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Second Life

Second Life: A West Bank Memoir

Janet Varner Gunn
Foreword by Lila Abu-Lughod
Copyright Date: 1995
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Second Life
    Book Description:

    This memoir recounts the time the author spent as a human rights worker on the West Bank. In a moving meditation on the many forms of both autobiography and resistance to power, Gunn tells the story of a Palestinian teenager who was critically shot during a stone-throwing demonstration and deemed a “living martyr” of the Intifada.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8620-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. The Abu Aker family
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Foreword: “Our Blood Will Plant Its Olive Tree”
    (pp. xi-xx)
    Lila Abu-Lughod

    As the Palestinians find their way in a confusing new phase of their history of dispossession, Janet Varner Gunn’s memoir of two years of the Intifada will stand as an eloquent and troubling record of a previous moment. She tells the story of this history in the making as she and the families in a particular place—the politically active Palestinian refugee camp near Bethlehem called Deheishe—lived it. The decision to tell her story in this form, as a memoir of daily life that interweaves her own memories with the experiences of people she came to know through her...

  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
  6. Prologue: An Autobiographical Experiment
    (pp. xxiii-xxxviii)

    Until I began a research year in Israel in the fall of 1986, Palestine was for me the name of an ancient land I had studied in Old Testament courses back in the late fifties. I was born in the year that marked the beginning of the Palestinians’ first Intifada, but it would take nearly another fifty years before our respective lives began to intersect in their second uprising. Until then, twentieth-century Palestine was off my map except as the site of bearded terrorists.

    Jean Genet’s story of the Palestinians began in the early seventies at the height of fedayeen...

  7. Part I A Second Life

    • Chapter 1 The “Living Martyr”
      (pp. 3-20)

      I first met Mohammad Abu Aker at an Arab hospital on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives in late August 1988, about a month after I had arrived on the West Bank to begin two years of Palestinian human rights work. The sixteen-year-old teenager had been critically injured on the morning of August 6 when, during a stone-throwing demonstration in his refugee camp near Bethlehem, a soldier shot him in the lower abdomen with the kind of high-velocity bullet that fragments on impact. For the previous eight months, Mohammad had been on the wanted list for his resistance activity. On the run,...

    • Chapter 2 The Deheishe Story
      (pp. 21-38)

      The Israeli writer David Grossman made his first visit to Deheishe Camp in the early spring of 1986. InThe Yellow Wind, Grossman describes what he saw in the “turbid rain” of that March afternoon. Beginning with the “ugly cement growths,” as he calls the houses for the camp’s multiplying population, Grossman goes on to describe Deheishe’s open sewers and its children’s runny noses as well as scanty grocery shelves and pitiful coffee-can gardens. On the first of two separate days he spent in the camp, Grossman went to the cramped hovel of Hadija, a very old woman, who, suspicious...

    • Chapter 3 “What Does It Mean Human?”
      (pp. 39-60)

      American Jewish novelist Bernard Malamud writes about Jews who survived the Holocaust. “What does it mean human?” asks a character in one of Malamud’s many stories set on the lower East Side of New York City. Living in the New World, his Jewish characters nonetheless continue to wear their Old-World suffering like a suit of clothes: Breibert, the lightbulb peddler; Morris Bober, the struggling grocer; even Frank Alpine, Bober’s Italian-American assistant, who, discovering from the grocer the meaning of his own suffering, gets circumcised and converts to Judaism.

      The Holocaust is never far away from the day-to-day struggles of Malamud’s...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
    • Chapter 4 Through the Looking-Glass in Cairo
      (pp. 61-74)

      The Jerusalem-Cairo tour bus made its way at nearly midnight through Ramadan crowds still strolling in the brightly lit Cairo streets. What a contrast to the dark and empty streets of East Jerusalem after sundown! I booked into the Salma, the hotel where I stayed on my first trip to Cairo in December 1986, when I had had to vacate my Rahavia apartment for its owner, who had come to Israel for her Christmas break from Radcliffe College. At noon yesterday, Diana, an Australian friend who is teaching English in Cairo, picked me up at the hotel and brought me,...

  8. Part II Three Returns

    • Chapter 5 First Return: Mourning a Martyr
      (pp. 77-94)

      We never really said good-bye, the Abu Akers and I. Malka and Nairn had not yet returned from Jordan when I left Deheishe for the last time to resume academic work back in the United States. They had gone to Amman several weeks earlier to check into possible funding for Mohammad’s next trip to Boston. As for Mohammad, Nidal, and the rest of the family, I left them in the usual way, as though I would be returning again the next week. There are as many Arabic expressions of leave-taking as of greeting‚ but we found ourselves unready to use...

    • Chapter 6 Second Return: After the Gulf War
      (pp. 95-116)

      “They don’t put as much value on life over there”: How many times did I hear these words from U.S. citizens during the Iran-Iraq war, when, on the nightly news, we could view the kamikaze-like behavior of Arab masses filling up our television screens. Hundreds would rush forward on the battlefield, shouting “Allahu akbar!” (God is great!), and then fall, scores at a time, instant martyrs in what they considered a holy war (jihad).

      Then again in the Gulf War, when upwards of 100,000 Iraqis were killed somewhere beyond the reach of the networks, we could find ways of condoning...

    • Chapter 7 Third Return: Violating and Transforming Space
      (pp. 117-136)

      When I came back to Deheishe in October 1991 for the first anniversary of Mohammad’s death, I divided my time between upstairs and downstairs at the Abu Akers’, much as I did during my first return. The year before‚ the upper-story salon had been the receiving area for women mourners while the former salon on the ground floor had been turned into the offical mourning area for the men. During my third visit, these rooms were filled with other kinds of activity. The upstairs salon had metamorphosed from mourning space into a communications room where the family and their friends...

  9. Epilogue: Crossing Borders
    (pp. 137-144)

    I envy Jean Genet’s autobiographical confidence inPrisoner of Love. In telling his story about the two years he spent with a group of Palestinian fighters in Jordan, Genet seemed to know exactly what to show of his own profile and what to keep in the shadows: “Never from the front,” he writes, “with my age and stature apparent.” Instead Genet appears “either in three-quarter or half-profile or from the back.” He was able to “reconstruct [his] size and position in the group,” he says, only “from the pattern of a cigarette moved downwards, a lighter upward.”¹

    How much of...

  10. Appendix
    (pp. 145-148)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 149-154)
  12. Index
    (pp. 155-159)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 160-160)