Forcibly removed from the ancient village of Ein Hod by the newly formed state of Israel in 1948, the Abulhejas are moved into the Jenin refugee camp. There, exiled from his beloved olive groves, the family patriarch languishes of a broken heart, his eldest son fathers a family and falls victim to an Israeli bullet, and his grandchildren struggle against tragedy toward freedom, peace, and home. This is the Palestinian story, told as never before, through four generations of a single family.
The very precariousness of existence in the camps quickens life itself. Amal, the patriarch’s bright granddaughter, feels this with certainty when she discovers the joys of young friendship and first love and especially when she loses her adored father, who read to her daily as a young girl in the quiet of the early dawn. Through Amal we get the stories of her twin brothers, one who is kidnapped by an Israeli soldier and raised Jewish; the other who sacrifices everything for the Palestinian cause. Amal’s own dramatic story threads between the major Palestinian-Israeli clashes of three decades; it is one of love and loss, of childhood, marriage, and parenthood, and finally of the need to share her history with her daughter, to preserve the greatest love she has.
The deep and moving humanity of Mornings in Jenin forces us to take a fresh look at one of the defining political conflicts of our lifetimes.
Mornings in Jenin holds a very special place in my heart. This book was such an emotional read and I think anyone who wants to read a book about Palestinians and their lives under occupation should read this one for sure. The story is told through four generations of the Abulheja family, and starts off with the grandfather, Yehya Abulheja, at the beginning of the olive harvest before the Israeli occupation.
“As the dark sky gave way to light, the sounds of reaping that noble fruit rose from the sun-bleached hills of Palestine. The thumps of farmers’ sticks striking branches, the shuddering of the leaves, the plop of fruit falling onto the old tarps and blankets that had been laid beneath the trees. As they toiled, women sang the ballads of centuries past and small children played and were chided by their mothers when they got in the way.”
Immediately, the reader sees how much the family loves their land and country, and how the Palestinians lived before the occupation. Throughout the book, the story is told through the eyes of Yehya, Yehya’s oldest son Hasan, Hasan’s daughter Amal, and then Amal’s daughter Sara. We see how these characters deal with the occupation and the loss of their homeland in their own way, and the way the occupation has affected their lives. The Abulhejas are native to Ein Hod, a village in northern Palestine, but are exiled by Israelis to a refugee camp in Jenin in 1948. A quote that stood out to me in the beginning of the book was:
“Yehya tried to calculate the number of generations who had lived and died in that village and he came up with forty. It was a task made simple by the way Arabs name their children to tell the story of their genealogy, conferring five or six names from the child’s direct lineage, in proper order.
Thus Yehya tallied forty generations of living, now stolen. Forty generations of childbirth and funerals, weddings and dance, prayer and scraped knees. Forty generations of sin and charity, of cooking, toiling, and idling, of friendships and animosities and pacts, of rain and lovemaking. Forty generations with their imprinted memories, secrets, and scandals. All carried away by the notion of entitlement of another people, who would settle in the vacancy and proclaim it all – all that was left in the way of architecture, orchards, wells, flowers, and charm – as the heritage of Jewish foreigners arriving from Europe, Russia, the United States, and other corners of the globe.”
Palestinians who lived in their villages and towns for generations were exiled to make room for settlers, thousands and thousands of them never allowed to return to the land they grew up on. The Abulhejas lived in Eid Hod for forty generations, and overnight they were exiled so foreigners could call it home instead. This is the reality of thousands of Palestinians even today. Mornings in Jenin does an amazing job at portraying the reality of Palestine. Another quote that I really loved was when Ari Perlstein, Hasan’s Jewish best friend says that they don’t know if the zionists would exile them, and Hasan says:
“So these immigrants would let me stay on my own land?”
It really shows how Palestinians were driven away from their own homes, their own land and country, and never allowed to return. This was a very, very emotional read for me (I only sobbed and broke down about a million times) because there were a lot of similarities between what the Abulheja family goes through and what my own family, and a countless others, have gone through after the Nakba. Susan Abulhawa very bluntly calls out the Israeli occupation in this book and shows just how harrowing it is for the millions of Palestinians who live there.
I also absolutely fell in love with all the characters. The friendship between Amal and Huda and the banter between Jack O’Malley and Haj Salem was such a delight to read, as well as the love between the couples of the book. The friendship between the Abulhejas and Ari Perlstein was also so beautiful and had me tearing up so much. The love they had for each other reminds me of the solidarity between Palestinians and Jews. Reading this book all I wanted to do was somehow climb into the pages and protect all of them. In a way, the characters reflect a different way Palestinians deal with the occupation and the way it has affected their lives. I saw so many similarities between many characters in the book and Palestinians I know in real life, which again shows how realistic this book is.
I do want to point out to anyone who decides to read this book that there are a lot of graphic scenes in the book and sometimes they are very hard to read and get through. Something I loved about the way Mornings in Jenin is written is that Abulhawa is in a way telling the story of Palestinians as a whole through the eyes of one family. This book would be a great read for anyone who wants to start reading up on Palestinian history, and I recommend it to everyone who wants to learn more about the occupation.
trigger warnings: graphic violence, death, abuse, rape.