Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 15. Nr. September 2004

3.1. Exil und Migration | Exile and Migration | Exil et migration
HerausgeberIn | Editor | Éditeur: Fawzi Boubia (Caen)

Buch: Das Verbindende der Kulturen | Book: The Unifying Aspects of Cultures | Livre: Les points communs des cultures

The Themes of Exile, Displacement, And Diaspora in the Works of David Hare and Mourid Barghouti

Wafaa H. Sorour (South Valley University, Faculty of Arts, Qena)


This paper explores similarities and differences between the works of two writers of two different nationalities living through the experience of travelling to Tel Aviv: the first is a leading British actor and dramatist David Hare (b. 1947), and the other the Palestinian poet and novelist Mourid Barghouti (b. 1944). Each had his own agenda for the journey. The condition of the occupied territories as seen by Hare and Barghouti's irritated both of them. In 1997 Hare wrote his Via Dolorosa provoking the admiration of the theatre world. In the same year, Barghouti was awarded the Nagib Mahfouz Prize for his novel I Saw Ramallah.

The texts under scrutiny concern truly problematic matters. Using David Hare as a starting point and Mourid Barghouti as an ending point, Texts A and B are not only from different cultures, but also of opposite ones, being respectively from the East and the West. Text A belongs to one of the most powerful literatures in the west (British) and Text B belongs to a relatively blossoming literature in the East (Palestinian). As their cultural and political background vary, the two hold different intellectual, ideological and literary perspectives. The first is born in a country famed for its deep-rooted tradition of democracy and independence. The second is born in a country that is doomed to fight for the restoration of its own dignity and identity. This paper seeks to foster a unity of shared human experiences and suffering.

David Hare was born in Bexhill, East Sussex on 5 June 1947. After his education at Lancing College and Jesus College, Hare devoted his full energy and time to acting, directing and writing. His career started when he produced his first play Slag in 1970.

Many critics have devoted a considerable analysis to the political content commonly included in Hare's works. Judy Lee Oliva makes a comprehensive study of Hare's dramatic career tracing out his elaborate "theatricalizing Politics" (Oliva, 1990: 1) Oliva follows Hare's career ever since his impoverished collaborative drama with a group of playwrights. The group consisted of Howard Brenton, Brian Clark, Trevor Griffiths, Stephen Poliakoff, Hugh Stoddart, and Snoo Wilson. They produced a "collective piece for the Portable ... to formulate a public language."(Oliva, 1990:9)

In his book titled The Drama of David Hare:

A Politic Theatre, Scott Fraser describes Hare's generation as "the war-baby generation" (Fraser 1996:7). Fraser explains that British politics plays an important role in Hare's famous plays: Plenty(1978), A Map of the World (1982), The Absence of War(1982), (1993), and Skylight (1995). Nevertheless, in Licking Hitler Hare himself exclaims "Why the insulting insistence in so much political theatre that a few gimcrack mottoes of the Left will sort out the deep problems of reaction in modern England? Why the urge to caricature?" (Hare 1973:63). Scott Fraser relates Hare's objection to "his refusal to sacrifice his dramatic effectiveness for political sermonizing"(1996: 7). Hare is obviously against confining his artistic works to the sheer publicity of some political creeds. Still, he has been writing plays causing great debates, demonstrating a high political consciousness.

The structure of Via Dolorosa is far from being conventional. Choosing the monologue as the literary mode for Via Dolorosa is a challenging experience. The whole action is performed by Hare, who alone acts in the entire play, and who addresses the audience.

The play opens with Hare, as the stage directions indicate, the author as well as the only single dramatic persona in the foreground of the stage. He is acting as both a narrator and commentator upon the action of the play. In a seemingly fragmented manner, he explains his critical decision of visiting Israel. Hare's visit to Israel is both the setting and subject of the play. He believes that "it was unhealthy that such a violent dispute should attract the passionate interest only of its own participants." (Hare, The Guardian, 2000). In Via Dolorosa, one of the explanations provided by Hare is that he noticed that people in the west have little access to truth about the situation there:

People always say that in England we lead shallow lives. Our lives must be shallower because we live in a country where nobody believes in anything any more. My whole life, I've been told: 'Western civilization? An old bitch gone in the teeth.' And so people say, go to Israel. Because in Israel at least people are fighting. In Israel, they're fighting for something they believe in. (Hare, 1998: 4)

That feeling of futile and disastrous purposefulness, lived by the people there, had long been lost in England. But Hare did not merely want to break the boredom of life in England. He disapproves the way "the west was shrugging off the subject of Arab and Jew as if it were over-familiar and boring". (Hare: 2000)

The political content of Dolorosa is clearly linked to the majority of Hare's other texts. There is always in Hare's drama a stubborn rejection of all kinds of injustice. Social, political, and religious injustices lie at the back of the world of Via Dolorosa. The same meaning is repeated by Hare as "My subject is belief" (Dolorosa, 6)

In the opening scene of Via Dolorosa, Hare narrates his meetings with friends interested in the politics of the region and how he managed to converse with his Israeli friend novelist David Groomsman to prepare himself a week before his visit. The conversation between Hare and Grossman, as dramatized in Via Dolorosa exceeds politics to include history, geography and religion. This makes the two of them, Hare and Grossman, trace out and discuss the origin and establishment of Israel. Hare talks about 'The historic destiny of the Jews' (Via Dolorosa, 4) He referred to the necessity felt by the Jews to recover from their long diasporic condition. Hare brings to the mind the Jews' historical experience of centuries of anti-Semitism.

