No Road Home: Fighting for Land and Faith in Gaza

No Road Home - James RodgersAuthor: James Rodgers
Paperback: 156 pages
Publisher: Abramis
Language: English
ISBN: 978 1 84549 580 0

Book Review by Amelia Smith

In 1993 Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin, hosted by Bill Clinton, signed the Oslo Accords on the lawn of the White House.

A decade later, under the supervision of George W. Bush, Mahmoud Abbas shook hands with Ariel Sharon at the Red Sea summit at Aqaba in Jordan.

Both attempts at finding a diplomatic solution to the Israel Palestine conflict have since fallen by the wayside.

This week as Tzipi Livni and Saeb Erekat join John Kerry in Washington for talks, the US Secretary of State tries his hand at brokering peace. But the very idea of kick-starting negotiations again has attracted scepticism from all directions.

For a myriad of reasons, diplomacy has consistently failed throughout six decades of this conflict – one only needs to turn on the TV to see reports of crushed homes and suicide bombings, checkpoints and segregated buses to find that out.

What have diplomats and politicians missed or failed to consider at the core of their proposals?

If there is one theme that encircles 'No Road Home: Fighting for Land and Faith in Gaza' it is this: the role of faith and historical ties to the land are at the heart of the Israel Palestine struggle, yet neither is considered by political actors who propose solutions.

As the BBC's correspondent in Gaza between 2002 and 2004, Rodgers lived on the Strip through the Second Palestinian Intifada, which claimed thousands of lives. He was also there to see the Roadmap to peace, Bush's attempt at a resolution.

Rather than offering its own solution, No Road Home is a closer look at the people whose lives were affected by the fighting and would feel the weight of any political decisions in the region far greater than the White House ever would.

It is through Rodgers' meetings with refugees, activists, soldiers and schoolchildren that a picture of Gaza is painted from the ground.

In the book, a conversation between Rodgers and Yuda Abu Rukhba at a rally to commemorate the Nakba in May 2003 demonstrates neatly the central issue of land in the conflict.

Whilst some demonstrators held cardboard keys, schoolchildren carried banners with pictures of their ideal or original homes.

For Abu Rukhba, central to his life was returning to the village and country of his ancestors – which he could see from the position of his house on the Gaza Strip – and once there, being able to grow oranges and flowers, whilst checkpoints, borders and armies were dismantled.

It was a dream a million miles away from Bush's grand plan in which the issue of refugees was completely side-lined.

"Those who spent hours, days, months drawing up the document in comfortable, climate controlled offices, should perhaps have spent just a few minutes in the dusty, hot, noisy alleys of the refugee camps," writes Rodgers.

In September of the same year he meets 70-year old Abu Ali Radwan whose house was built on wasteland in Rafah. The houses there were in the process of being demolished one by one underneath Israeli bulldozers.

To the sound of bullets at night, Radwan and his family would run out of the house and sleep in the street, in case it was their turn to have their house flattened that night.

"This was his home: a miserable hovel which in Europe would have been demolished because it was not fit for habitation. Here it was likely to be demolished because of where it was; because there were people living in it. Every scrap of land was being fought over: even if the Israelis did not want this land to live on themselves, they felt threatened by the fact that the refugees did."

No Road Home offers a deeper look at Gaza, one that searches beyond the headlines and into the detail, whether it's Israeli soldiers who "lit cigarettes and pissed in the sand dunes" after a night raid into Jabalya refugee camp to capture Hamas men, or the plainly furnished room that Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantissi lived in that set him and other leaders apart from the "opulent mansions" many Palestinian Authority members lived in.

It is the detail of these homes – who lives in them, what takes place within their walls, and the decisions imposed upon their existence – which offers an insightful orientation through which to look at the conflict.

Written by Amelia Smith

Published in Middle East Monitor