Who are the Palestinians? In this compelling book of interviews, Arthur Neslen reaches beyond journalistic clichés to let a wide variety of Palestinians answer the question for themselves. Beginning in the present with Bisan and Abud, two traumatized children from Jenin’s refugee camp, the book’s narrative arcs backwards through the generations to come full circle with two elderly refugees from villages that the children were named after. Along the way, Neslen recounts a history of land, resistance, exile, and trauma that begins to explain Abud’s wish to become a martyr and Bisan’s dream of a Palestine empty of Jews. Senior Fatah and Hamas figures relate key events of the Palestinian experience—the Second Intifada, Oslo Process, First Intifada, Thawra, 1967 War, the Naqba, and the Great Arab Revolt of 1936—in their own words. The extraordinary voices of women, children, farmers, fighters, drug dealers, policeman, doctors, and others, spanning the political divide from Salafi Jihadists to Israeli soldiers, bring the Palestinian story to life even as their words sow seeds of hope in the scorched Palestinian earth.
Part human-interest journalism, part ethnography, part national portrait, this study by Neslen (Occupied Minds) examines a people struggling with history, occupation, and diaspora. Neslen travels across Israel, the occupied territories, and several Gulf states, sometimes at great personal risk, to interview Palestinians from various walks of life NGO leaders, supermodels, refugee camp residents, and jihadis. The book's subjects share common experiences, among them the psychological effects of occupation, limitations on personal and economic mobility, bearing witness to extreme violence, and coping with religious and political factionalism. Neslen accesses some unique voices, including a zookeeper/taxidermist in the West Bank and a PFLP hijacker who became a poster girl for Palestinian resistance in the 1970s. One of the most salient themes to emerge from the collection is the experience of Palestinian women and their political marginalization by right-wing religious groups. Neslen's occasionally awkward prose ("Below, chartreuse grass sprouted from sour hills like a halfhearted hair transplant") and terse analysis prevent the book from being more than the sum of its parts, but as it is, it still offers important insight into the multifaceted Palestinian experience.