Ever since 135 B.C, the issue of the Jewish national identity has been at stake. (see Laureen Moe's article "Anti-Semitism: What Is It?", September 25, 2003). The solution came with Theodor Herzel, who is considered the godfather of Zionism. He was also the 'playwright' (Dolorosa, 5) of the movement in both the figurative and real sense of the word. THEODORE HERZL (1860 - 1904 A.D.), the Jewish writer and journalist, called European Jewry together in Basle, Switzerland in 1897 at the now famous "First World Zionist Congress". Herzel became convinced that the only solution was the mass exodus of the Jews from their present places of residence to a territory of their own. The notion of return to 'the Jewish homeland' (Dolorosa,4) captured Herzel's mind.

As a chairman of the World Zionist organization, Herzel knew that Great Britain would be the deciding factor in the realization of the Zionist aims. He organized delegations to Lord Lansdowne, who was the then representative of the English Empire. Uganda was first suggested to provide the Jews a place 'to live and observe their national customs' (Dolorosa, 5). In 1897 he publicly predicted that the Jews would be back in "the Land" of Palestine "within 50 years". His promise became true in 1947, when the United Nations passed the "Resolution For the Partition of Palestine", which led to the declaration of Statehood on May 14, 1948.

According to Hare's judgement, it took Herzel three weeks to bring his play Dass Newe Ghetto to light. At the close of that play, the hero articulates Herzel's own determination to 'get out ! Out of the Ghetto!'(Dolorosa, 5). That was the birth of a nation whose chosen place is Jerusalem. The mere mentioning of the name of that piece of land provoked the Jews' profoundest feeling of attachment and belonging. Hence, emotional involvement is guaranteed even among the least religious Jews. For Lansdowne, it served a double purpose: to relieve his sense of commitment towards the Jews, and to inaugurate another substitute for the loss of England's colonial influence in countries like Egypt and The Sudan.

Grossman's discreetness astounds Hare who had been warned that Israelis were "loud and argumentative" (Dolorosa, 7). Grossman shakes many established beliefs and strongly held opinions. He first expounds upon the Arab-Israeli conflict:

What you call the major problems of Israel can one day be solved. There will be a Palestinian State. When I said this ten years ago, everyone told me I was crazy. Now in their hearts people know it will happen.(Via Dolorosa, 6)

Yet, the issues of power, and domination, as Grossman admits, entail the difficulty and even impossibility of an actual conciliation of the irreconcilable partners. He exclaims:

How does a majority which itself has been historically unloved now deal fairly with an unloved Palestinian minority in their own midst.. Are we mature enough, are we courageous enough to internalize the idea of equality?
(Via Dolorosa, 6)

Grossman's exclamation targets squarely the traumatic feeling of Israelis which has continually been engendered by the endless Zionist-Arab enmity.

When David Hare attributes the complexity of the political situation to the fact that Israel "only admits immigrants of one faith" (Dolorosa P.6). Grossman clarifies that the national identity of the Jews has been strongly heading into the formation of one exclusive racial state of one exclusive religious background. When Hare suggests secularizing Israel so that it can be " a modern country, multicultural, like any other" (Dolorosa p. 7), Grossman explains the process through which Zionism worked out a strategy for the Jews' Diaspora. It had always defined the Israeli national identity within the boundaries of a Jewish state. It mainly relies on the binding power of religion:

Something very profound happened to Israel during the Six Day War. For the first time we seized land, we took land by conquest and suddenly the religious Jew saw the Bible not as an historical story, but as a contemporary operations manual (Dolorosa, 7)

Grossman also adds "Yes, of course, I want Israelis to have access to the Wailing Wall, but I don't need to own it. Nor do I need to own any of these holy places. It's new ... and it's profoundly un-Jewish." (Dolorosa, 7) It becomes progressively clearer throughout the play that Grossman is not the only Israeli critical of the Zionist policy.

