An Excerpt from “Stories from Palestine,” by Marda Dunsky

In Stories from Palestine: Narratives of Resilience, Marda Dunsky presents a vivid overview of contemporary Palestinian society in the venues envisioned for a future Palestinian state. Dunsky has interviewed women and men from cities, towns, villages, and refugee camps who are farmers, scientists, writers, cultural innovators, educators, and entrepreneurs. Using their own words, she illuminates their resourcefulness in navigating agriculture, education, and cultural pursuits in the West Bank; persisting in Jerusalem as a sizable minority in the city; and confronting the challenges and uncertainties of life in the Gaza Strip. Based on her in-depth personal interviews, the narratives weave in quantitative data and historical background from a range of primary and secondary sources that contextualize Palestinian life under occupation.

From the Introduction: The Story behind the Stories

Madees Khoury is holding court, regaling thirty or so members of an Episcopal church from Cambridge, Massachusetts, who have ridden a big white tour bus to the Taybeh Brewing Company, owned and run by Khoury’s family.

Translated from Arabic, taybeh means good or delicious, and it is the name of Khoury’s village, situated about ten miles northeast of Jerusalem, three thousand feet above sea level. Khoury is dressed in a short-sleeved T-shirt and jeans, her long brown hair pulled back in a ponytail. A soft zephyr is blowing as she describes the shipping woes she recently faced sending her company’s beer to a festival in Copenhagen. The bottom line behind the snafu, which involved security inspections further north in the West Bank and delays at the Israeli ports of Ashdod and Haifa, was, she says, “because we are Palestinian.”

But Khoury, at age thirty-two the brewery’s operations manager, is in her element. Undaunted, she speaks without a trace of complaint or bitterness as she lays out details of the story: She finally shipped a smaller quantity the beer by air, and it arrived on time, but her profits got zeroed out. No matter. Her family business is thriving, the thrum of the brewery vibrating in the background. In the center of the village, the Khourys operate the Golden Hotel, where they also sell a line of wines.

Khoury speaks to her American guests in their language, English-which is one of her own languages. Born in Boston and a graduate of Hellenic College in nearby Brookline, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in business, she makes her life in Taybeh, the village of her ancestors in Palestine for countless generations.

“I hate the snow in Boston,” she tells the tour group, laughing. “My cousins are still there. They’re stuck-they come here to visit but get only two weeks.” But she speaks of her American background with pride. “How well do you know Brookline?” she asks the Bay Staters, describing the whereabouts of Foley’s Liquor, about which she beams: “That’s my family’s.”

The group moves inside the brewery, where they watch bottles of Taybeh beer clink along on the assembly line. Visitors sample the wares and buy Palestinian beer and wine to take back home. Khoury is at the cash register with a ready smile for her customers. Her uncle David Khoury is on hand to observe the day’s production and mingle. He and Madees’ father, Nadim, founded Taybeh Brewing Company in 1994 when they returned from eighteen years in the U.S. “We come from a family of priests,” David says; Khoury means priest in Arabic.

Their Greek Orthodox community in Taybeh lives alongside Melkites and Roman Catholics in this village of about eighteen hundred. Silhouettes of churches dot the panorama of the sloping landscape filled with boxy white houses built among olive trees. Jesus is said to have retired to a nearby hilltop with his disciples after the resurrection of Lazarus. The original Greek Orthodox St. George church was built here in the fourth century; in the twelfth century, Crusaders built a castle.

On this day, the brewery is treating visitors to samples of white beer, one of its six varieties. The lager is crisp, smooth, and delicious, made from Palestinian wheat, coriander, and orange peel. And, of course, Palestinian spring water-which is key but difficult to access “because,” Madees Khoury says, “we are Palestinian.”

* * *

From Taybeh to Jenin in the West Bank, from the Old City of Jerusalem to the Jabalia refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, Stories from Palestine: Narratives of Resilience is a journey. It is a pathway meant to create a new space in the literature on contemporary Palestine by profiling Palestinians engaged in everyday pursuits in the West Bank, east Jerusalem, and Gaza. The Palestinian people also encompasses the Palestinian minority living as citizens in Israel; and Palestinians living in the diaspora in refugee camps, towns, and cities in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria and in Palestinian communities elsewhere in the region as well as in Europe, North America, and beyond. However, Stories from Palestine: Narratives of Resilience focuses on the five million Palestinians who live in the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip-as these areas form the territorial basis envisioned for eventual Palestinian independence. Still, it has been observed, Palestinians who exist within this particular context “thrive on a continuum of Palestinian history, people, and geography and do not exist (though they sometimes function) as separate from the whole” of the Palestinian people.

Through the narratives herein, Stories from Palestine: Narratives of Resilience reflects the humanity of its protagonists, exploring dimensions and textures of contemporary Palestinian life in these locales not often represented in American mainstream media reports and scholarly studies. Stories from Palestine: Narratives of Resilience presents an alternative to prevalent framing of Palestinians as victims of injustice and/or perpetrators of violence while contextualizing their stories with relevant impacts that the conflict imposes on their lives. Their hardships are considered, but their perseverance and achievement are paramount.

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