There are those who would suggest though that fear of bombings places many Israeli citizens in the same situation as their Palestinian neighbours, effectively curfewed by fear. Is there an equivalence in the experience of ordinary Israeli and Palestinian citizens? “First let me say that I am strongly against suicide attacks. As for the equivalence between the lives of the ordinary Palestinian and Israeli citizens I often ask Israelis if they would like to shift sides or exchange positions with us, and they look at me surprised – the answer is obvious!” She repeats the question: ”Who is occupying who? Who is confiscating the lands of whom and on whose lands are the Israelis building their settlements; the Gaza Strip has one and a half million Palestinians and five thousand Israeli settlers who have confiscated 40% of the land and consume 95% of its water. Apartheid is what it is. I would not mind exchanging places with the Israelis, but one thing I would do if I were an Israeli is fight against the occupation like many good Israelis do”.
A new film, Private, directed by Italian Saverio Costanzo, deals with some similar issues, focussing on the human effect of the military occupation. In interview, one of the stars of the film, Mohamed Bakri (one of Palestine's most renowned actors and director of the controversial documentary Jenin, Jenin), surmised that the film would never be commercially released in Israel, as the Israeli media is too close to the Government. He went on to suggest that many normal Israelis are simply unaware of what is being done in their name in the occupied territories. Amiry's book however, contrary to this view, was first published in Hebrew. Does she think that the Israeli public at large are as ignorant of the facts, as Bakri suggests? “There is a great truth to that – she concedes – Unfortunately the two societies live back to back. It is true many Israelis don't know (and others of course don't want to know) what the real situation is for the Palestinians under occupation. Most of the Israelis carry on with their lives under the shadow of the terrible conditions that prevail mostly on our side and of course shed darkness on their side”.
Amiry delights in detailing some of the more comic and absurd affects of the occup
ation, for example the episode where she is stopped at a military checkpoint on the way to Jerusalem, for which she doesn't have a permit, but her dog does. She is able to convince the young soldier at the checkpoint to let her through because her dog has the right to go to Jerusalem, and obviously can't drive herself!
One thing that unites many of the characters in the book, Palestinian and Israelis, or more specifically what unites the male characters of the book, is a shared frustration on how to deal with this crazy woman (Amiry at her most indignant is a force to be reckoned with, for example when she, after 7 years of waiting, demands her residency card from the bemused Israeli Military Governor – “I could see that he was capable of handling Palestinian demonstrators, rebels, stabbers, terrorists. He could handle bombs, dynamite, tanks, fighter planes and submarines. He was trained to handle them all. BUT NOT A CRYING WOMAN. NOT A WOMAN FREAKING OUT.”). She paints a far from rosey picture of her own society, admitting its short comings particularly in relation to its treatment of women. “Unfortunately, chauvinism unites the world community not only the Israelis and the Palestinians – she says, but is slightly reluctant to label herself a feminist – I am a woman seeking equality for all, regardless of ethnicity, gender, colour or religion. We all have a layering of identity and I never like to stress one layer (in this case feminism) and forget about the rest. I am in total support of feminist movements but find it difficult to call myself that”.
Books on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict automatically run the risk of being sidelined due to the media's sensitivity and need to be seen to be balanced, but this book has managed to win mainstream critical acclaim. Part of the reason, according to Amiry is “because it dealt directly with the Palestinians and indirectly with the Israelis. This made it easier for the media to accept it. Being a female writer interested in the 'mundane' aspects of life perhaps also helped – no big politics and no preaching”.
While there's no direct preaching or politics in the book, Amiry herself was involved in the 1991-93 peace negotiations in Washington. Is she optimistic about the future? “Not in the near future but at the end of the day there is only one solution to this conflict. We will not disappear and the Israelis will not disappear so this land will have to be divided and the two state solution on the 1967 borders (if not the 1947) will happen if not today then tomorrow”.
Sharon and my Mother-in-Law is published in the UK by Granta.