At lunch in the nearby port of Jaffa with Hare's Israeli friend Eran Baniel, the famous theatrical director, Baniel claims that religion and religious men are the root of the tragic situation of this country. In his view, religious men are the most privileged and the least vindicated as well. Baniel bitterly admits the manipulative manner of those who vainly claim their devotion to the Talmud:

At the foundation of the state, the religious orthodox were guaranteed a special status. ... For years, the Jew believed that when the goy persecuted you, it gave you the right to short-change him. Hence the racial stereotype of Jew who smiles while he swindles you. Well, now we are the goy. Israel is the goy. And the religious orthodox have become the thieving Jew. (Dolorosa,8-9)

Baniel's passage implies a great deal of self-confrontation. As an Israeli Jew he cannot, by any means, be deemed an anti-Semite. In a sincerely dramatic way, Hare reflects the liberal-minded viewpoint of Eran Baniel as well as the guilt felt by some Israelis who reject the oppressive way their Palestinian neighbors are treated, who have been denied all their rights:

They don't see them. Have you seen how Israelis drive? They don't drive. They own the road ... Have you been to the Palestinian territories? Look how the water is allocated. In the settlements, you have the obscene spectacle of Israelis sitting by their swimming pools while Palestinians carry their drinking water round in jerry cans. (Dolorosa, 10)

Such a horrible image of inequality and disproportion irritates Hare as well as Baniel. Baniel remembers that during the performance of Romeo and Juliet, a dramatic performance co-produced by him and the Palestinian producer George Ibrahim, he remarks that 'For an Arab, even to see a play became a privilege, no a right.' (Dolorosa, 9)

The socio-political environment of Via Dolorosa makes geography of no less importance. The peculiarity of the subject of Via Dolorosa is coping with the diversity of its setting. In his own words, Hare describes its geographic position: "Israel is, first and foremost, a cause; the cause being a patch of land, north to south on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean, like a small anchovy set down in a school atlas" (Dolorosa, 4) Ironically, despite being diminutive in space, it is far from being insignificant. Edward, in his foreword to Ramallah, expresses his appreciation of the country's figurative and historic importance:

Palestine after all is no ordinary place. It is steeped in all the known histories and traditions of mono-theism, and has seen conquerors and civilizations of every stripe come and go. (Barghouti, 2000: viii)

Hare had access to more Jewish and Israeli sources than Arab-Palestinian sources. For the Palestinians he met, Hare considered it a matter of honesty not to reflect their political opinion in the text of Via Dolorosa. In his diary he writes "In the case of the Palestinians ... I was aware that I could endanger their lives were I careless enough to attribute things they had said about Arafat and the Palestinian regime" (Hare 2000: 1) He is encouraged by his friend Philip Roth, an American novelists who had a short visit to one of the Israeli's settlements, to try the same visit and spend the Sabbath with the Orthodox Jews in the settlement of Sheri Tikva, which is located several miles inside the borders of the Palestinian territories. On his way to the Sheri Tikva, the topography of the country occupied his mind:

Up till now I have been in Tel Aviv, a town which, on its surface at least, is sophisticated and western, ... but now I am speeding through a huge land mass - I feel the topography, I feel the land, a great hot continent stretching away to my right, Arab country after Arab country - and for the first time I understand how odd, how egregious Israel must look to the Arab eye (Dolorosa, 12)

Hare confesses that after a time of meditation he becomes aware of the diversity of Israel's alien position in the middle of an exclusively Arab environment. He becomes obsessed by a queer feeling:

I look from the window of the car and the pale, stony landscape of dusty hills and olive-groves feels familiar, like a drawing from memory. I have now to be careful, because 10 minutes later a feeling arrives, unbidden. My mind is slipping, I am dreaming, perhaps of Israeli wine and fresh fish, when suddenly, in open country at last, it occurs to me, as I look out the window, that the Jews do not belong here. This thought is so unexpected and of course implicitly so inflammatory that I turn guiltily, blushing, to see whether anyone in the back of the car can tell what I'm thinking. (Dolorosa, 12)

As Hare's car approaches the settlement, he is obsessed with the sophistication of the place: "To my amazement, we are coasting smoothly into an area not unlike Bel Air or Santa Barbara. Nesting in the Arab hills is a beautifully landscaped, middle-class community of detached houses, each with its own lawn." (Dolorosa, 13)

Hare compares those discrepant images provided by Eran Baniel of the abject existence and the social and economic calamity that faces the Palestinians in their occupied territories, to that luxurious life of the Israeli settlers, a horrible image of inequality and disproportion that becomes clearer to the audience's mind. Three years later, Hare made other visits to Ramallah and recorded the following statistical fact that, as he is writing "at least 130 people dead, all but eight of them Arab". (Hare: The Guardian Saturday October 28, 2000). Another statistic states that "the Arabs who live and work in the Palestinian territory earn well under one-tenth of what their opposite numbers earn in Israel" (Hare 2000).

During his stay, Hare also conceives how the settlements have been strategically appropriated for the reunion of the dispersed Jews from the Diaspora. The best description of these settlements is provided by Mourid Barghouti in I Saw Ramallah. He conceives them as "the Palestinian Diaspora itself". (Ramallah, 30)

The British critic Susan Emerling describes Hare's theatrical artistry in:

Setting loose complexly conflicted characters caught in sparkling irresolvable dramas that grapple with the questions, "How do we change the world? And if we cannot change the world, how can we live in the world as we find it? (Susan Emerling, David Hare, Dec.7,1999)

