An Act of Cultural Resistance

The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story by Ramzy Baroud (Pluto Press, London 2018)

Ramzy Baroud’s The Last Earth is a collection of eight narratives told by ordinary Palestinians who have, in their own way, struggled against the violence inflicted upon their country by Israel over the past one hundred years. The book bears witness to the immense bravery of Palestinians and to the scale of violence that has taken lives, torn families apart and displaced entire populations across the world. Baroud’s book comes at a time of sharpening tensions within Palestine. In March, Donald Trump issued a provocative signal of the United States’ commitment to Israel by opening an embassy in Jerusalem. At the same time, New Zealand pop star Lorde decided not to play in Israel marking a significant victory for the BDS movement. Most significantly, the past months have seen mass marches of Palestinians demanding the right of return on the seventieth anniversary of the 1948 Nakba.

The Last Earth contributes to the struggle today by foregrounding the humanity of the Palestinian people. The book contains stories that range from present-day Gaza, to the impact of the Balfour Declaration of 1922, from the refugee crisis of 2012, to the lives of Palestinian families living in Melbourne, Australia as part of the international diaspora. By drawing on the stories of individuals Baroud cuts against the reductive presentation of Palestinians as either militants, victims or grim statistics on a lop-sided score board. Moreover, by collating these stories into a single volume Baroud is able to draw out the common experiences that determine a shared Palestinian history. Above all, each account is marked by a deep sense of displacement. The forced exile of Palestinians from their homeland creates, in Edward Said’s words, “a rift or a barricade, ‘between the self and its true home’, restraining the person from residing in a place of comfort.” In each story we find a version of this unease and longing for home. It is this longing that fuels their struggle for a free Palestine. Yet, it is also this longing that runs through Palestinian lives as an open wound.

The collection begins with the story of Khaled Abdul Ghani al-Lubani, otherwise known as “Marco,” who was born into a Palestinian refugee family in Yarmouk camp, Syria. Exiled from their homeland, many Palestinian families find themselves in vulnerable positions across the Middle East. The struggle to return home is for many, coupled with the struggle just to survive in their place of refuge. As the Syrian war intensified in 2013, Marco and his lover Maysam Saeed decided to leave the camp and risk everything on the dangerous refugee route to Europe. The account details the repeated failed attempts to cross the sea from Turkey to Greece, of gambling their remaining funds on the word of people smugglers, of escaping barking dogs and riot police in Macedonia, of leaping into the open doors of moving freight trains and crossing rivers full of raw sewage. Marco’s story is a heroic odyssey. It depicts the fierce persistence of a Palestinian refugee to survive against all odds.

The third story in the collection tells the story of a Palestinian woman, Tamam Nassar, known as the Mother of Marwan. Umm Marwan was born in the 1930s and, through the eyes of child, recalls a time in British-occupied Palestine when there was less division between Arabs and Jews; when people were just people and that was all that mattered. Her life traverses the onset of Zionist colonisation and the systematic destruction of Palestinian villages in 1948. Marwan describes the trials of being a mother in Palestine in the 1970s where during the day the men would labour in Israel and the women would raise the children, defend the camp from soldiers, repair leaks, mend clothes, uphold traditions, scuffle with soldiers and then, at night, console or become victim to their dishonoured husbands. Alongside her undying desire to return to her home, Marwan’s rebellious spirit was forged by these conditions. And yet, running through Marwan’s account are the moments when life became too much to bear. She describes the rituals she developed to sustain herself. Her regular trips into the Hirthani Orchard to converse with a woman whom many in the village doubted existed.

Ramzy Baroud’s book contributes to a people’s history of Palestine. It is an act of cultural resistance. The book centres the lived reality of ordinary Palestinians and meets Israel’s drive to erase their identity with a steadfast refusal to stop telling the story of Palestine.