Ramzy Baroud, the Palestinian journalist, scholar and author of ‘The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story’, is in Kenya to promote his book.
More importantly, he’s here to share what he also tries to do in The Last Earth. That is to tell the complex, compelling lives of eight ordinary Palestinians, each from different backgrounds but all identifying as having one common homeland, the land to which they all hope to one day return, which is Palestine.
Baroud, who wrote the book as his doctoral dissertation from Exeter University, UK, proves himself a brilliant storyteller. He strives to get inside each of his character’s lives so he can tell their story as closely as they might have told it themselves.
The diversity of lives covered in the book is impressive as he tells stories of Palestinians who lived through the Nakba, the so-called ‘catastrophe’ when they were driven off their land by Zionists who displaced nearly a million Palestinians from ancestral lands on which their families had lived for centuries.
In fact, memory and the oral history of those who continue to claim the right of return to their lands are central to Baroud’s reporting the lives of the eight.
He also relates stories of those who are one or two generations from the Nakba, who nonetheless have imbibed their culture, identity and history from elders committed to never forgetting who they are and where they ultimately belong.
One like Sana Saba is a Palestinian Christian who grew up in Australia and had to get back to the Middle East to rediscover her cultural roots. Another, like Leila Khalil was born and raised in Jordan, but never felt at ease until she realised her Palestinian identity as a badge of pride, not humiliation, or something alienating her from others.
One of Baroud’s stories is about an American man from Hopewell, Virginia who came to identify with the Palestinian struggle and move to the Gaza Strip. Joe Catron first saw the suffering of Palestinian people on American TV. He was in his 20s and shortly thereafter moved to Gaza to assist the people in any way he could. He’s been doing that ever since.
Baroud takes the lives of the eight individuals as focal points of his chapters. But their stories invariably include a wider network since, by definition, Palestinian people constitute one community, whether they live in the diaspora or live inside occupied Palestine.
Hana al-Shalabi is one who lived inside Israel for years, more precisely, inside an Israeli prison. She was accused of planning to avenge the death of her brother, Samir, who had been killed by Israeli soldiers in the occupied West Bank.
Hana’s heroism is legendary, says Baroud since she sustained the longest hunger strike of any Palestinian woman.
She had been tortured, humiliated, and even tied to a hospital bed while on strike. Thus, she, like the others in Baroud’s book, successfully resisted Israeli oppression; they could not be silenced. His book ensures that fact.