In Via Dolorosa, the Israeli settlers are the perfect embodiments of Hare's dramatic characters. In his conversation with his hosts Sarah and Danny Weiss, Hare remembers his friend's, Philip Roth, description of their excessive characters as "They're the maddest people I've ever met in my life. For any writer of fiction, they're the most wonderful materials . . . These people are so crazy there's room enough for all of us." (Dolorosa, 5)

They feel so strongly it's their land, but what do they do with it? There's garbage everywhere, ... They wait two thousand years for the Promised Land, then all they do is pollute it.(Dolorosa, 11)

Through their talk, Hare provides a truly dramatic inquiry into Israeli's citizenship. When Hare hits upon issues of displacement and integration arguing that "God didn't promise the Jews Tel Aviv or Haifa" (Dolorosa: 15) Sarah bursts out defending her pride, as Hare writes, in carving out a Jewish 'homeland' saying:

The Lord promised us the Land, but he never promised it was going to be easy. You don't come to Israel if you think it's going to be easy. You may not be religious, but actually you need deep reserves of faith. We appear to be more divided than at any time in our history, but deep down, the secular people respect the religious people. If the moment came, we'd all be united again. (Dolorosa, 15)

In 'The Guardian', Hare writes that the play 'offers a remarkable insight into the prejudices, passions and mutual suspicions that lie beneath the recent eruption of violence in the region" (Hare 2000). This is true, a closer view is made by Hare into the life of both the Jewish settlers and the Palestinians as well. Astonishingly, it reveals a great deal of their frustration. When they came to Israel, they were thrilled with the idea of something "pioneering" (Dolorosa, 13). Despite the ease of their life, they are overwhelmed by that feeling of uncertainty and even futility of their future in that land.

Sarah and Danny reveal that despite the Jewish American's continual support of their nation, the Israeli settlers cannot consider that support except as a calculation of gains and losses: "Of course American Jews support Israel. Why wouldn't they? It's simple self-interest. Israel is the insurance policy of the whole Jewish people." (Dolorosa, 14)

Hare also records the economic and social calamity that faces the Palestinians in Gaza. He makes a comparison between the luxurious life style of the Israelis and the Arabs' grim existence. In Ramallah, when asked about the way Palestinians feel, one of Hare's friends replies "We're not feeling anything. We're just burying the dead." (Hare, 2000) Again Grossman's frequent protests echo in Hare's mind: "This is un-Jewish"(Dolorosa, 7)

At the closing scene of Via Dolorosa, on his way home, Hare asks the question: "Are we where we live, or are we what we think? What matters? Stones or ideas? Stones or ideas?"(Dolorosa, 43)

Hare's recreation of the journey to Tel Aviv and the Jewish settlement is obviously informed by an ideological code. It is modelled in a highly objective way. The complexity of the situation at the West Bank is a trial of faith for a man like Hare. Being involved in such a muddling experience, he realizes that his nationality as a western man categorizes him as one of the victimizers. In a (5 minute Real Video or Transcript), he expresses his reservations as follows: "On being a British man in a colonial situation: I always identify naturally with the colonial power, because I'm English, ... I assume if I were Irish, you identify with the colonized in every story." (5 minute Real Video or Transcript).

The main principle controlling Hare's choice and organization of Via Dolorosa is to reveal to the reader, or audience, in a way that enhances his or her interest, some knowledge of the subject of the play, rather than Hare's temperament and character.

Hare's nationality as a western man allows him to be objective and disinterested in tackling such a prickly subject. His dramatization of such a political thesis is convincing. There is always a capacity of all kinds of conversions in Hare's drama. Public matters are likely to be converted as are private ones. However, Hare does not make an argument for either the Israelis or the Palestinians. His opposition to Israel was not based on his anti-Semitism, any more than his support for the Palestinians' aspirations was based on his pro-Arabism.

Barghouti was born in Deir Ghasana near Ramallah in 1944. He received his BA in English Literature from Cairo University in 1967. Much of his literary production lies in poetry. Its not surprising that Palestine usually occupies the foreground of his nine poems. He was married to the prominent Egyptian novelist and academic Radwa Ashour.

I Saw Ramallah was written in Arabic, but translated by the Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif. Edward Said, the famous Palestinian writer and poet, wrote the foreword of the novel. In his foreword to the novel, Edward Said praises I Saw Ramallah as an "intensely lyrical narrative of a return from protracted exile"(Ramallah, vii) That is true, though the style of the text is narrative prose, quite amazingly, it allows the use of eloquent metaphoric images. There is a rich emotional texture in Ramallah which makes displacement, a common theme experienced and brilliantly expressed by many Palestinian writers including Said's magnificent book, turned by Barghouti into a true "lyrical" work (Ramallah, vii).

The structure of I saw Ramallah is that of a semi- autobiographical novel. It combines elements of autobiography, fiction, biography, history, and even poetic quality. The novel is written in the first-person narrative style. Yet, it is not merely a collection of well-rehearsed anecdotes intelligently written. Barghouti's use of first person narrative enables the reader to gain a keen insight into the feelings, thoughts, and experiences of the narrator. This usually means that the character is involved in the story being told.

