Apeirogon, by Colum McCann

Summary: a desperately sad but hopeful perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Rami Ethanan, a graphic designer, and Bassam Aramin, a scholar, are friends. They have a lot in common. Both are smokers. Both are former combatants. Both understand the deep, moral corrosiveness of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. Both understand that peace requires people to talk to each other and try to understand each other’s point of view. Both are the fathers of murdered children: Rami’s daughter, Smadar, was murdered by Palestinian suicide bombers; Bassam’s daughter, Abir, was murdered by Israeli soldiers.

Apeirogon is the story of how, in particular, these two men have sought to advocate for peace by building mutual understanding. But it ranges even more widely, into the lives of their families, including their murdered daughters, and into the cultural and political history of Israel and Palestine.

(From the Guardian)

I finished this book just before Israel launched its latest series of child-killing attacks on Gaza. As usual, in such situations, American politicians are to be found on social media congratulating themselves for the US military support to Israel that allows its leadership to launch such attacks on Gaza with impunity. Such politicians find the slaughter of children with rockets, and American journalists with bullets, much more palatable than the murder of children by suicide bombers. But that is the logic of the US’s military alliance with what the Israeli human rights organisation, B’Tselem, has called an apartheid state.

The asymmetric nature of the warfare between Israelis and Palestinians is very much on display with the latest Israeli attack on Gaza. In prison, for throwing a dud grenade at an Israeli patrol, Bassam realised that responding to Israeli violence with violence, even if only stones, plays into the hands of those who want to sustain the occupation: it allows them to portray Israeli violence and theft as defensive, and the Palestinians as less than human. As a result of this realisation Bassam became committed to the ideal of non-violence.

Rami, recognising the common humanity of Palestinian and Israeli families who had suffered similar losses to his own, came to his own realisation that the status quo offered no real security for Israelis either. His wife, Nurit, a distinguished academic and peace activist, had understood this much earlier: with enormous courage she explicitly and publicly blamed the racist and militaristic policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the death of her daughter.

Apeirogon reminds us that as well as the meat-headed terrorists in the high echelons of government and the military, Israel and Palestine also have thousands of people like Rami and Bassam: people committed to non-violence, human rights and dialogue as a path towards justice.

For success such activists need international support. Yet the US and Europe fail utterly to do this, privileging Israel with arms and trade rather than compelling the dialogue that is essential for any meaningful peace to be forged.

Apeirogon is an extraordinarily important book. It is a tribute to the thousands of (asymmetrically) marginalised Palestinians and Israelis who have sought to build peace and fraternity through dialogue and understanding rather than acquiesce in violence. How many more children will be slaughtered before their path is recognised as the only truly viable one?

Photo by Sarah Lee for the Guardian

4 thoughts on “Apeirogon, by Colum McCann

  1. Pingback: Some stocktaking, part 2 | aidanjmcquade

  2. Allow me please to question if both sides are equally ‘marginalised’……

    Apeirogon is an extraordinarily important book. It is a tribute to the thousands of marginalised Palestinians and Israelis who have sought to build peace and fraternity through dialogue and understanding rather than acquiesce in violence.

    Our mutual friend Harriet Dodd recommend your review of the book. I trust you read Susan Abu El Hawa’s review…as a Palestinian, I can relate to it more, as you would appreciate.

    https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2020/3/11/apeirogon-another-colonialist-misstep-in-commercial-publishing

    I am glad Harriet introduced me to your website and I am looking forward to getting your book on ethical leadership.

    Kindest regards

    Nassir

  3. Thanks for your comments Nassir. Good to e-meet.

    You are right, of course, about both sides not being equally marginalised. I was trying to get at how folk like Rami and Bassam seem to be equally ignored in the setting of International policy towards Israel. Inelegant wording on my part. I have (inelegantly) amended the sentence slightly.

    I had read Susan Abu El Hawa’s review a while ago and didn’t think it was fair. I don’t think the book portrays equality of suffering or responsibility. It very plainly traces the source of the problem to Israeli policy.

    It cannot, of course, be the whole story. However in exploring the realities in the way it has I hope it has introduced more people to those realities and led some folk who have, until now, been unthinkingly swallowing Israeli propaganda, to think again.

    Really nice to be in touch. I look forward to learning more from you in the future.

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