The Almond Tree accurately depicts Palestinians in the Triangle: A Rebuttal to Susan Abulhawa’s Review
By Ahmad Abu Hussein from Baqa Elgharbiyah Village in the Triangle
How is it possible that American Jewess Michelle Cohen Corasanti would know more about our Palestinian reality in the Triangle than Susan Abulhawa, an American of Palestinian descent? The answer is easy. As a Jew, Michelle was allowed to live inside the 1949 armistice lines and witness first-hand the lives of Palestinians who remained in what became Israel. That is something the majority of Palestinians in exile are denied. In addition, Michelle came with an open mind and a desire to know the truth.
I know because I’m a Palestinian Muslim from Baqa Elgharbiyah village in the Triangle, which is located inside the green line — in Israel. I met Michelle on our first day of college at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She was the only American in our department of Middle Eastern studies and we became instant friends.
Over the next three years, Michelle and I would spend countless hours together preparing for classes. As we studied Israel’s version of history in which we, Palestinians, were referred to prior to 1948 as the ‘Arabs of the Land of Israel,’ I filled her in on the truth.
During those years, Michelle lived my life with me and my friends. She witnessed first-hand the way we were treated, how we lived, our customs, and our political realities.
After college, Michelle returned to the United States to pursue graduate school in Middle Eastern studies at Harvard University; and I eventually returned to my village in the Triangle. We lost touch until I read a review of Michelle’s novel, The Almond Tree, in Al Jazeera that shocked and saddened me.
The reviewer, Susan Abulhawa, attacked Michelle for purportedly distorting Palestinian legacy. Upon reading Michelle’s book, I was outraged. It was obvious that Ms. Abulhawa knew nothing about the lives of Palestinians in the Triangle, which was accurately depicted in Michelle’s internationally bestselling novel, The Almond Tree.
Michelle’s novel was based, to a large extent, on realities I’d shown her and stories I’d told her. These were not stories Michelle stole — as Ms. Abulhawa tried to argue. They were stories that Michelle brilliantly turned into a novel that shined a light on our plight.
Here is the story behind The Almond Tree: essay.
In the first 100 pages of The Almond Tree, which takes place between the years 1955 and 1966, Michelle’s protagonist is living under Israeli martial law. Ms. Abulhawa erroneously suggested in her review that the novel’s protagonist was from the West Bank, which did not come under Israeli occupation until June 1967.
As Palestinians under Israeli rule from 1948 on, we were isolated from Ms. Abulhawa and the rest of the Arab world. The majority of Palestinians in Israel lived until 1966 under Israeli martial law, which was formally British marital law adopted by Israel in 1948. Israel continues to use that same law today to rule the West Bank. So, from the start, Ms. Abulhawa didn’t even know where the novel’s protagonist was from.
Ms. Abulhawa unfairly accused Michelle of being a white supremacist because her protagonist went to Hebrew University instead of college in the West Bank. Ms. Abulhawa also claimed that such Palestinians aren’t allowed to attend college at Israeli universities, adding “on scholarship, no less.” The novel’s protagonist went to college in 1966. At that time, the West bank was under Jordanian control. Michelle’s protagonist’s village was located in Israel. He won a scholarship and stipend to Hebrew University after beating all of the Jewish Israeli students in a math competition because he was smarter than them. In exchange, he was not required to give anything to Israel.
At the time when the novel’s protagonist was to go to college, his father was serving a 14 year prison term in Israel. As the oldest child, he was the main breadwinner for his illiterate mother, his dependent crippled brother and the rest of his younger siblings, who he was barely able to keep afloat. The protagonist was raised under the state of Israel and his family paid taxes in Israel. He was entitled to attend Israeli universities and was absolutely forbidden to travel to Arab countries let alone attend college there. In fact, at that time, it was against Israeli law for a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship to have contact with any Arab outside of Israel. It would not be credible to any reader for him to self-deport to Jordan for university, thereby abandoning his family. Anyone with even the most basic understanding of the political realities of the Palestinians in Israel would have been familiar with these basic facts. Ms. Abulhawa’s bogus claim that Michelle is a white supremacist is based on fallacy and ignorance.
Israel has a well-documented policy of pushing Palestinian intellectuals in Israel into the sciences, while at the same time making military service a prerequisite for high level science jobs. If these Palestinian scientists want to work in their field, they need to go abroad. That is known as one of Israel’s milder forms of ethnic cleansing. So Israel does give scholarships to Palestinians in Israel. And yes, Palestinians in Israel do attend Israeli universities.
