« | Home | »

Opening the Gate of the Sun

Tags: | |

At 2.30 on Sunday morning, the Israeli army removed 250 Palestinians from Bab al-Shams, a village in the so-called E1 corridor: 13 square kilometres of undeveloped Palestinian land between East Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank with a population of 40,000. Israel has had designs on E1 for more than a decade: colonising it would realise the vision of a ‘Greater Jerusalem’, and eliminate the possibility of a contiguous Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. After the UN vote to recognise Palestine as a non-member observer state, Binyamin Netanyahu declared that Israel would build 4000 new settler homes in E1. The high court issued a six-day injunction against his order to ‘evacuate’ Bab al-Shams, but Netanyahu was in no mood to wait. Once the Palestinians had been driven out, the land was declared a closed ‘military zone’.

It was another bleak day in the story of Palestinians trying to hold onto their land in the face of Israeli expansionism. But it was also something else. Bab al-Shams was no ordinary village, but a tent encampment set up by Palestinian activists, a number of them veterans of the Popular Resistance Committees who have been organising weekly demonstrations against the ‘separation fence’ in the villages of Bil’in and Nil’in. Several journalists noted that the residents of Bab al-Shams used the same tactics as Israeli settlers: pitching their tents, laying claim to the land, establishing ‘facts on the ground’. But the differences were more significant than the resemblances. The pioneers of Bab al-Shams were Palestinians, not foreigners. When settlers establish wildcat outposts, they know that the authorities may chastise them for it but will nonetheless soon supply them with electricity and water, and even build roads and access routes on their behalf. The people of Bab al-Shams knew that an IDF demolition crew would appear in due course: less than three days, as it turned out. 
 
Bab al-Shams took its name from Elias Khoury’s epic novel, published in 1998. In the book, Bab al-Shams (‘the gate of the sun’) is a secret cave where a Palestinian fighter, Yunis, and his wife, Nahilah, meet to make love. They turn it into ‘a house, a village, a country’. Nahilah calls it the only liberated part of Palestine. Khoury gave his blessing to the village of Bab al-Shams. ‘What these guys did in three days,’ he told me, ‘was they opened the Gate of the Sun and liberated a small part of Palestine.’ 

Khoury, a Lebanese Christian, joined Fatah as a young man, just after the 1967 war. Throughout the 1970s, he worked for the PLO’s Palestine Research Centre in Beirut, editing its monthly journal, Palestine Affairs, with his close friend, the late poet Mahmoud Darwish. Many Lebanese assumed he was Palestinian. The authority and intensity of Gate of the Sun, the work of a lifetime’s reflection on the Palestinian experience, led many reviewers in the West to make the same mistake when it was translated in 2005.

Khoury is accustomed to this sort of confusion. He did much of his research for Gate of the Sun in Lebanon’s refugee camps, where he collected oral testimony about the Nakba. At an event a few years ago at the London Review Bookshop, Khoury said that people in the camps would often claim to recognise themselves or people they knew in his novel, and wouldn’t believe him when he insisted that none of the characters had real-life models. Now, in the village of Bab al-Shams, he says, ‘the imaginary and the real have met in a way that is totally amazing.’ During the three days of Bab Al-Shams’s existence, he couldn’t sleep. ‘I wanted to go to the village but I only have a Lebanese passport, and you need an Israeli visa to enter, so I couldn’t.’ He spoke to the villagers on Saturday afternoon. By Sunday morning they were all gone, and Bab al-Shams had returned to the land of dreams.

Comments on “Opening the Gate of the Sun”

  1. Phil Edwards says:

    Palestinian settlers. In Palestine.

    I’m lost for words.

Comment on this post

Log in or register to post a comment.


  • Recent Posts

    RSS – posts

  • Contributors

  • Recent Comments

    • andymartinink on Reacher v. Parker: Slayground definitely next on my agenda. But to be fair to Lee Child, as per the Forbes analysis, there is clearly a massive collective reader-writer ...
    • Robert Hanks on Reacher v. Parker: Parker may not have the integrity and honesty of Marlowe, but I'd argue that Richard Stark writes with far more of both than Raymond Chandler does: Ch...
    • Christopher Tayler on Reacher v. Parker: Good to see someone holding up standards. The explanation is that I had thoughts - or words - left over from writing about Lee Child. (For Chandler se...
    • Geoff Roberts on Reacher v. Parker: ..."praised in the London Review of Books" Just read the article on Lee Child in a certain literary review and was surprised to find this rave notice...
    • pgillott on Wishful Thinking about Climate Change: Phrases like “monumental triumph” and (particularly) “renaissance for humankind” are overdoing it, but to suggest that there is no chance of ...

    RSS – comments

  • Contact

  • Blog Archive

  • From the LRB Archive

    Chris Lehmann: The Candidates
    18 June 2015

    ‘Every one of the Republican candidates can be described as a full-blown adult failure. These are people who, in most cases, have been granted virtually every imaginable advantage on the road to success, and managed nevertheless to foul things up along the way.’

    Hugh Pennington:
    The Problem with Biodiversity
    10 May 2007

    ‘As a medical microbiologist, for example, I have spent my career fighting biodiversity: my ultimate aim has been to cause the extinction of harmful microbes, an objective shared by veterinary and plant pathologists. But despite more than a hundred years of concentrated effort, supported by solid science, smallpox has been the only success.’

    Jeremy Harding: At the Mexican Border
    20 October 2011

    ‘The battle against illegal migration is a domestic version of America’s interventions overseas, with many of the same trappings: big manpower commitments, militarisation, pursuit, detection, rendition, loss of life. The Mexican border was already the focus of attention before 9/11; it is now a fixation that shows no signs of abating.’

    James Meek: When the Floods Came
    31 July 2008

    ‘Last July, a few days after the floods arrived, with 350,000 people still cut off from the first necessity of life, Severn Trent held its annual general meeting. It announced profits of £325 million, and confirmed a dividend for shareholders of £143 million. Not long afterwards the company, with the consent of the water regulator Ofwat, announced that it wouldn’t be compensating customers: all would be charged as if they had had running water, even when they hadn’t.’

Advertisement Advertisement