U.S. Presidential Debate-season Reading Material (on Palestine)

Image from http://restoringtruthiness.org/.

I try not to participate in the spectacle of the U.S. presidential debates, but comments by Republican candidate Newt Gingrich aligned rather oddly with the memoir I’m reading: Mourid Barghouti’s I Was Born There, I Was Born Here, trans. Humphrey Davies.

Gingrich apparently said:

I think that we’ve had an invented Palestinian people who are in fact Arabs, and who were historically part of the Arab community. And they had a chance to go many places, and for a variety of political reasons we have sustained this war against Israel now since the 1940s, and it’s tragic.

It’s interesting that he uses the first-person plural (“we’ve had”), but that’s not my focus here. Instead:

“I think that we’ve had an invented Palestinian people…”

Sure, the Palestinian narrative—like all nation-group narratives—had to be created and thus “invented.” For reading material on the invention of group identity that particularly impacts Palestine/Palestinians, you might read Israeli historian Shlomo Sand’s The Invention of the Jewish PeopleOr else, why not, The Formation of Croatian National Identity or The American Musical and the Formation of National Identity. (Note: I haven’t read any of these books.)

“…who are in fact Arabs, and who were historically part of the Arab community.”

Well, yes, most Palestinians were and are Arabs. But, if Gingrich wants to hark back to a time “before Palestine,” then it makes more historical sense to flip back to a time before nation-states, when Palestinians were part of the Ottoman (not Arab) Empire.  Possible reading here: A Rift in Time: Travels with My Ottoman Uncle, by award-winning Palestinian memoirist Raja Shehadeh. Novelist Randa Jarrar also suggests Anton Shammas’s Arabesques

“And they had a chance to go many places…”

This interesting sentence-fragment can be spoken to in different ways by many lovely books:

Mahmoud Darwish’s Journal of an Ordinary Grief, trans. (beautifully) Ibrahim Muhawi

Mourid Barghouti’s I Saw Ramallah, trans. (also beautifully) Ahdaf Soueif

Suad Amiry’s Nothing To Lose But Your Life (written in English, and quite funny)

Raja Shehadeh’s Palestinian Walks (written in beautiful English)

…and it is also spoken to by Barghouti’s I Was Born There, I Was Born Here, which I am currently reading.

“and for a variety of political reasons we have sustained this war against Israel now since the 1940s,”

I haven’t included a graphic novel yet, so Joe Sacco’s Palestine and Footnotes from Gaza bear mentioning for a “variety of reasons.” As do so many other works: I’ll note just Naji al-Ali’s classic cartoon collection A Child in Palestine and  Sahar Khalifeh’s Wild Thorns, trans. Paula Haydar.

“and it’s tragic.”

Too many to mention:

Emile Habibi’s The Secret Life of Saeed : the Pessoptimist

Ghassan Kanafani’s Men in the Sun and other Palestinian Stories

Elias Khoury’s Gate of the Sun

A.B. Yehoshua “Facing the Forests”

If you prefer video, Mourid Barghouti talks about the book I’m reading:

And yes, Gingrich stands by his own invented narrative.


  1. All excellent points MLQ – how can we bring them to Mr Gingrich’s attention?

    One last point – during the decades of Jewish migration BEFORE the establishment of the state of Israel, the place Jews were going to was universally referred to as Palestine in Jewish documents, books, letters, etc. If they were going to Palestine, does it not stand to reason that the people who lived there were Palestinian?

    1. That’s a good one, Itinerant Cook. Something tells me Mr. Gingrich wouldn’t be swayed by facts. But it must be worth pointing out to potential U.S. voters.

  2. Great post, M. While it becomes increasing difficult to be shocked by Republican candidates’ comments (but remains increasingly important to retain the capacity for being shocked by them), Gingrich’s Palestinian comments hit a new low. When I heard him, my second thought (the first being unpublishable) was: Has there ever been a more “invented” people than Americans?

  3. Thanks M! I want to add two Khalidi works to this conversation: historian Rashid Khalidi’s 1997 book “Palestinian Identity” (how do you do italics in comments?) and his son Ismail’s new, biting and sweet and at times hilarious “tragipoliticomedy” (sounds kind of like “pessoptimist,” doesn’t it?) about the Mandate period, “Tennis in Nablus.” Recently played in Hudson, NY, http://www.stageworkshudson.org/nablus.html, and hopefully coming soon to a theatre near you. I’m sure Ismail would share a script with those who wanted to teach it.

    1. I don’t think you can do italics in comments. Tennis in Nablus, sounds fun! Coming to a theater near…me?

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