6 January 2009 0 Comments

What do Palestinians think of Omar Yussef?

I’ve noticed that in readers’ forums the question often comes up: What do Palestinians think of my sleuth Omar Yussef? Generally people are curious about that, but there’s also the subtext: if Omar is so critical of other Palestinians, surely ordinary Palestinians wouldn’t like him (that is, they’d prefer him to blame Israel for everything bad that happens to them).

Far from it. I receive many emails at my website from Palestinians, including those living elsewhere in the Arab world and Europe. They commend my books for showing the reality of life for Palestinians, rather than displaying them as stereotypical terrorists or victims, as they typically appear in Western and Arab media.

Hanan Ashrawi, the former peace negotiator and a leading figure in the Palestinian parliament, went on German tv and was asked about my book. She said that, “unfortunately Rees’s novel represents the reality for Palestinians.” (She was talking about the first book at that time, The Collaborator of Bethlehem.) So I have parliamentary approval.

The Palestinians who are the basis for my characters have in some cases read the book. The man on whom I based Khamis Zeydan, the police chief, said he could tell me things he wouldn’t tell another Palestinian, because he’d fear that his comments would get to people who might threaten him for them. So he says he can express his feelings about Palestinian life only through me.

The first book in the series has also been published in Hebrew and had a very good response in Israel, with lots of features about it in Israeli newspapers. I believe it gave Israelis a way to look over the wall they’ve built between Jerusalem and Bethlehem and see what life is like over there. That’s one of my aims — to humanise Palestinians, who’re often seen as so very different from us in their aspirations and behavior. In fact, they’re not so strange at all, and I hope readers will appreciate my characters on a very human level.

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