all other corporate media outlets!

– Elana Golden, screenwriter, director, creative-writing teacher, Palestinian rights activist, Women in Black – Los Angeles. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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