In his memoir, which Edward Said described as “One of the finest existential accounts of Palestinians displacement”, Mourid Barghouti brings the humane and emotive side of the Palestinians story. 

Mourid Barghouti: I saw Ramallah | Review

In 1966, Barghouti left his hometown, Ramallah, to finish his study at Cairo University, and because of the Israeli occupation, he could not return to Ramallah until 1996, after Oslo Accords. The memoir describes this thirty-year journey.

The narrative starts when Barghouti was crossing from Jordon to the West Bank. He described his stay in Ramallah and his visit to Deer-Gasanna where he was born. However, the narrative is not only about the visit, it is also a flashback to his life in exile and in Ramallah before the occupation.   

The novella is so occupied by a lack of a physical location. Barghouti reflects upon this when he was forced to leave Egypt: ''from Cairo to Baghdad to Beirut to Budapest to Amman to Cairo again. It was impossible to hold on to a particular place... I do not live in a place. I live in time, in the components of my psyche, in a sensitivity special to me.”

He realized that the 1967 occupation has made him a permanent homeless. It is not a matter of politics; it is rather a matter of psyche: "It is enough for a person to go through the first experience of uprooting to become uprooted forever." The Occupation caused this situation of homelessness and turns the place to an idea of the place: "The Occupation has created generations of us that have to adore an unknown beloved: distant, difficult, surrounded by guards, by walls, by nuclear missiles, by sheer terror. The long Occupation has succeeded in changing us from the children of Palestine to the children of the idea of Palestine," he wrote.

Even though the memoir is intended to be the poet’s personal account, the voice of the Barghouti, the politician, came forward from time to time. When he saw the Settlement from Abu Hazim's balcony, he commented: These are not children's fortresses ... These are Israel itself. Israel the idea, ideology, geography, trick and the excuse. It is the place that was ours and they have made it theirs ... The settlements are the Palestinian diaspora itself."

The story is as much about Barghouti as about many of his acquaintances, some of whom are public Palestinian figures, like the cartoonist Naji al-Ali, the novelist Ghassan Kanafani, and particularly his eldest brother the activist Mounif Barghouti. Mounif's death is a moving moment: ''My whole job was to protect my mother from dying herself. Putting my head on her chest and my hands hugging her strongly, I said, “We want you to remain living, promise me to remain living - wear black mother.”

Barghouti returned for all those late friends and relatives who could never come back. They are always present. In the waiting room of the Israeli soldier who guards the border between Jordon and Palestine, he reflects upon this: “the soldier did not talk to me. But if he talked ... How could I listen to him and their voices surround my silence ... [and] their faces appear around me like André Roublev icons."

In a lyrical and evocative narrative, Barghouti managed to tell the absent side of his people's story – the personal one.

The memoir was first published in 1997. It immediately became successful, and won the prestigious Naguib Mahfouz Medal of literature. In 2003 Anchor published it in a careful English translation by the novelist Ahdaf Soueif and a forward by the critic and literary theorist Edward Said.

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