And unlike Ms. Abulhawa, I’m not writing an academic review of a book based on fabricated facts. I’m writing about life as I experienced it living in a Palestinian village in what became Israel in 1948 and feel it is important to set the facts straight. We Palestinians who live under what became Israel in 1948 pay Israeli taxes and attend Israeli schools and universities. We have no other choice. We’ve endured harsh treatment and fought against all odds to remain in our homes and keep Palestinian traditions the way they were in Palestine before 1948. Ms. Abulhawa was wrong when she insinuated in her review that we’re collaborators because we refuse to leave our homes. Israel would love for us to self deport, not attend its universities and be considered collaborators. Ms. Abulhawa is supporting Israel against us. If that wasn’t bad enough, she had the nerve to mock our rural traditional Palestinian ways criticizing The Almond Tree’s depiction of our customs, claiming that they exist only in “the most Orientalist imaginations.”
We are proud of our customs and traditions; Michelle did not invent them because she is an “Orientalist.” Our traditions are part of the preserved Palestinian legacy and way of life in the Triangle. Sadly, Ms. Abulhawa wielded the term “Orientalist” the same way Zionists use “anti-Semitic.”
In addition, Ms. Abulhawa’s claim that the depiction of a brilliant Palestinian math and science prodigy who goes on to win a Nobel Prize in science is equivalent to a black maid in Mississippi just shows the extent Ms. Abulhawa is willing to go to deceive people.
In the Triangle, we take pride in preserving our regional Palestinian vernacular, despite Israel’s efforts to normalize the Arabic language. Israel wants the world to believe that we are Arabs, not Palestinians, because, according to their falsified version of history, Palestine never existed.
In the Triangle, the first letter in Ahmad, which is my name, is pronounced in colloquial Arabic with a kasra. The A in Ahmad thus becomes the letter I in English. As the second letter in Ahmad, ح, doesn’t exist in English, when we try and capture Ahmad with a kasra in English, we can either spell it Ihmad or Ichmad. If we write it as Ihmad, one cannot tell if the h stands for the letter ه or the letter ح. So Michelle used “ch” to capture the ح, which is a harder sound than the letter h that represents ه, but not as hard as the “kh” which represents in English the sound for the Arabic letter خ. Ms. Abulhawa claimed the Ichmad is how Israelis pronounce Ahmad. That is completely incorrect. Israelis can pronounce the A vowel. “Ch” isn’t in Hebrew. Those are Latin letters in which English is written. Hebrew is written in different characters. Hebrew, which is also a Semitic language, has the exact sounding letter as the ح.
Words such as challah and chutzpah begin with that letter. “Ch” is how that sound is captured in English. It’s been captured that way long before Zionism was even an ideology. The c is used to indicate to the English speaker to make the h harder than a normal h, but not as hard as the “kh”. “Kh” in English stands for the letter خ, which is needed to spell the Arabic word that means “to put out or suffocate like a fire” which, Ms. Abulhawa wrongly claimed Ichmad meant. An equivalent of the Arabic letter خ doesn’t exist in Hebrew. Hebrew letters in Arabic.
Ms. Abulhawa further claimed that she knew every accent in the Triangle and no one pronounced Ahmad that way. Unfortunately, Ms. Abulhawa most probably has never made it to the Triangle. Had she been here, she’d know how Ahmad is pronounced in our colloquial tongue. Knowingly or because of ignorance, Ms. Abulhawa is helping Israel obliterate our Palestinian vernacular in the Triangle by insisting on normalizing the name Ahmad.
The Almond Tree has succeeded in shining a bright light on our plight and I couldn’t remain quiet while Ms. Abulhawa joins hands with Zionists in trying to unjustly snuff it out. She has distorted the legacy of the Palestinians who have managed to remain in the Triangle against all odds.
Adolf Hitler once said, “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.” No one can deny that the Zionists have excelled at that. Then they block the truth from being heard.
That is exactly what Ms. Abulhawa has done. She’s tried to employ Zionist tactics to discredit The Almond Tree. Instead of recanting her inaccurate review, Ms. Abulhawa indulged in making unfounded accusations to undermine the author of The Almond Tree by calling her a white supremacist, criminal, racist, and distorter of Palestinian legacy and blocking Michelle’s rebuttal.
For anyone who would like to read an accurate depiction of a Palestinian boy’s life growing up in Israel, I highly recommend this amazing story. Ms. Abulhawa’s negative review of The Almond Tree stands alone in a sea of praise, towering even the Zionists who were unhappy with the novel’s accurate portrayal of our life under the State of Israel.
Ahmad Abu Hussein is a Palestinian from Baqa Elgharbiyah village in the Triangle, where he lives with his family. He has a BA in Middle Eastern studies and an English teaching certificate from Hunter College. He is both a high school teacher and college lecturer as well as an award-winning author of the books: ELSA and To Study English. He is currently writing his third book, a novel, about a Palestinian from Israel.