Naomi Shihab Nye’s Voice of Reason about Palestine and Israel

Arab Festival T-shirt

SEATTLE 2007. I wasn’t even there,

But wear this shirt proudly all the time.

Since when Arab Tragedy only? No!

Forgetting spread tables, smoky eggplant,

tiny spinach pies, punctuating pomegranate seeds,

neat salmon in the center

of each rectangle of harissa,

since when we put down embroideries, joy,

birth certificates of stitching and knotting,

naming of constellations,

discovery of equations,

dancing with the handkerchief, oud and drum,

we will teach our children, guard our skeins

of blue and read thread,

refusing to forget laughter even if the world forgets

we ever have it

and this T-shirt with bright turquoise

and orange lettering on brave black says so.

Nahomi Shihab Nye. The Tiny Journalist: Poems. Page 94

I chose to feature this poem because it focuses on the things I like about the Middle East.  I’ve been to Israel/Palestine, but I’ve spent far more time in Jordan, where the culture is very similar.  The description of the foods make my mouth water, and I’m including a picture to show you my collection of embroidered pillows that I just thought about.

A bench in Lois’ home with a collection of embroidered cushions from Palestine and Jordan. The style of the one on the far left is in the Bethlehem style. The image in the designer cushion in the center wears a traditional Ammani design. The covered candy dish was made by a refugee from Syria.

A bench in Lois’ home with a collection of embroidered cushions from Palestine and Jordan. The style of the one on the far left is in the Bethlehem style. The image in the designer cushion in the center wears a traditional Ammani design. The covered candy dish was made by a refugee from Syria.

The Tiny Journalist: Sourcing ideas in the 21st Century

Short Read

I really appreciate the voice of Naomi Shihab Nye because she neither minces words nor allows herself to fall into the vernacular of hate.  I think when describing intense events such as the ones in Palestine, there is the temptation to allow emotion that comes from the depiction of devastating events that raise emotion in the reader rather than the use of strong writing, if that makes sense.

Nye doesn’t allow herself to sacrifice authenticity and a sense of balance toward her subjects to elicit a quick, shallow emotional response from her readers.

The premise of The Tiny Journalist is very 21st century: Nye writes in the voice of a real 10-year-old child who posts videos on Facebook of what she sees around her in Palestine everyday.  As you read this book, you have to think carefully to keep the voice straight in your mind though: the speaker is a fictionalized version of the real little girl.  Nye imagines what she might say and writes it down.  So the speaker is not Nye, nor is it this real little girl, but Nye’s idea of what this girl might say based on her body of work on Facebook.

Got it?

In the second half of the book, Nye incorporates issues from around the world into the Palestinian plight. As I read the book, I thought she was breaking off from her construct, but after taking a look Janna Jiyad Ayyad’s Facebook page, which I deliberately did not do while I was reading the book, I realized that she too, incorporates world wide events.

Here is the link to Janna Jihad Ayyad’s Facebook Page. I do recommend reading the poetry before viewing this.

In the past few months, I finally read Nye’s YA novel, Habibi, and I’ve also had a chance to read some of her other work.  As I mentioned, what I like about Nye’s body of work is that while she doesn’t shy away from telling the story of her people and their situation in Israel/Palestine, she does so with some humor, some balance, and what I take as an overwhelming sense of kindness towards all involved.

More Favorites from Naomi Shihab Nye

A lot of Nye’s recent work make great reads for adults who are short on time. Frankly, I appreciate that they aren’t too heavy.

Sitti’s Secrets is a story of a young Arab-American girl and her Palestinian grandmother. It is a bit similar to Habibi, but for a younger audience.

I am very please to share this video made by two friends who work at one of the leading schools in Jordan, Dima Shaka’a & Lina Daghjoqeh, with Naomi Shihab Nye’s kind permission, in which they combine a reading of Sitti’s Secrets with an art lesson.

Click HERE for a video of the song mentioned in the story.

Honeybee is the perfect blend of short anecdotal essays and poems.

Short Read

Puddle Jumper

These short stories are a little bit more meandering than what I think is typical for “short short” stories, but they make nice quick reads.

Short Read

Puddle Jumper

I just love the idea of poetry that is meant to be heard, because really, poetry is meant to be heard. Read these out loud with your family. Consider keeping a copy in the car for oral reading as you run errands.

Short Read

Puddle Jumper

Cast Away is scheduled for release on February 11, 2020

More From The Lois Level

Read “3 Books that Make Me Feel the Holy Land in my Bones” for information on three more books, including Nye’s Habibi, that offer an informative, unbalanced view of this region.

Craig Thompson’s “Habibi”: Can an American depict the Middle East fairly?

Cover Photo Credit

Gaza Seaport View by Yousef Masharawi

gaza seaport views






Palestine and Israel: An Attempt to explain the mess in The Holy Land

The Palestine-Israeli thing is something everyone pretends to know about, but if you ask me, hardly anyone understands because it is very complicated. Also, people are afraid of causing offense.  So I think people pretend like everyone understands it because everyone is secretly scared of having to explain it.

