Review of Kanaaneh, Hatim. (2008). A Doctor in Galilee: The Life and Struggle of a Palestinian in Israel. London: Pluto Press.

Seyfeddin Kara
Seyfeddin Kara studied history at Uludag University (Turkey), and completed an MA in Islamic Studies and Middle East Politics at the Islamic Collage for Advanced Studies (UK). He is currently pursuing an MA in Islamic studies at Birkbeck Collage. He has been writing articles for several Turkish magazines since 1999. He is currently working as a researcher at Islamic Human Rights Commission.

Kara reviews Kanaaneh’s autobiography regarding his life in Palestine following his return form the United States, and focuses on how his experiences of social discrimination at the hands of teh Israelis changed his belief in the possibility and the desire for a 2 state solution.

This book by Hatim Kanaaneh is the living memory of an idealistic Palestinian who prioritized his people’s needs over his promising future. As a young man, Kanaaneh leaves his country with the memories of the plight of his family and the Palestinian people during the Israeli occupation and seemingly neverending wars. He later heads for the US in order to pursue a medical degree at Harvard University. After successfully completing his education and establishing a family, Kanaaneh leaves his comfortable life and career in the U.S. to return to Galilee.

Kanaaneh’s book consists of his memories during the period beginning with his return from the U.S. and on to his serving as a doctor in the Galilee region from 1970 to 2004. Upon his return, Kanaaneh was an avid pacifist who simply submitted to the status quo; i.e., considering himself an “Israeli Arab” whose best chance of helping his people rested within the framework of the Israeli system. It was for this reason that Kanaaneh sought out official positions in the Health Ministry. However, throughout his service, his approach to the Palestine issue dramatically changed as he found himself joining his people’s socio-political struggle. Kanaaneh witnessed institutionalised and systematic racism and discrimination against the so called “Israeli Arabs”, a situation which failed to receive due reaction from the Palestinians. What Kanaaneh was witnessing was the Israeli method of absolute domination of the Palestinians that aimed at either wiping out the Palestinian identity or forcing them to emigrate. As part of this method, they divided the Palestinian community into small groups having absolute social and economic dependency on the Israeli economy and society. The State also managed to secure the cooperation of community leaders, thus preventing any organised or systematic reaction from the Palestinians.

For the author, the most pressing issue facing the Palestinians has been poverty. Due to the Israeli land seizure policy, especially the 1950 Absentee Property Law, Palestinians who left their properties for 24 hours seeking shelter outside the warzone effectively lost their right to those properties. This policy left many Palestinians landless, and separated from what, historically, had always been their main source of income. Poverty-stricken, it now became that the Palestinian people found their cheap labour for building new Israeli settlements to be their sole income. Thus, the whole of the Palestinian nation becomes devastated by poverty which forces them to live under dehumanising conditions, torn from their traditional values and way of life.

Another fundamental issue Kanaaneh points out is the lack of education available for the Palestinian youth. For young Palestinians, enrolling in Israeli universities becomes almost impossible due to the petty discriminatory policies of the Israelis. Citing his own example, the author shows how many Arab youth possess enough aptitude to be granted scholarships to Harvard, while they are not able to enter to Israeli universities. It is unavoidable that such lack of education, and thus adequate intelligentsia, would equate to manifold deprivation in the community’s development.

Discrimination against the Palestinians would become so widespread and dominant that even influential Palestinians would apply it against their own people. In this way it is common to hear discriminatory terms and expressions within the conversations of ordinary Palestinians. For the author, this is a sign that Palestinians “have accepted and internalized a sense of inferiority as Arabs in the Jewish state”. Further, from the accounts of individuals, the author points out how the apartheid system deprives Palestinians of State resources, thus leaving them completely ignored. On the other hand, Jews are rewarded abundantly with financial aid in the form of interest-free loans, student scholarships, well-paid jobs and social security payments and so on. Israel justifies this due to their having a largely military-centric system in which those who are not part of the army are almost totally excluded from the system.

There are many characters in the book, including Toufiq Khatib and Wahsh al-Sha’aby (aka Abu-A’tif) with whom the author mentions his conversations to expose the direct effects of the racist Israeli policies of land seizure and discrimination in every field of life.

The author’s memories document how racism against Palestinians is not only committed by the State, but by the entire society. The hostility which is directed toward the Palestinians varies from mere ridicule or dissociatation to extreme hostility. The approach of average Israeli intellectuals to the plight of the Palestinians is ‘Let them stew in their own juice’. There are occasional contacts withneighbours or colleagues but these relations are very superficial and interest based.

Sadly, the plight of the Palestinians does not end with oppression by the Israelis. Amongst the author’s nightmarish childhood memories, he recalls the British domination of Palestine which was likewise full of aggression and suffering. He remembers how a British soldier tried raping his young sister, thus leaving her suffering from long-lasting emotional and psychological trauma. As a matter of fact, the author himself was forced to dangerously fend off a rape attempt by British soldiers when he was a little boy.

Apart from offering a vivid account of the sufferings of the Palestinians, the book provides a moving depiction of the daily life and traditions of the Palestinians. The author pays especial attention to introducing the culture and social life of the Palestinians. Kanaaneh takes pride in his having survived growing up with Palestinian culture, not to mention his family who continue to defy the Israeli domination.

The book gives the vital testimony of a pacifist who, after initially believing in the possibility of Palestinians and Israelis living peacefully together, gradually comes to know the real nature of Israel and its Zionist ideology. Likewise, Kanaaneh’s work accomplishes the important mission of demonstrating to the reader why a ‘two-state solution’ is unfortunately impossible.

Seyfeddin Kara

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source: Volume 4 Issue 1,
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