Mostly unlike some first-person narrators, who are detached from the events they recount in some way, in I Saw Ramallah, the narrator is both told of the events many years after they have occurred, and he himself provides us with personal, social and even political information. He is thus employing a framing device in which first-person narrative is used together with a familiar psychological and philosophical literary technique - that of stream of consciousness.

The Palestinian tradition had been faithfully preserved. In her article "Palestinian Identity in Literature" the Palestinian writer Salma Khadra Jayyusi attributes that to the fact that "memory has played a great role in the staying of the Palestinians' struggle to preserve their identity.' (Jayyusi, 1992: 168) Barghouti's lucid style of writing is characterized by his special use of memory and imagination through a series of flashbacks, anecdotes, and glimpses of the past. In each chapter of Ramallah, there is a break with narrative linearity through recollection of things past. Barghouti's perception of the incidents of his life is a revelation for the reader.

The way Barghouti makes that intricate linking of the personal and the political is really masterful. The plot, setting, character-description and the language all create an overall poetic atmosphere. But the language of I Saw Ramallah is the most fascinating of all the narrative elements. It offers an in-depth account of Barghouti's thinking and actions during his journey to his homeland. The first chapter "The Bridge" traces the process of Morid Barghouti's exile to see how far the experience of displacement affected and re-defined his identity.

The focus of the first chapter of I Saw Ramallah 'The Bridge' is large enough to involve the author's self and setting as the subject of the novel within the cultural and historical context. Barghouti is heading into his homeland over the bridge over the Jordan to the West Bank. The tune of Fayrouz' famous lyric was capturing his mind and heart. There is a long sequence of time and events separating his last visit to that unapproachable bridge:

Last time, my spectacles were not so thick, and my hair was completely black. My memories were lighter, and my memory was better. Last time I passed through here I was leaving my country to go to a distant university. Now, I have left my son behind at that same university. Last time no one argued my right to Ramallah, now I ask myself what I can do to preserve my son's right to see it. (Ramallah, 13)

Barghouti survived the birth of the Palestinian Refugee problem. He was a refugee together with 800,000 Palestinian who were driven out of their homes at the time of Israeli occupation in 1948. He was 4 years old when Palestine was partitioned into Arab and Jewish zones by the United Nations.

According to Barghouti, a stranger or a refugee cannot help being self-absorbed. In the first chapter, Barghouti shows the close similarity between displacement and death. "Displacement is like death. One thinks it happens to other people."(Ramallah, 3)

The bridge was Barghouti's first object to recall his past memories. It brings back his youthful years: in 1966 when he last stepped into that bridge. With skill Barghouti connects in his literary imagination such events as the non-forgettable date about the "Six Day War", the Arab's defeat by Israel's bombarding in 1967. The heat felt by Barghouti fits in with the heat of the situation. There is that flashback account of the year of his graduation from Cairo University. The bewilderment of the final exam is anticipating the crucial battle. The day also coincided with the publishing of Mourid's first poem 'Apology to a faraway soldier' in the Egyptian Theater Magazine. Mourid sums up the irony of his tragic situation of his success and graduation, (he cannot find a wall to hang his certificate on). Ever since that date, Barghouti's personal life is doomed to be linked to the grievances of his country.

Edward Said praises Ramallah as 'the finest existential accounts of Palestinian displacement' (p.vii). There is, as Edward Said claims, an existential outlook recurrent in Barghouti's frequent questioning of the meaning and validity of many human experiences. The view of the bridge insinuates several inquiries: "How was this piece of dark wood able to distance a whole nation from its dreams? To prevent entire generations from taking their coffee in homes that were theirs?"(Ramallah, 9) Barghouti cannot help meditating the moments of loss, frustration and even nausea of the human existence in general and the Palestinian situation in particular:

Here on these prohibited wooden planks, I walk And chatter my life, without a sound, and without a pause. Moving images appear and disappear without coherence, scenes from an untidy life, a memory that bangs backward and forward like a shuttle. Images shape themselves and resist the editing that would give them final form. Their form is their chaos. (Ramallah, 10)

In his way across the bridge, he investigates the present moment of his return through terminological analysis "There is no topological difference between this Jordanian land I stand on and that Palestinian land on the other side of the bridge. That, then, is the 'Occupied Territory' " (Ramallah, 5) He narrates a similar experience in which that same phrase was uttered with the same feeling of bewilderment when he was attending a conference in Damascus 1979. Despite the seeming familiarity of the phrase 'Occupied Territories' its very normality becomes shocking to Barghouti's ear.

Barghouti was dismayed by the view of the Jordan; "It had become a river without water. Almost without water. Nature had colluded with Israel in stealing its water. It used to have a voice, now it was a silent river" (Ramallah, 5)

There are few glimpses of the Israelis in this novel. While waiting for the Israelis' permit, Barghouti sees an Israeli soldier on guard on the western bank. At first, Barghouti himself cannot articulate his feeling towards that soldier. On second thought, he says "This soldier with the yarmulke is not vague. At least this gun is my personal history. It is the history of my estrangement." (Ramallah, 13) The view of that Israeli soldier with his gun encapsulates the tragic tale of a people displaced by a stronger military force. It expresses issues of resistance, defeat, and dependency.

