On (The Road to Ain Harud) Absent Reading

On (The Road to Ain Harud) Absent Reading

There is a kind of reading which we do not like. We deprive ourselves of the opportunity to possess one of the most effective means of conflict management. Here is merely one example which explains that clearly. Are we paying proper attention to the present and the future if we neglect this kind of reading?

I am compelled to arrive at an Arab village. Tireh, Taybeh, Qalansuwa, or any village.

But that is impossible. You know that all the villages are under siege, and a curfew is imposed on them.

Whoever reads this dialogue might imagine that it is happening now, reflecting on its bitter page the picture of the Israeli siege imposed on Palestinian cities, towns and villages in the heat of the repeated Israeli assaults since the beginning of the second Intifada. These assaults have reached a climax of ferocity in recent months. But the surprising thing about this dialogue is that it took place more than fifteen years ago on the pages of a novel, whose translation into Arabic was painstakingly reviewed by the great Palestinian Arab poet Samih Al-Qasim, who wrote an introduction to it. It was translated into Arabic by Antoine Shalhat under the title The Road to Ain Harud, and published by Dar Al-Kalima in Beirut in its first edition in 1987. We must state that it was written and published in its original language a year or two before that. So the date of its original publication was certainly more than fifteen years ago, as noted above. This is a conclusion based on the logic of simple arithmetic which we are compelled to follow in order to make up for a chronic defect in Arabic translations which usually do not refer to the most elementary self-evident facts of translation. These are the reference to the title in the original language, the year it was published for the first time, and the year of publication of the text from which the translation was made if it was not the first edition.

Studied Scenarios

The important thing is that this novel, which was written by the Israeli Amos Kenan, not only tried to jump ahead of its time to catch up with our time, it also tries to jump ahead of the following which looms on the aggressive Israeli horizon, and which begins with leaks, to the press and others, and statements which are retracted for a time. Then we discover that what seemed to us foolish talk was only trial balloons and excerpts from scenarios which had been studied with precision and people trained on them during a night when we were asleep or absent.

Let us read from this novel:

Why don t you ask me where the Arabs are? asked the General.

Where are they?

They re not here. We sent them all away from here.


To Makkah. To the place they came from. Now they can ride camels there in the desert, and sing whatever they want.

I was silent.

Why don t you ask me what we ll do with the villages?

What will you do with the villages?

We have a plan. We ll climb onto all of them with bulldozers, and after a month, or two months at the most, there won t be any sign to indicate that they ever existed here.

Does not this make us remember expressions like the transfer , the plan to deport the Palestinians which Sharon is harboring in his heart and which sometimes leaks out from the corners of his mouth, little by little?

Does not this make us think that the Israeli bulldozers, which added the finishing touches to the massacre of Jenin, the shelling of Ramallah and Tulkarem, and the destruction of houses in Ain Jala, Gaza and Nablus, are all not reactions but actions? Indeed, actions planned in well-devised scenarios which have been prepared in advance, whose implementation was waiting for the excuse and the justification?

Perhaps this question, in this framework, opens a door for us for a different discussion about the responsibility for giving this excuse and justification, even if the extreme nature of Israeli savagery and oppression makes us close this door, without ignoring it. Under torture and repression, we can only forgive the victims the mistakes of their emotional reactions. It is a matter that is similar to a situation of self-defense and justifying it in legal logic. Then whoever is hunting for an excuse will not fail to find a trick to create one.

Let us return to the novel which was published more than fifteen years ago, containing implications of which some have become facts that make us shake our heads, alerted to new angles of vision, not in what concerns us as Arabs, but more with regard to our enemy Israel which insists on consolidating this enmity by its actions which have been going on for more than half a century. What concerns Israel in this novel is alarming, because in the end it hits us with bullets and machine guns. Not only as Palestinians, but as Arabs in general. There is no doubt that the greatest historical source of Arab frustration in addition to other, subjective sources is the way Israel does what it likes to Palestine, in a situation of obvious Arab impotence. This is a condition that affects not only Arab feelings both individual and collective it also affects even the daily performance of Arabs at all the various levels.

