When you belong to a book club, you will at some point book read books that you never had on your list. That was the case with me and Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land Under Siege by Amira Haas. It is already an older book (translation 1999) that I did not recall. It deals with the Gaza Strip, one of the Palestinian enclaves with the state of Israel, not a subject that I long to contemplate. The troubles in the Middle East have been daily news for sixty years. What more could I learn that I have never heard?
The problem with relying on broadcast or even print news is that it rarely gets under the surface of the story. Reporters drop in and soon leave, just reporting what they learn from a little observation and listening to official spokespeople. Amira Haas, an Israeli journalist and a Jew, however, became a Gaza resident to observe the lives of Palestinians over the course of several years. What she found was quite troubling, an entire society being repressed.
While Haas tells intimate and compelling stories, the net effect of the book is overwhelming. I took nearly two weeks to read her book filled with many accounts of injustice and hopelessness. Palestinian authorities and Israeli political and military leaders have all failed to even consider the lives of the powerless men, women, and children of Gaza, many living in refugee camps since 1948. 1948 is a long time.
Our discussion of Drinking the Sea at Gaza was lengthy and not confined to the content of the book. A couple of people had wished that the stories had been arranged more chronologically, to help readers understand the events. We naturally included a discussion of American policy toward the Middle East. The consensus was that our government has enabled injustice, but we had no firm ideas of what would have or can help.
The story Haas tells has, of course, been dismissed by Hamas, Fatah, and Israeli partisans, which is itself a good reason to have it in libraries, available to readers. Not many of our libraries seem to have it. Will the stories be forgotten?
Haas, Amira. Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land Under Siege. Metropolitan Books, 1999. ISBN 0805057390