Strangers in the House: Coming of Age in Occupied Palestine

by Raja Shehadeh

Other authorsAnthony Lewis (Foreword)
Hardcover, 2002

Call number

956.9 S



Steerforth (2001), Edition: English Language, 240 pages


This "is not a political book," Anthony Lewis writes in his foreword. "Yet in a hundred different ways it is political.... Shehadeh shatters the stereotype many Americans have of Palestinians. Hath not a Palestinian senses, affections, passions?" This revealing memoir of a father-son relationship, the first o its kind by a Palestinian living in the occupied territories, is set against the backdrop of Middle East hostilities and more than thirty years of life under military occupation. Three years after his family was driven from the coastal city of Jaffa in 1948, Raja Shehadeh was born in the provincial town of Ramallah, in the rural hills of the West Bank. His early childhood was marked by his family's sense of loss and impermanence, vividly evoked by the glittering lights "on the other side of the hill." Growing up "in the shadow of home," he was introduced early to political conflict. He witnessed the numerous arrests of his father, Aziz Shehadeh, who, in 1967, was the first Palestinian to advocate a peaceful, two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He predicted that if peace were not acheived, what remained of the Palestinian homeland would be taken away, bit by bit, through Israeli settlement. Ostracized by his fellow Arabs and disillusioned by the failure of either side to recognize his prophetic vision, Aziz retreated from politics. He was murdered in 1985."Strangers in the House" offers a moving description of the daily lives of those who have chosen to remain on their land. It is also the family drama of a difficult relationship between an idealistic son and his politically active father complicated by the arbitrary humiliation of the "occupier's law."… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member wandering_star
This is a memoir by a Palestinian lawyer and human rights activist, about what formed him - and in particular, his often difficult relationship with his father. Born in Ramallah, as a child Shehadeh heard constantly about the glories of his family's life in Jaffa. Though his father was politically
Show More
active, Shehadeh was not interested in the student activism around him, preferring to write poetry and read philosophy. Later, he decided to follow in part in his father's footsteps and become a lawyer, with a dream to be "an example of a new sort of Palestinian professional", Western-educated but living in and supporting the community. His lack of political awareness, however, meant that he had not recognised the difficulties, given that most Palestinian lawyers were boycotting the courts so as not to give recognition to the occupation (this despite the fact that his father had been disbarred from the Bar Association for challenging the boycott). However, in some ways this apparent naivety was also a strength, as Shehadeh continues to pursue his aims in defiance of the prevailing reality, whether that is to use judicial activism to promote human rights, to manage his dual life as lawyer and writer, or to insist that others saw Palestinian society as a complex and full society in its own right, not just one half of a struggle.

After we all ate heartily and drank a considerable amount of alcohol they wanted to know about the situation back home. What could I tell this intoxicated group? How could anything of that life come back to me now in this Texas living room? Even after a brief absence the reality of life under occupation seemed so bizarre and distant. ... I knew what was expected of me: an inflamed passionate denunciation of the Zionist enemy as the source of all our troubles. Yet I somehow could not oblige. Why, I wondered?

Only later did I realize that to do so would have been a betrayal of my own existence. To simplify my life and paint it in black-and-white terms was to deny my own reality, which I mainly experienced in tones of grey. If my countrymen really cared about me they had to see me as a human being, one who did not exist only in those heroic moments of struggle against the occupation as they liked to imagine.
Show Less


Lionel Gelber Prize (Shortlist — 2002)




1586420321 / 9781586420321
Page: 0.9929 seconds