Yahya Sinwar speaks at a rally marking the annual Quds Day in Gaza April 14, 2023 (Reuters)
The narratives and stories of any nation have not been without addressing a part of its diaries and ornaments, and mentioning its events and facts, whether in their time and which its writers battled, when they listened to its makers, saw them, saw their actions, or participated in them themselves, or those that occurred in a previous time, and read about them in history books, so they recalled them as incidents that bear a well-established example, whether their expression has waned in a modern and contemporary individual creativity, or produced by the popular village or the "imagination and the collective mind" of tales and legends.
The Palestinian people are no exception to this rule, but they are located in its heart, and they have written in their blood many poems, novels, stories and plays, or narrated by grandmothers in the ears of children, which portrayed their suffering, struggles and longing for freedom and justice, in a deeper way than the daily newspapers mention, or historians and political analysts mention it.
The moment of refraction
When we have a novel by Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in Gaza and the mastermind of the "Al-Aqsa flood", the first thing that concerns us with it is its content, which will bring us closer to the outsider of its author, to realize his awareness of himself, his cause, his nation, the enemy he confronts and the world that surrounds him.
Here, we turn a blind eye to the narrative form, where the aesthetics and structure of the text, especially since its author - although his narration is not without what the formalists are interested in, in terms of linear construction, expressions, compositions, linguistic metaphors, attractiveness and celebration of details, he is motivated, as it appears from the opening of his text and its path later - has been interested in guiding to our eyes the position of the feet of the people of the struggle on the land of Palestine, and explaining, through characters, tales and a detailed description of the facts, places and souls, how the issue developed in a third of a century that extended from the defeat of 1967 until the Al-Aqsa Intifada. Year 2000.
Sinwar wrote this account in prison, where he served twenty-three years after life sentences, after being accused of planning to kidnap and kill two Israeli soldiers and killing four Palestinians who were agents of the occupation.
Because it was written in this miserable place, and at a time when its author faced the option of staying in prison until he died, he had to dig deep into his memory, to recall the minute details of the life spent by "Ahmed", the protagonist and its all-knowing narrator, in order to beg him to help him tame heavy time, break boredom, face forgetfulness, or cling to the fringes of life, which take place outside the walls as they are.
Sinwar says in the opening of his novel: "This is not my personal story, not the story of a specific person, even though all its events are real. The imagination in this work is only in turning it into a novel", to tell us that he chose the novel, as a literary genre, to narrate the history of the Palestinian society that he lived from the awareness of the world until the end of his novel, a period that extends from the 1967 war until the Al-Aqsa Intifada in 2000, and sometimes dives, by way of recall, martyrdom and rooting, further in time until the Nakba in 1948.
At first glance, it seems that Sinwar recounts his experience, or his autobiography, but he preferred to present it in a novelistic form, for several reasons, saying that it is a novel that exempts him from mentioning people by their names, he did not ask their permission while in prison to write about them, and there are convicted characters from the agents and spies of the occupation, and from the bases or those who are determined.
The fictional template also exempts him from presenting the secrets of his society, especially the people of the resistance, and protects him from being taken by the Israeli authorities as new incriminating evidence against him, for his participation in "fedayeen work" since his youth, and it may be easy for him in prison to say that he is writing a novel, than to say, that he is recording his biography.
Sinwar, often, is the narrator "Ahmed", whose biography we trace from his childhood until his involvement in the ranks of Hamas, and he is a witness to everything around him, from the moment of the breakage when Israel occupied the Gaza Strip in the '67 war, which he expressed in two scenes:
The first is the change in the treatment of the Egyptian officer with him, after he used to give him sweets and pat him, his river to move away so as not to harm him after the outbreak of war.
The second is that Israel rounds up all those over the age of 18 in the beach camp, and pushes them in front of an intelligence officer to examine them to choose the toughest ones, and they are shot, while the rest are taken to the Egyptian border, and they are ordered in a harsh: run forward, and whoever turns behind him will be shot.
Calamities gather the injured
Then continue the details of the life of "Ahmed" and his brothers, mother, cousins and grandfather, to stand with them on the case of a Gazan family that has long suffered from oppression and poverty, resisted him by educating children, until they obtained university degrees, and by engaging in the ranks of the resistance, leaning on the base established by his older brother "Mahmoud", when he once said: "If the determination of men and their willingness to die are achieved, nothing can stand in their way, and victory must be their ally."
The novel presents, through this family and its neighbors – and even the entire population of the Beach camp, and by extension to the rest of Gaza, the people of the West Bank and the Palestinian diaspora in Jordan and Lebanon – the sequence of facts of the Palestinian cause, whether at the level of its senior leaders, some of whose names are mentioned in the novel, such as: Yasser Arafat, Ahmed Yassin, and Ahmed Jibril from the Palestinians, or at the level of the political and struggle forces that carried the cause on their shoulders, such as: Fatah, Hamas, and the Popular Front.
With the narrative, we take note of the distribution of the ideologies of Palestinian youth on nationalist, leftist and Islamic trends, and the competition between them that extends from discussion to controversy and confrontation in schools, universities, and prisons, which Palestinians have turned into schools to learn politics and study the history of their country and the days of its struggle, as well as the concerns that unite them that make them converge and even unite in their minds to a large extent.
The scene of autism reached its peak, as the novel tells us, when the 1987 Stone Intifada broke out, when "masked men from the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades in their well-known green clothes took to the streets, lining up in endless rows," and with them the followers of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades came out with their yellow flags, and the Al-Quds Brigades with their black flags, carrying weapons of various types and waving them in the air.
