Representations of Jerusalem in the modern Palestinian novel.

AuthorHarb, Ahmad

THIS ESSAY STUDIES THE TEXTUAL representations of the City of Jerusalem in the modern Palestinian novel. It is generally guided by Blanche Houseman Gelfant's deductive framework of the city novel. Gelfant has suggested that "through literary practice, if not through literary theory," three patterns of the city novel have emerged: the "portrait" novel, which reveals the city through the struggles of a single character; the "synoptic" novel, which reveals the total city immediately as a personality in itself; and the "ecological" novel, "which focuses upon one small spatial unit such as a neighborhood or a city block and explores in detail the manner of life identified with this place." (1)

The City of Jerusalem, like any other, can be represented by any combination of attributes historically, culturally, geographically, and spatially associated with its setting, and how this setting as a "physical place", as an "atmosphere", and as a total "way of life", as Gelfant's theory implies, makes distinctive impressions upon the mind and the senses and sets the values and manners which may "mold character and destiny". (2) For this purpose, I have chosen five representative modern Palestinian novels to exemplify, on the one hand, the three deductive types of the "city novel" in terms of the formation and domination of the setting, and to represent, on the other hand, in terms of their narrative and chronological time, the three major political periods of the Palestinian national history in the second half of the twentieth century; the 1948 upheaval, the 1967 war, and the 1987 uprising, intifadah. Jabra Ibrahim Jabra's novels Hunters in a Narrow Street (published 1960), and The Ship (1970) fall into the "portrait" type and historically cover Jerusalem during the first period. Mahmoud Shugair's novel Another Shadow for the City (1998) falls into the "synoptic" type and covers Jerusalem, retrospectively, during the second period. Ahmad Harb's novel The Other Side of the Promised Land (1990) falls into the "ecological" type and represents Jerusalem during the third period. In addition, 1 will include Izzat Ghazzawi's novel, Nebo Mountain (1996), as an example of "allegory" which has its own metaphorical poetics of representation that hardly fits any of these types.

I should clarify, however, that in my application of Gelfant's types of the "city novel" to Jerusalem-related Palestinian novels, I have used the term "city" to assess the various levels of Jerusalem's dominant presence as a setting, with all its composite elements, without particularly suggesting that the "city" in association with the Palestinian literary representation of Jerusalem is an urban, industrialized, "socially heterogeneous", and impersonal "settlement", (3) as the term may essentially mean. This clarification is of paramount importance in order to have a proper grasp of the Palestinian spatial poetics of representation. It is worth noting that the City of Jerusalem, in most of the Palestinian literature I have researched for this study, including the selected novels, figures out as a "countryside" continual with the Palestinian expansive landscape or a "village" with distinctive topographical, religious, and historical sites. One way to explain the non-urban representation of Jerusalem in Palestinian literature is perhaps to examine the Palestinian historical and national experience of confrontation with Zionism as colonial settler movement. Urbanism has been so linked in the Palestinians' imagination with the Zionist colonization of the land and hence their loss and eviction; it is the death "machine in the[ir] garden", to borrow Marx Leo's metaphor. (4) While country life, in opposition, has been linked with freedom and sublimity of Palestine and the deep identification of its people with the land. (5)

Furthermore, in the Palestinian national consciousness, Jerusalem is inseparable from its geographical landscape, that is the whole country of Palestine. Most often, the Palestinian vision of Jerusalem alternates with their vision of the homeland. Thus, to the Palestinian writer, the rural image of Jerusalem performs the pertinent function of signifying the continuity of the city with its surroundings and simultaneously expressing the Palestinian attachment to the "country" in both sense of a "nation" and a "land". (6) I may add that representing Jerusalem in a rural setting is commensurate with the Qur'anic representation of the City. Although Jerusalem is not mentioned by name in the Qur'an, it is described as an inseparable part of the reverential expansive landscape from which prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven; "the farther [mosque] whose surroundings We have blessed" (Sura 17:1). In another situation, Allah refers to Jerusalem as a "village". In the context of reprimanding the Israelites for their "hypocrisy" and "wrongdoing", He says, "Enter this village and eat where you will to your hearts' content"(Sura 2:57). (7) It is interesting to notice in this connection that the Palestinian Christian writers, such as Jabra Ibrahim Jabra, draw heavily on the Christian pastoral traditions in their representation of Jerusalem's country setting where the "good Palestinian shepherd", born in Bethlehem and grows in Jerusalem, like Jabra's protagonists, constitutes a permanently parallel "Christ-figure" or "martyr" who is set to redeem Jerusalem and hence his country.