Full of Contradictions

The novel tells us about an Israeli man who is wanted in a general atmosphere which gives the idea of an Israeli military coup or a blatant, undisguised seizure of the reins of power by the Israeli military establishment. Political parties are abolished, newspapers cease publication, and those who belong to Ain Harud are crushed. This represents a dream spot to the author who is one of those who call themselves supporters of peace in Israel in which the banners of dialogue, equality and human rights are raised. Through marathon chases, the hero of the novel continues his flight from the army, which is in hot pursuit of him. An Arab called Mahmoud joins the procession of the pursued hero. The novel ends with the pursued hero coming close to Ain Harud , without it being clear that he has reached it, indeed without there being any certainty that it exists. The Arab Mahmoud is hit by a bullet from the pursuers, and dies drowned in his own blood.

In his introduction in which he tells us about the author, Samih Al Qasim says, Amos Kenan has a right for me to introduce him to Arab readers, and prepare them to read Amos Kenan with a frank introduction. I must try to forestall interpretation, by dotting the i s and crossing the t s, as the saying goes. For about twenty years we have found Amos Kenan on our side in the battle with the Zionist authorities for our right to free expression and a life of dignity on the soil of our fathers and grandfathers.

So Amos Kenan is one of the defenders of some of the rights of the Arabs in Israel, but to what extent? Samih Al-Qasim answers this by saying, Amos Kenan is full of contradictions. He sometimes appears to be the firmest enemy of Zionism, and then he backtracks so that he seems to be a defender of Zionism.

Samih Al-Qasim formed this view of Amos Kenan s contradiction through first-hand knowledge, but the novel confirms this contradiction through the character of its hero. He is a critic to the point of an armed clash with the militarization of the Israeli entity, but he does not stop boasting about the total capability of the Israeli military. I know them, he says. They are planning to overrun the place, and if they are not equipped with a map of this cave, they will obtain it. And certainly they have a map. This is their business, to know everything that exists on the round, and under the ground, and everywhere.

He the hero of the novel a left-wing secularist, as it is apparent from his opinions which are scattered throughout the text, does not cease singing about dreams from the Torah: And the valleys of Arnon we gazed at them from opposite them, but we did not enter there.

You shall see the land before you, but you shall not go there, into the land which I give to the people of Israel. (Deuteronomy, 32:48).

And even when the moon stood for us above the valley of Ai jalon, we did not see its dark side (from the Book of Joshua): And he said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still at Gibeon, and thou Moon in the valley of Ai jalon. And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed until the nation took vengeance on their enemies (Joshua, 10:12-13).

So that contradiction in the personality of the Israeli writer, which Samih Al-Qasim noticed through his personal and direct experience, is also evidenced by the novel. It is something that draws our attention to literature and art as a source of information. Any confrontation, or negotiation, or dialogue, all depend on information as an infrastructure. Knowledge of the detailed aspects of the Israeli character even of doves and supporters of peace is extremely essential, at least so that we may know the extent to which this character stands with us or against us.

A blood-Red Light

Regarding the choice of this novel for translation into Arabic, Samih Al-Qasim says that the matter is not related to pretexts of friendship and enmity. It is an objective attitude to the work itself. In addition to the artistic importance of the novel, there is great importance in the seriousness of its content, on which and for which the novel is built. In the widespread nature of the racist cancer we find enough credibility for the alarm bell which Amos Kenan is ringing in this novel of his.

We are not in the presence of a science fiction novel. We are now dealing with a blood-red light that derives its decisive justification from the redness of the blood that is shed in our country.

On the essence of the formation of the novel, Samih Al-Qasim says, This novel constitutes a precise record of a horrifying nightmare that crushes the bed of every person in our country whose humanity has not yet been threatened. It is a novel of chaos and successive military coups which Israel is awaiting. Operations of physical elimination are carried out, the press is being cancelled out, Arab citizens are being slaughtered, and those whose destiny is to be safe are being expelled, human behavior has collapsed in decadence to the lowest level of pigs and something similar to that with torments, destruction, corruption and ruin. In the deluge of chaos and negligence, a new Weimar Republic arises in free Ain Harud. This healthy spot in a rotten body is turned into a dream for freedom-loving people who endure the hardship of asylum and the dangers of defending their abstract human entity, in order to reach the fountainhead of the spring the dream the hope the final refuge.

This nightmare , which the novel describes, warns us that the worst has not yet happened. Some people may wonder whether it would be bad if Israeli chaos with a blatantly military inclination were to occur, particularly since we are all agreed that Israel from the time of its birth up to now is a military society, even if it dresses up in democratic civilian clothes. This fact may be indicated by the escalated situation of violence with the increase in the domination of the military establishment in Israel. The massacres of the Palestinians have become bigger and uglier, killing people and destroying houses are now carried out by the defense forces, crowned with the most advanced and savagely lethal bomber aircraft, missiles and armored vehicles.

