Hammerman, Ilana. A Small Door Set in Concrete: One Woman's Story of Challenging Borders in Israel/Palestine.

AuthorTuschling, Lina

Hammerman, Ilana. A Small Door Set in Concrete: One Woman's Story of Challenging Borders in Israel/Palestine. Translated by Tal Haran. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2019.

A Small Door Set in Concrete is an intense reminder that although borders may separate people, they need not define them. In her newest book, Israeli writer, translator, and activist Ilana Hammerman gives us a glimpse into her decades-long activism in the Palestinian Territories. After two losses in her personal life and a period of deep reflection, Hammerman starts traveling to the Palestinian Territories to learn about "the other side," where she generously invests time, effort, and money to aid those living under Israeli military rule. Voices of ordinary people affected by conflicts are often missing from academic scholarship and public discourse; this book tries to change that by giving voice to some ordinary Palestinians trying to make a living, get an education, or raise a family. A forceful counter-narrative to one-dimensional portrayals of both parties to the conflict, Hammerman's book effectively draws on her own experiences while putting the struggles of the Palestinians she encounters at the center of her stories.

The book's division into two parts--"The West Bank" and "The Gaza Strip--makes intuitive sense. Throughout the book, we learn how Hammerman meets many Palestinians and how their life stories are intertwined, sometimes for years, at other times just for an hour or two. The book is a series of literary portraits stretching across almost three decades of the author's trips to the Palestinian Territories showcasing her quiet but persistent activism. Her actions are characterized by helping others accomplish seemingly normal things: seeing the sea for the first time; replacing a pair of glasses that broke; finding work for a few days; exploring a nearby city. Yet to accomplish these and other goals, Hammerman has to be resourceful and in some instances break the law, as when she smuggled the father of a family in her trunk to Jerusalem to give him employment for a few days. Or when she takes four Palestinian children into Israel so that they can visit the zoo for the first time in their lives. While her actions are marked by solidarity and compassion, they are acts of civil disobedience and show a fierce commitment to defying stereotypes and enemy narratives. Hammerman's accounts excel at showcasing a mosaic of individual fates that are individually...

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