In "The Bridge" Barghouti allows an eloquent space for the dead. He can't interpret why he feels them close to him. Astonishingly, the present view of the Israeli soldier on guard insinuates Mourid's most painful memories of his shattered family and his separation from his close friends. The soldier's room is compared in Barghouti's mind to that of his martyr friend Ghassan Kanafani. The comparison is so ironic, yet meaningful. The soldier's small room is crude. Its walls covered with tourist propagandist posters of Israel, and "a poster of Massada. Their myth recounts that they had held fast in the fortress of Massada until they were all killed - but they did not surrender." (Ramallah, 14) What aggravates Barghouti's feeling is his recognition that "They are scenes from my country. But their context and their reasons for being in this place at the forbidden border are aggressive" (Ramallah, 16)

On the other hand, Ghassan's office in Beirut is beautifully ornamented with drawings and posters of "the poems of Neruda, the words of Cabral, Lenin's outstretched hand" (Barghouti, 16). All the drawings and even posters in Ghassani's office depict figures with a spirit of struggle. The dream of the restoration of the land is what brings them all together.

Because as Barghouti puts it "the dead do not knock on the door" (Barghouti, 15), he remembers his father with his amiable features. His pious and tender grandmother comes with her "magical prayer" (Ibid) to obsess his mind. He recalls the day his older brother Mounif, was lying on the pavement of a Paris street bleeding to death. He cannot forget that his brother failed in crossing that bridge. He recounts the memorable scene of his dear friend the caricaturist Nagi Al-Ali, assassinated in London as: "I went back to Budapest trembling at the shape of our days to come, leaving under the distant British earth one of the bravest artists in the whole of Palestinian history." (Ramallah, 19)

However, Barghouti does not completely indulge in his past memories. He makes a switch from personal worries to public concern. The novel focuses very little on the leaders of Palestine, and the misdeeds of the Israelis. Instead it mostly articulates the Palestinian grievances. Yet, on his ride home, Barghouti views the landscapes eliciting times and places of the Palestine he dearly missed. He is stuck by the Israeli government's systematic harassment and humiliation of the Palestinians, beginning with constant surveillance at checkpoints. In such a situation, Barghouti feels the powerlessness, frustration and anger experienced by most Palestinians.

In "The Bridge" Barghouti mentions the name of Benyamin Netanyahu, the leader of the Likud; the party which overtly adopts an extremist policy that is, however, by no means worse than Labor's moderate policy. Barghouti comments: "Moderates, at one time or another, learn a new language from extremists. And the Extremists - if they have to - will learn from the moderates how to speak with silken tongues" (Ramallah, 31) The tangible outcome of the two policies is the Israeli settlements.

Barghouti witnesses the expansion of Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories. His description of their elegant architectural style as "Buildings of white stone standing on a stepped incline. Solid where they stand."(Ramallah, 29) Their solid existence mocks the Oslo agreement and all the treaties promising the 'dismantling' of some of them. Barghouti first inquires:

I wonder what their lives look like on the inside? Who lives in this settlement? Where were they before they were brought here? Do their kids play football behind those walls? .. Do they make love with guns strapped to their sides? Do they hang loaded machine guns on their bedroom wall? (Ramallah, 29)

Then, he argues that with all their illegitimacy, those settlements not only form a major obstacle to the peace process, they aggravate the acute contrast with the economic, social and even human condition of his people.

Chapter two "This is Ramallah" and chapter three "Deir Ghassanah" demonstrate Barghouti's capability of great prose of scenery, experiences and emotions, and most of all, of people. These two chapters are poignant, with humorous incidents set beside painful memories of his life in the exile. As "This is Ramallah" begins the past is intermingled with the present in a rather cinematic way. The first view seen by Barghouti in his first morning in Ramallah was that of the Israeli settlements.

With a bird's eye, the novelist observes the economic calamity that faces the Palestinian people in their occupied territories. He also notices the infrastructure's need for economic resource development necessary for a viable Palestinian state. Ramallah, the birth town of Barghouti, is situated within Israel's 1948 borders. We can almost visualize the place, listen to the people's jokes, and even feel them in flesh and blood. There are fresh memories of Barghouti's Bir Zeit School.