Outside the factions, we know how the general public coalesced with the uprising, because the novel portrayed it in that father who was preventing his son from participating in the struggle, in order to avoid harm, so he broke into his room to wake him up at ten in the morning to go out and join the angry, which is from his father in great surprise, makes the narrator himself, saying: "If the hour comes, the genie sets off again."
Transformations of the Palestinian cause
There is something that hurts this sweeping national spirit, as the novel tells us, because of the collaborators with the occupation, whom the narrator describes as a "swamp of agents", and then preoccupies himself with how to get rid of them. To a lesser extent, but understandable in light of human vulnerability, come those who do not want the resistance to anger the occupation so as not to prevent them from continuing to enter Israel in order to work to support their families. There are also those who fear for their children from imprisonment or death, pushing them to avoid engaging in resistance.
The novel also narrates the transformations that the issue has witnessed, from those who used to put it in a general national and humanitarian mold, as the issue of liberating land and people, to those who gave it a religious dimension, here is the narrator who says when listening to the explanation of his brother Ibrahim, who joined the group of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin: "We began to understand that the conflict has a different face than what we were aware and aware of before. It is not only a question of land and people expelled from this land, but of faith and religion, a battle of civilization, history and existence."
He then goes on to say: "I wonder to myself: Is there Saladin for this stage?" He listens carefully to Abraham's words: "It is our turn to resist."
Ibrahim tells us that the Palestinian cause is different from other issues of armed struggle waged by movements in the east and west of the world: "Our story is different from the Irish, the Vietnamese and the Khmer Rouge, because it has the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which sits in its heart."
In the stirrups of this, the names of the militants changed from "fedayeen" to "resistance", and armament evolved from simple bombs bombarded with matches and mixed with chilled iron fragments, and a ignition wire borrowed from a light bulb, to Molotov cocktails and improvised bombs, and from old dilapidated rifles that are repaired with limited ammunition behind them, to automatic rifles and light machine guns, supplied by new ammunition boxes.
The novel shows how the Palestinians turned their collapse into pride after the 1970 battle of Karama in which they defeated the Israeli army, and how they revived after the 1973 victory, and rejoiced at the arrival of the first Arab missiles launched by the Iraqi army during the Gulf War in Tel Aviv.
Although these rockets did not carry chemical weapons – as Saddam Hussein claimed, and were not accurate in aiming them – the Israeli horror of them made the Palestinians pay attention to the weakness of the Israeli state, and here the narrator says: "The image of panic that shook the depth of the usurping entity has increased people's conviction of the fragility of this enemy."
Features of everyday life under occupation
Among the moments of ecstasy is another depiction of the frustration and despair that prevailed in Gaza and the West Bank following the outbreak of a confrontation between Palestinians and Jordanians in the Black September battle, Egypt's conclusion of a peace agreement with Israel in 1979, the forced resistance to leave Lebanon after the Israeli army invaded it in 1982, and the Oslo Accords, which many Palestinians considered extinguishing their struggle to reach further goals.
However, these stations did not prevent the Palestinians from continuing the struggle, as they were, with little means, keen to keep the cause burning, by monitoring the occupation soldiers, wounding or killing them, and keeping their bodies or families alive, in order to negotiate for the release of their prisoners in the occupation prisons.
The novel draws the features of the life of Palestinians under occupation, so we know the rituals of their sorrows and joys, their relationship with the organizations that give them aid, we stand on their schools, their children's toys, the architecture of their homes and their simple furniture, and their food and drink, and we feel the pain and fear of mothers when their children are arrested, imprisoned, injured or broken bones and martyred.
At the same time, we see well the coercive practices followed by the occupation with them, from strict control, by themselves through inspection patrols or by agents planted among the people, and we learn some details of investigations, trials and torture in what has been described as "slaughterhouses", and we know a lot about the destruction and demolition of homes, and about the occupation's superiority and exploitation of the Palestinian people by bringing the poor cheap labor in factories, farms and markets.
In addition, the novel depicts the bulldozing of land, burning of plants, uprooting trees, and seizing Palestinian land and homes, which is portrayed by one of the novel's characters, called "Jamal", asking: "Then what is with these settlers, they have swallowed the land, and they are not sufficient, and they do not stop at a limit."
On the other hand, we see the acts of struggle and struggle that began with the remaining members of the Palestine Liberation Army and ended with the current resistance factions. The narrator elaborates on all this, making us live the moments they experienced, feel the feelings of anger that were in their hearts, and stand on the exaggerated reaction of the Israelis whenever one of them was stabbed or killed, or a vehicle or military vehicle was damaged for them.
The novel is not without a human part, in addition to the concerns of mothers and their generous tears, putting us in the picture of the emotional relationships that arise between boys and girls in the camps, and young people are divided between those who see that "revolutionaries are lovers", and those who wonder: "Is it our right to love", and see that this type of love may distract them from the greatest love, as one of them says: "It seems that our destiny is to live only one love, the love of this land and its sanctities, its soil, its air and its oranges," he adds, adding: "Our story is a bitter Palestinian story, in which there is no place for more than one love and one love."
Whoever reads this novel stands on the diaries of the Palestinian presence under occupation, whether during the days of intermittent wars between the Arabs and Israel or the skirmishes, lightning confrontations and invasions between them, to realize that the Israeli aggression on Gaza now is just an intensive dose of harm, as Israel has never stopped, for seventy-five years, killing unarmed civilians, demolishing homes, expelling their inhabitants, stealing them and seizing their land, but all this did not break the resolve of the Palestinians, but quite the contrary, it increased their defiance. He taught them how to divide their efforts between circumvention and coping with blatant defiance, in order to keep their cause alive and healthy.
Sinwar's novel cover (social media platforms)