The Worst that Is Yet to Come

The surprising thing in the predictive dimension of the novel is that it almost describes fifteen years ago what is happening now, specifically. In the words of the hero of the novel, As for me, the worst place is the Sharon region which is heavily built up, that huge coastal city which extends from Tel Aviv in the north and which never ends. It is as if the first indication of the nightmare is crystallized in the stabilization and expansion of this Sharonism. Even if the author used the term in the geographical sense, it still has a clear symbolic dimension in the context of the novel. It is a symbol that we see embodied now. Hence we must take the visions of the nightmare the worst that is yet to come very seriously. We must at least place them at least within future probabilities, so that we can we can organize our affairs somewhat as Arabs without exception - because a monster on the loose, armed with nuclear teeth and programmed with extreme racist and voracious economic and political ambitions, will not stop at the green line, and the boundaries of its action will not be confined between the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan.

In addition to the foregoing, there are observations which occur to a reader of this novel. Samih Al-Qasim has mentioned some of them.

The Israeli author although he is from the peace camp and is a supporter of some of the Palestinians rights insists that the Jews have an historic right in Palestine which he tries to prove through imaginary excavations. This is something to which it is easy to reply that the Arabs have lived in Palestine since the appearance of their ancestors the Jebusites and the Canaanites, thousands of years before the Jews, Judaism and the Torah appeared.

The author was never able to be fair in his portrayal of the character of the Palestinian Mahmoud. He treated him with biased oversimplification and blatant condescension, making him appear incapable of dialogue, in contrast to the Jewish interlocutor. Like other Israeli liberal writers confronting a sort of reprimand of conscience regarding the irrefutable that their people are persecuting another people, the author attempts to apportion responsibility both sides, equating the murderer with his victim.

In addition to all that, the novel, through the successive victories of its hero over his pursuers, is strident with the spirit of military arrogance, which does not stop at the limits of society and the establishment, but also includes individual character, from which a writer like Amos Kenan is no exception. This arrogance causes the author to fall into exaggerations which are almost borrowed from hackneyed action films, and remind us of the crude James Bond films.

Regardless of all the critical comments, which have their adherents and for which this is not the place, the most important thing which the novel offers us is the dimension of the future in the vision of how the entity of Israel will develop and deteriorate, as is explained by the nightmare of which the author speaks and the chaos which results from it. It is a chaos that is dangerous to all of us Arabs.

The value at the present time which the novel offers us is that it reveals the internal structure of the individuals of this society. Its features are clear in the images of both the author and the characters in the novel.

Samih Al-Qasim was right to choose, present and review this novel fifteen years ago, and this is confirmed by the first indications that some of its predictions are coming true now. And it is increasingly likely that the vision of the future in it will prove true.

The Informative Nature of Literature and Art

Literature, like all arts, is a joint product of the conscious and the subconscious together. Hence it is a source of rare information and vision. There is a consensus now that the conduct of a struggle, any struggle, beginning from dialogue until confrontation, is based essentially on information. But we have not given literature its due in this respect, whereas the Israelis and others have been aware of this dimension of information in literature. There is no better proof of this than the critical studies that Israeli university Professor Sassoon Somech has presented, in which he reads the texts of a number of our great writers. From this reading he has obtained an abundance of social and political information which has astonished even these writers.

To read literature and art as a source of information is a role that many institutions in the world undertake. Israel relentlessly does this reading for goals which serve its expansionist and aggressive plans. As for us, this reading is absent. This is an attitude which represents negligence towards ourselves first. And it is an attitude which some justify as remaining clean , keeping away from pollution and fear of being accused of so-called normalization with Israel.

When will we end this confusion? And when will we stop missing the opportunity for more understanding and more caution and organization. And what if we give Samih Al-Qasim credit for his seriousness and awareness, which are duties, in reading when he presented us with this novel more than 15 years ago?

We have lost a moment, and I hope we will not lose the remaining moments. And I hope that we will regain this absent reading, at least of what our enemies produce, so that we may know more about them. Then we will have a greater possibility to coexist with them or to defeat them.


Sulaiman Al-Askary

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