"This is Ramallah" also demonstrates Barghouti's poignant account of what the Palestinians had and still have to endure. Beside providing a profile of Mourid's own personal life, the novelist comments on the sociopolitical environment and offers questions within the cultural and historical context. He exclaims:

How can we explain today, now that we have grown older and wiser, that we on the West Bank treated our people as refugees? Yes our own people, banished by Israel from their coasted cities and villages. (Ramallah, 40)

In "This is Ramallah" Barghouti saves the novel from running the risk of pathos and self-pity. He does not wish to indulge in a sentimental frame of mind. He cannot but be aware of the shortcomings of his own people. Still, while stripping away the suffering of his people, he is emphasizing the pitiful political, social and military organization of both the Arab states and the Palestinian nation. He writes

The wish to count the faults of the victim has woken in me once again; it is not enough to register the faults of others, the Occupier, the Colonialist, the Imperialist, and so on. Disasters do not fall on people's heads like comets from the sky on a beautiful natural scene" (Ramallah, 41)

The Palestinians' inevitable link with politics penetrates into the everyday chores of their life. This is meaningfully expressed by Barghouti as follows:

Can the defeated be left off politics? .. Politics is the family at breakfast. Who is there and who is absent and why. Who misses whom when the coffee is poured into the waiting cups. Can you, for example, afford your breakfast? Where are your children who have gone forever from their usual chairs (Ramallah, 43)

In the third chapter "Deir Ghassanah" Barghouti gives a portrayal of his birthplace. The olive tree was the landmark of the place. He describes its great significance to the Palestinian life as follows: "For the Palestinian, olive oil is the gift of the traveler, the comfort of the bride, the reward of autumn, the boast of the storeroom, the wealth of the family across centuries". (Ramallah, 58) The unique smell of the Palestinian 'olive oil' is one of the unforgettable things that used to haunt Barghouti's mind reminding him of his old house 'Dar Ra'd' in Deir Ghassanah. Olive trees that are no longer theirs.

In the fourth chapter "The Village Square" Barghouti remembers how the taste of old things can never be felt again, meanwhile he cannot live with the new taste. Instead of adapting to a new culture, language, habits and perspective, he remains detached from his new environment. Incredible depth of detail of habits closely adhered to, a Palestinian's life style that used to be a torment to Barghouti in his exile.

Among his relatives whom he had long missed, Barghouti is so bewildered by indescribable emotions. The journey is a trial of his knowledge of his own country. In certain moments he is not sure whether his memory fails him or it is the failure of non-tested ideals. He reveals the complexity, stubbornness, nobility, and humor that pervade the human condition. He describes scenes of people with warmth and sarcasm that might astonish those who have the worst expectations of the situation in the occupied territories.

At the closing lines of "The Village Square", Barghouti gets to the following painful conclusion:

Because of the many places that the circumstances of the Diaspora made us live in, and because we so often had to leave them, our places lost their meaning and their concreteness. As though the stranger prefers the fragile relationship and gets edgy if he feels it becoming strong. The vagrant holds on to nothing. (Ramallah, 88)

This is due to numerous experiences of separation and re-union lived through by all his family members. There is an expectant feeling of the unavoidable departure. Barghouti's life is full of all kinds of temporality. It is clearly understood why he writes:

I felt comfort in hotels. Hotels absolve you from immortalizing the moment but at the same time provide a theater for short acts and surprises and widening of the monotonous horizons of life. They taught me not to hold on to any place, to accept the idea of leaving (Ramallah, 92)

Due to the change of balconies, he gave up growing the geraniums, which he used to attend to tenderly. Ranging from his coffee cups, his bed linen, the color of his curtain, nothing can be his own because nothing is permanent.

Places and times occupy a huge space in Barghouti's memory. In the fifth chapter "Living in Time" he narrates how he left Egypt after being expelled by President Sadat for protesting against the Camp David Accords. He moved from Cairo to Baghdad to Beirut to Budapest to Amman. He lived in Budapest for 17 years as the PLO representative leaving behind his wife Radwa, and his five-month-old child Tamim. It was only in 1990 when he could permanently reunite with his family in Egypt.

For the most part, upon reading I Saw Ramallah, we encounter a Pro-Palestinian voice, There is sympathy, unity of suffering and fate with Palestinians, living inside or outside the occupied territories. There is truth; but there is still Barghouti's own bias and his assumptions which make objectivity, of course, hard to attain. In "Living in Time" he recollects the difficulty with which his wife Radwa had incessantly to grapple to get a passport for her Palestinian son born in Egypt to an Egyptian mother and Palestinian father.

In the seventh chapter 'Displacements', Barghouti furthers his poetic description, and gives tiny details of his feeling of pain, loss, and bewilderment. "It is enough for a person to go through the first experience of uprooting to become uprooted forever" (Ramallah, 131) He gives a poignant account of what the Palestinians have had to endure. According to Barghouti, a stranger or a refugee is always self-absorbed. For him, memories of home life are not ghosts obsessing him; they do not usually provide consolation, but they are secrets to be kept deep dark in the heart.

The seventh chapter of Ramallah 'Displacements' also reflects the cultural attitude of the Palestinians living outside their homeland. Barghouti examines his own ties to the country now called Israel. The novel explores the relation between the Palestinians and their homeland. It also emphasizes the concept of identity and belonging as persistently sought by the Palestinians in their exile. He can lucidly describe the refugee's life and his troubles. All creeds of cultural homogenisation, multiculturalism, secularisation and economic transnationalism fail to make sense to them and they tend more and more to configure their identities simply within the confines of their 'ideal' of a nation. Identity seems to be enacted by them as resistance to preserve their linguistic and cultural background. They cannot but stick to the creed of their "ideal home". For those living within the boundaries of the 'real' nation, they cannot afford the luxury of a dream.

