Suad Amiry

"Not Without My Mother-in-Law"

Never lose your values or your humor. For Suad Amiry, those are words to live by, and it is with humor that she brings a vivid picture of everyday life in the occupied territories to Europe. Petra Tabeling portrays the Palestinian author and peace activist.

Suad Amiry, photo: ai
Suad Amiry

​​Suad Amiry is an architect and a Palestinian. Like many others in the autonomous territories, her everyday life in Ramallah is dominated by the daily torture of navigating Israeli blockades to get to work or go shopping.

In the summer of 2002, however, her family life takes a decisive turn: not only are Palestinian president Yassir Arafat's headquarters under siege by Israeli troops, but also the home of her 92-year-old mother-in-law. This inspired Suad Amiry to write a fictional diary: "Sharon and My Mother-in-Law – A Diary of War in Ramallah, Palestine."

Her book first came out in Italy and has now been published in German by Fischer Verlag. Granta, London, will publish the book January 2005.

Acerbic humor and wistful irony

In diary entries from November 17, 2001 to September 26, 2002, Amiry describes the absurdly comical, but also tragically grotesque events in her life and those of her friends and the families living in her community. For example, she sets off with a friend in search of the friend's son, who will later be shot dead by the Israelis.

Old memories are interwoven with the daily events of the ten-month siege - including 34 days that Suad Amiry is forced to spend alone with her mother-in-law. While Sharon is making life for the Palestinians a living hell outside her door, life inside with her mother-in-law is not exactly easy either.

Amiry's unique brand of biting irony makes the history and everyday lives of the Palestinians come alive for the reader. She gives us a fresh perspective on the reality behind the stereotypical images of youths throwing stones and daily bombings.

Teaching values, in the midst of violence

Suad Amiry studied architecture in Beirut, the USA, and Scotland. Today, the 50-year-old lives in Ramallah and teaches at the University of Birzeit. She is president of the "Center for Architectural Conservation," a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and restoring Palestinian buildings.

In recognition of her commitment to humanitarian causes, Amnesty International in Frankfurt invited Suad Amiry to speak at this year's Frankfurt Book Fair about the situation in the autonomous Palestinian territories.

From 1991 to 1993 she was a member of a Palestinian peace delegation in Washington and called for a halt to Palestinian suicide attacks. For Amiry, violence is not the answer: "Our life as Palestinians is restricted every single minute of every hour. For me the biggest challenge is to live under occupation and still preserve my values and humanity, even though my life is under constant threat," says Amiry.

"The young generation growing up in Palestine does not know a life without this occupation. This is why it is particularly important to convince them that certain values are still important in a society and that violence is a dead-end."

Compromises between Palestine and Israel

Compromise is the magic word in politics, but also in the life of every Palestinian, according to the committed peace activist. And it is equally important not to forget her people's long history of displacement.

Amiry's family was driven out of Jaffa 50 years ago: "We cannot turn back time. The refugee problem is something we have to deal with. My hometown will always be Jaffa, and people cannot be allowed to forget that over 800,000 Palestinians were driven out of what is today Israel. Nevertheless, despite our sad history, I still believe in compromises."

False love can be fatal

With the Oslo peace talks in 1993, Suad Amiry believed such a compromise might be close at hand. "The first time, I had the feeling that Israel also wanted peace," says Amiry today. "But then Rabin was assassinated, which was no coincidence. Today, we can no longer make it alone; we need Europe's help. There has to be an end to the love for Israel alone, because this love is destructive for us Palestinians."

It seems that for Suad Amiry humor is like a therapy helping the Palestinians to press on down the long road to freedom. Humor helps her to gain a large audience – with wonderfully acerbic comments like "I can maybe forgive Sharon for the fact that I was cut off from the outside world for 34 days. But I can never forgive him for making me spend all that time with my mother-in-law."

Suad Amiry: "Sharon and My Mother-in-Law" will be published at Granta, London on 27 January 2004

Petra Tabeling

© 2004

Translation from German: Jennifer Taylor-Gaida

Amnesty International
Riwaq - Centre for Architectural Conservation
Suad Amiry at Granta

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