In the preface to his autobiography, The First Well: Bethlehem Boyhood, Jabra I. Jabra states that throughout his literary career, he has kept William Wordsworth's saying "The Child is father of the Man" in mind. "I have done so out of deep desire to stress the beauty of that specific period of a person's life. It is beautiful probably because of its nearness to the source of being, especially if we believe, like Wordsworth again, that this source is rooted in Heaven with God". (8)

This passage provides a key to Jabra's aesthetics of Jerusalem representation in his two novels Hunters in a Narrow Street, (9) and The Ship. (10) One of the central drives in these novels is the nearly reflexive desire of the author to present an idealized non-urban setting of Jerusalem of his childhood which looms in his extended retrospect as Jerusalem of Jesus. Jabra was born in Bethlehem in 1920 in a place adjacent to the Church of Nativity commonly known as "al-Khan". He grew up in Jerusalem where his family built a house in the al-Katamon, one of the suburban neighborhoods in West Jerusalem. As a boy, he would roam the landscape between Ein Karem and Ein Salwan (Gihon Spring), bathing in its "holy water" and enjoying the company of the shepherds pasturing their flocks along the hillsides of Wadi er-Rababeh (the Hinnon Valley). He would visit the Holy Sepulcher, the Road of the Cross, the Dome of the Rock and the Castle of David. He would play with his schoolmates in the narrow streets of the Old City. "The beautiful Jerusalem was there for me to discover, neighborhood by neighborhood, stone by stone, the old part and the new, its past and its present," he later writes in his autobiography. (11) It is this "beautiful Jerusalem" which has fired Jabra's imagination and become the center of his life and art. It has provided him with a compelling symbol of identity, beauty, patriotism, and infinite love. In a "poetic trance" similar to what the romantic poet John Keats calls "negative capability"--that gift which allows the greatest artists to become a medium in synthesis with Beauty and Truth--Jabra blends in his novels all the reality-basis components of Jerusalem's representation, the landscape, the stones, the human actor, and the childhood memories, into one great image of the magnificent "Jerusalem of Jesus". (12)

Indeed, the "great image" of Jerusalem of Jesus" is appropriately the governing image in Jabra's Hunters in a Narrow Street and The Ship. The image combines "beauty", "sadness", and "hope". Jerusalem of Jesus was beautiful and much of its beauty could be attributed to its landscape; majestic hills, colorful stones, and picturesque valleys. It was sad because Jesus wept over its terrible fate as he foretold its destruction by the Romans: "They will wipe you out ... and leave not a stone on a stone within you" (Luke 19:44). Judging the resplendent history of the City's resurrection, there would be hope embodied by the "new Jerusalem, coining down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband" (Revelation 21:2). Jabra, through a complex process of displacement and appropriation "reharnesses" this great image, as Gaston Bachelard would say, (13) in a modern Palestinian national context of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

In Hunters in a Narrow Street, this great image is revealed through the fate and the struggles of the protagonists Jameel Farran and his fiancee Leila Shahin. The novel takes place against the background of the 1948 war that culminated in the Palestinian Nakba (Catastrophe) and establishment of Israel. In January of 1948, a Jewish terrorist organization attacked the Arab suburb of Katamon in West Jerusalem where Jameel's and Leila's families were living. The attack took place, as the narrator Jameel Farran describes it, during a "mad howling storm. It thundered and rumbled and rain fell ferociously for hours. The power suddenly failed and the whole quarter was in foul darkness"(p.9). After the storm subsided, Jameel, in horror, could faintly perceive Leila's house in ruins. Terrified, he skipped about the rubble and the great stones and the iron girders in vain hope of finding Leila alive. Then he felt something soft. He dug it up. "It was a hand torn off the wrist. It was Leila's hand, with the engagement ring buckled round the third finger. I sat down and cried"(p. 10).

This opening tragic scene constitutes the controlling image upon which the whole novel is constructed. It establishes, on the one hand, the objective correlation between Leila, the...

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