I am not an expert, but I have spent a lot of time in the region, and so I will attempt to explain what I understand. I’ve also put some links to official explanations that I think are unbiased.

You have to understand that everything in the Middle East is complicated and contradictory, so for everything you hear, there is probably some truth and some (or more) lies or distortions*.

If you’re familiar with the Old Testament, you know that the original Israelites/Jews exited slavery from Egypt, wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, and when the time was right, conquered the inhabitants of the “Promised Land” and eventually founded then lost kingdoms there. The Jews/Israelites were either exiled or left on their own, and control of the territory shifted among different imperial powers.

In the mid 1800’s, Jews started to come back to their ancestral homeland, and they settled in some pretty barren areas, it’s true. After the Holocaust in World War 2, they were able to form the State of Israel with help of the Allied Powers (US, USSR, UK) who won the war. The UK had control of the area anyway.

The problem is that descendants of the original inhabitants were still there. Most of these people identify as Palestinians, who are mostly Muslim Arabs, but there are other groups, including Christian Arabs and other ethnicities (some Muslim, some Christian), who have also been there for millennia.

I don’t think a lot of Westerners realize how many Christians are native to the Middle East, Persia (Iran), and Turkey, among other areas.

There are supposed to be certain territories for the Israelis and certain areas for the Palestinians, but they are kind of intermingled.  Jerusalem, in particular, is important to both the Hebrew/Jewish faith and Islam, plus Christianity, so that city is shared among Israelis, Muslim Arabs, and Christian Arabs, plus some other groups.

The rest of the Palestinian areas are supposed to be under the Palestinian authority, and there are problems there as well.

The problem is that Israelis keep making settlements and starting conflict in order to expand their territory, bit by bit.  They do this inside Israel/Palestine, and they have done it with their neighbor, Jordan, too. 

To this day, there is a very complicated border crossing between Jordan and Israel because Jordan disputes the current border, yet somehow the border is open for those who are allowed to cross it (Americans are).

The funny thing about this whole situation is that both the Jews and the Muslims believe that they came from the same ancestor, Abraham. Jews believe they are the descendants of his first son by his wife, named Isaac, and Muslims believe that they are descended from Abraham’s oldest son, by his concubine/wife’s servant, named Ishmael.

Essentially, it’s a giant family feud. 

Judaism is the oldest of the three religions, and if you’re a Christian or Jew, you probably know that the Old Testament says that the Jews are the “chosen people”. Christianity came second, with Jesus. Christians believe Jesus is the Son of God, and Jews are expecting a Messiah from God, but they believe Jesus was an imposter. Muslims belief that the final Word of God came through the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), and that both Jews and Christians are kind of right, but they, the Muslims, got the last word that is absolutely correct.

Despite these differences, Christians and Muslims usually get along. The problems are caused by extremists, who no one likes. Muslims are ok with Jews too, when it comes to their faith. The issue is with the territory.

There are a lot of other complexities and contradictions too, but that’s the long and the short of it.  They can’t share the land, and the Israelis have more power and more money, so they keep pushing the Palestinians.

As for the Palestinian people, many went or have gone to Jordan, many stay in Israel because they refuse to abandon their homeland, many people go elsewhere. 

*Note: I’ve found some out-and-out mistruths on the Internet about this topic, so double check your sources if you start Googling on your own. I found some that were supposedly from ministers especially bad. One glaring example is an article that said that no Arab people were in present-day Israel before the 1850’s, which makes no sense because there was a Palestinian Peasant Revolt in 1839, so clearly there were people there who had been around long enough to feel the need to revolt. It is true that the area where Tel Aviv is today had very little left after the events that happened there before the 1850’s, except a remnant of the city of Jaffa, but it isn’t true that no one was there.

Don’t take my word for it…. Check out these resources.

King Abdullah of Jordan explains the political side of the situation. He and his father, the late King Hussein, were there for a lot of it.

Sustained Read

I read A History of God specifically to understand how Judaism, Islam, and Christianity fit together. This is one of the most memorable books I’ve ever read.

Sustained Read

Armstrong’s Jerusalem will also help you understand.

Sustained Read

I also recommend this “graphic novel” which is actually a work of journalism depicting Guy DeLisle’s time living in Jerusalem while his wife worked there.

Short Read

Free Read

Quick Read

Here are just a few of the many free articles available. Check the source of all anything you find on your own to understand the bias.

Israel-Palestine Conflict Guide Explainer: this is a whole series of articles from Vox, a website dedicated to explaining complex issues clearly and fairly. Written by an American.

Why Palestinians Are Called Palestinians: This article from an Israeli newspaper explains the history of Palestinians in an Israeli context. While I wouldn’t promise that they got the story exactly right, or that Palestinians would agree with it, it an interesting read from the Israeli perspective

Three Religions, One God: article from PBS

This is a transcript of an interview with Neal Conan and Bruce Feiler, author of Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths on the history of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity from “Talk of the Nation” on NPR. There is an audio link that unfortunately seems to be broken.

Book below.