The sound of the telephone ringing has alarming probabilities to a Palestinian in exile. It could bring news about the death of a dear one.

At the final chapter of I Saw Ramallah entitled 'The Daily Day of Judgement', there is that air of existentialism which is recurrent in the novel. In his final night in his home country, Barghouti contemplates various, contradictory human experiences: "The worth of life, the assertion of self, a feeling of pride, an adoption of one story rather than another - all these certainties assured by day, in the dust of the crowd, in the fever of competition and conflict." (Ramallah, 181). He also describes a strange, unique role of one's pillow as follows:

The register of our lives. The first draft of our story that, each new night, we write without ink and tell without sound. It is the field of memory that has been plowed and fertilized and watered in the darkness that is ours". (Ramallah, 180)

There are, of course, moments of loss, frustration and even nausea of the human existence in general and the Palestinian situation in particular. Yet, Barghouti's outlook is not lacking in design and intention. It is not also without the hope of reconciliation and reconstruction. At the closing lines of the novel, Barghouti is thinking of Tamim's permit, and hopefully says in such a decisive tone "I will return here with him. He will see it. He will see me in it, and we shall ask all the questions after that." (Ramallah,182)

The novel gives an honest account of Barghouti's emotions. Ramallah faithfully represents the contradictions and striking images of the Barghouti's quest which arrives at a lot unexpected conclusions. He becomes aware of the fact that the beauty and mystery of one's own country 'watan' is better felt when dreamt of. Being so close to his homeland, he discovers the discrepancy between the abstract and reality. To his frustration, there is a great discrepancy between the long-held dream and the bitter reality of an unattained 'watan'.

In comparing and contrasting the outcome of the journey as reflected in Hare's Via Dolorosa and al Barghouti's I Saw Ramallah, one has to take into consideration the differences of background, ideologies, belongings, and even the times chosen for their journeys. Hare traveled in 1997. Al-Barghouti made his journey in 1996 before the intifada, and after the Oslo agreement. The journey is inscribed into two different works belonging to different literary genres, still what combines them is the uniqueness and originality of their productions.

Each of the two writers had his own motives for the journey. Hare's groping for truth, makes his journey in the 'without', Barghouti's groping for homeland and his identity makes the journey both 'within' and 'without'.

The two writers tackle geography and history as two fundamental illuminating factors modulating the destiny of the region. Hare's description of Tel Aviv is parallel to Barghouti's description of Ramallah. But it is briefer and less poetic. He views the city through the eyes of a scholar or a tourist. Barghouti vision of Ramallah, though it is not through rose-tinted glasses, yet it encapsulates the writer's past life. Ramallah; the largest Arab city in the West Bank, is visited by both writers but seen differently. It is Barghouti's ancestral homeland. For Hare, it alleviated the tension he felt in Gaza. The notions of 'homeland', 'exile and return' are haunting the minds of the people in the two literary works. The Israeli settlements are viewed from different perspectives. There are different diasporic images presented in both works. While I Saw Ramallah demonstrates what can be called 'forced Diaspora', in Via Dolorosa Diaspora emerges in its political and strategic aspect.

Hare concludes that there is a strong bond of suffering linking the Israelis and the Arabs alike. Insecurity and great fear are the common feeling among them. Hare presents the conditions of normal human beings in a difficult situation. Hare's quest for truth was always personal, coming out of his inquisitive nature about Israel and the Palestinians. However, subjectivity and disinterestedness are the main notable traits persistently sought by Hare for tackling such a prickly subject. His honesty and integrity were more important than acceptance or admission of the injustice which has befallen the Palestinians. He presents the conditions of normal human beings in a difficult situation. Hare' concludes that there is a strong bond of suffering linking the Israelis and the Arabs alike. Insecurity and great fear are the common feeling among them. Hare's honesty and integrity were more important than acceptance or admission of the injustice that has befallen the Palestinians.

In Via Dolorosa and I Saw Ramallah there is a great deal of subjectivity. The two works provide decisive questions of morality and truth . The choice made by the two writers to visit that region implies that personal experience and acting on one's own convictions are essential in arriving at the truth. Thus, their understanding of the situation there is superior to that of a detached, objective observer.

The two works bear the mark of existentialism. If the tenets of existentialism in philosophy and literature stress the void, frustration, death and pain of the human reality, then such was the typical world in which the characters in the two literary works live. The subject and the setting of Via Dolorosa and I Saw Ramallah are the perfect equivocator of an existential piece of literature. Yet, as mentioned before, Barghouti's and Hare's outlooks are not lacking in design and intention. They are not also constituted without the hope of reconciliation and reconstruction.

© Wafaa H. Sorour (South Valley University, Faculty of Arts, Qena)


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3.1. Exil und Migration | Exile and Migration | Exil et migration

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For quotation purposes:
Wafaa H. Sorour (South Valley University, Qena): The Themes of Exile, Displacement, And Diaspora in the Works of David Hare and Mourid Barghouti. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 15/2003. WWW:

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