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An evening with Ramzy Baroud

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A few weeks ago, I was given the amazing opportunity to speak to Ramzy Baroud, a Palestinian-American journalist

(Original article appeared in Mancunian Matters on 5/4/2011,

“Every Palestinian who lives in a refugee camp has a village and a story to tell.”

One such story being told was by Ramzy Baroud. His book, ‘My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story’, is an account of his courageous father who, driven out of his village in Palestine to a refugee camp, took up arms to fight the occupation, while trying to raise a family.

He explained that although the story was based around his father and his family he had wanted to use their experiences as a means of putting a human face to the Palestinian conflict.

His aim was to reclaim the Palestinian narrative, something, he believes, has been left to other historians and academics for far too long.

“At the end of the day, it’s a Palestinian narrative and they’re not telling it.”

At a book signing at the Friends Meeting House in Manchester, the audience was treated to a reading of several excerpts from his book, from the humorous anecdotes of his father’s business partner accidentally adding vast quantities of bicarbonate soda to the falafel recipe, to the more tragic accounts of his grandfather waiting eagerly to return to his village, which Ramzy then elaborated upon in discussion.

At certain points, it was clear that reading from his book, and reliving some of his and his family’s experiences, was overwhelming for him.

“Writing the book was one challenge but speaking about the book is a set of whole new challenges. At the end of the day it’s your story, it’s your mum and dad and your grandparents and lots of heartbreak and lots of issues that affect you as a person,” he said.

Ramzy referred in his conversation to a MEMO poll carried out in West-European countries, where it was revealed that there are still some people who do not know who is occupying whom, and 22% don’t know anything about the conflict.

While Ramzy said it is common to find apathetic people in all societies, he found this figure ‘alarming’. This, he says, is because the narrative is confusing and sometimes biased, and that now is the time that Palestinians should speak out.

Many point out that Israel is the only democratic country in the Middle East, where all citizens enjoy equal rights. So surely that should count for something? But Ramzy was quick to dismiss this as ‘irrelevant’ and has very different opinions on this: “Whether you are a democratic leadership, dictatorial or a religious fundamentalist, that by no means justifies ethnic cleansing of people, it doesn’t justify mass killing.”

However the election of Hamas to government in the first ever Palestinian elections did not portray a good image of Palestinians around the world, as Hamas refuses to recognise the legitimacy of Israel. Did that not hinder the peace process?

Ramzy believes that, while Hamas and extremism should not be disregarded, the influence of Hamas has been ‘greatly exaggerated’ and that Palestinians in their nature are quite traditional, though not necessarily religious. “In our society, even the communists pray five times a day,” he joked.

But surely the other Arab states should be lending a helping hand?

“Why should they be expected to do anything?” he said, and referred to their own ‘non-democratic’ nature in the eyes of the West.  “These people have an unspoken agreement of needing to maintain their position and power.”

For this reason, he said, helping the Palestinians would negate their own interests.

With the recent uprisings in the Middle East, Ramzy is hopeful about the future of the area. “It will have to change, it WILL change,” he told the audience in bold, passionate voice.

Despite everything, Ramzy maintains a positive outlook on the on-going conflict between Israel and Palestine: “I think at this point there is no option but to live together. We should not be wasting any time discussing solutions that are not achievable. There has got to be a way that this land is shared. I’m really hopeful that the discussion is going to start veering off to that particular point from now on so that we can actually get something done.”

Written by Iram Ramzan

April 5, 2011 at 6:17 pm

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