Paperback: 230 pages

Publisher: Eye Books (15 Sept. 2006)

ISBN-13: 978-1903070529

Product Dimensions: 13.3 x 1.8 x 19.7 cm

Prickly Pears of Palestine

Hilda Reilly

£9.99

“A must-read for anyone wanting to understand the 

extraordinary juncture of history at which we find ourselves.”

Waseem Mahmood, OBE

An account providing a human face to the realities of life in Palestine The Palestinian–Israeli conflict is one of the most widely reported and long standing struggles in the world, yet for many, misunderstanding is rife about its most basic issues. Hilda Reilly volunteered to work at An-Najah University in Nablus in order to spend time among many ordinary people, living under extraordinary circumstances. She lives among students, and relates the many conversations she has with a wide range of Palestinians about their thoughts on Hamas and Fatah, Yasser Arafat, bin Laden and Hussein, Blair and Bush, bringing readers an insight to the people behind the politics.

Extracts

‘That’s Hebrew music,’ Suleiman said.

‘Abu Mahir got to like Hebrew music when he was in jail.’ This surprised me. I would have thought that the situation in which he was exposed to it would have conditioned him against it. Even more surprising, Abu Mahir had also learned Hebrew in jail and spoke it well. ‘Why did you do this?’ I asked. ‘It’s the language of the oppressor surely?’ Abu Mahir shrugged off this suggestion. It was something to occupy his time, he said. I later found that many Palestinians were reasonably fluent in Hebrew, particularly those who had worked in Israel before the intifada, and had no qualms about it.

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Extracts

‘That’s Hebrew music,’ Suleiman said.

‘Abu Mahir got to like Hebrew music when he was in jail.’ This surprised me. I would have thought that the situation in which he was exposed to it would have conditioned him against it. Even more surprising, Abu Mahir had also learned Hebrew in jail and spoke it well. ‘Why did you do this?’ I asked. ‘It’s the language of the oppressor surely?’ Abu Mahir shrugged off this suggestion. It was something to occupy his time, he said. I later found that many Palestinians were reasonably fluent in Hebrew, particularly those who had worked in Israel before the intifada, and had no qualms about it.

The next day I discovered the source of the gunfire at the university gate. It had started as an argument between some drivers of the taxis which lined up at the gate to ferry students into town. One driver had tried to jump the queue and another tried to stop him. The argument got more heated. One of them pulled out a gun and started firing it in the air, then some other men got out their guns and they were all firing in the air in a sabre-rattling sort of way. ‘It’s very regrettable,’ Ala said. ‘There are a lot of problems in Nablus caused by people getting guns and going around in armed gangs. They get the guns from Israelis who are only too happy to contribute to adestabilising of Palestinian society, and it’s difficult for the Palestinian police to deal with it as they’re not armed themselves.’

‘In the West you criticize the Arab countries for their governments, sons inheriting from fathers. What about the Bush family? And did you know the Bush family were supporting Hitler in the 1940s? No? Well, you know nothing.’

He was stamping up and down in his anger, marching from one of end of the room to the other, flailing his arms as he struggled to get them into the sleeves of his bomber jacket.

I asked him why he allowed Israelis to advertise in his restaurant.

‘I have no quarrel with Jews, only with Zionism.’

quotes

At last a book that acknowledges that there are two sides to every story

 A must-read for anyone wanting to understand the extraordinary juncture of history at which we find ourselves.

Written as a travel diary rather than a polemic, it brings to vivid life the people behind the politics

We passed a group of rifle-carrying soldiers. ‘God bless them, they’re protecting us,’ said Ruthie

Reilly’s writing is ‘A powerful example of sympathy combined with dispassion.’

reviews

Far from Prickly! (5* review)

Many of us have become inured to the seemingly never ending `eye for an eye' justice of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. We watch scenes of carnage on the television news: boys throwing stones at army tanks; black shrouded women wailing over ruined homes; victims being transported from the latest suicide bomb attack, and mentally switch off.However, this book made me see the situation anew, through the eyes of the people who live here. The causes of the problem have often been forgotten through the mists of time, and a timely and succinct history of the conflict sets the scene for the stories of those who are living in the Holy Land of today. In talking to, rather than interviewing people, on all sides of the dispute, the author reveals an ear for dialogue and an eye for the absurd. One minute she is being asked to recite the text for conversion to Islam, the next, hands are being laid upon her to be saved by Jesus. It is certainly not a dry, boring text.Never judgmental, Hilda allows the characters to speak for themselves, revealing the gaps in perspectives between the disparate groups. Christian Zionists; Muslims; secular Jews; `born again' Christians; orthodox Jews; settlers; families of suicide bombers - all have their say, illustrating the complexity as well as the humanity of the situation. Sometimes the situation seems hopeless, at other times there is a note of optimism.But one thing is for certain; the television images of the strife in Palestine will no longer leave me unmoved. That in itself is the biggest reason why it should be widely read - as an antidote to indifference to the heartbreak of Palestine.

Sharp and fruitful (5* review)

This is a very vivid and easy to read introduction to the daily lives of people in Palestine for those of us who know about that troubled land only through the news. Reilly's friendships with the wide variety of people she met and her humanity enlighten and alleviate what is otherwise a grim story. She meets 'extremists' on both sides as well as ordinary people struggling to live a 'normal' life. Her conversational style makes us feel that we have met them too. Neither a journalist nor a voluntary or aid worker, Reilly remains a travel writer, who has chosen to write about a dangerous and difficult place and the people who live there. Her courage can be read through the lines of her account.

Heartfelt and balanced (4* review)

In the opening pages Hilda Reilly provides us with arguably the most lucid and authoritative short summary of the Palestinian question that are available in the English language. Continuing to read this book, however, it becomes clear that there is really no such thing as a short summary of the situation! In order to appreciate what is happening and indeed what might happen next, it is imperative to understand the stories of the people who are living through it. Reilly does this on our behalf. This is beyond research, beyond investigative journalism. It is a heartfelt connection with the people who matter, but then written up according to professional principles of balance and perspective.

extras

ABOUT

Hilda Reilly

Hilda was born in Perth, Scotland. After graduating from Edinburgh University she started training to become an actuary. Three months later she decided that not even the prospect of belonging to what was then the highest paid profession in the country could induce her to carry on in a career to which she was so congenitally unsuited.

Subsequent jobs included oil industry analyst in London, artists’ model in Paris, technical translator in Baghdad, charity worker in Zanzibar and journalist in Ho Chi Minh City. In her last professional incarnation she spent five years in Khartoum as director of an educational charity.

A travel writer who engages with controversial situations and works on the principle that ‘an enemy is someone whose story hasn’t been heard’.

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