A Little Piece of Ground by Elizabeth Laird, written with the collaboration of Sonia Nimr, is the first children’s novel to be published in the UK* about events in the occupied West Bank from the perspective of a Palestinian boy and his family. Lynne Reid Banks’s One More River (1973) and Broken Bridge (1994) are set in Israel but, despite having some Arab characters, present an Israeli perspective on the disputed territories.
Everything in her book, Laird tells us, has been drawn from real events, either from the main Israeli human rights website or from the experiences of Sonia Nimr who lectures at the Bir Zeit university on the West Bank. The book depicts some of the harsh realities of the occupation, including a scene where Palestinian men are deliberately humiliated by Israeli soldiers and one where the boy’s family is shot at by Israeli settlers while trying to pick their olives. The publisher has received three demands for the book to be pulped and Jewish pressure groups, including Jews for Justice in Palestine, have expressed concern about its content which they claim is biased.
When a novel breaks new ground as in this case, it is perhaps hard not to burden it with the uniqueness of the particular historical moment and be exigent in our demands. We need to remember that this is a work of fiction, albeit one based on a real and terrible situation, and events are seen through the eyes of a 12-year-old from one side of the divide. It is not the job of a novel to present every perspective on a complex and fraught political issue; nor to achieve the ‘balance’ one might look for in a political report. That there are more stories to be told does not mean that this one should not have been published and Macmillan are to be applauded for doing so.
Writing in The Guardian**, Israel’s leading novelist, Amos Oz, who is also a founder of the Peace Now movement, talks of the 70% on both sides of the Israel/Palestine divide who approve the idea of a two-state solution: ‘Israel next to Palestine’. As he sees it, the enemy of peace is the ‘coalition of fanatics on both sides’ who ‘push us all into the infernal cycle of violence and vengeance’. Young readers of Laird’s powerful book will begin to understand something of the background to this tragic cycle. A Little Piece of Ground is further discussed by Michael Rosen on page 9 of this issue.
*see also ‘The Depiction of Arabs in Children’s Fiction’ by Ann Lazim in BfK No. 133
** The Guardian 19.8.03
A Little Piece of Ground by Elizabeth Laird is published by Macmillan (0 330 43679 1) at £8.99.