The Hajby Leon Uris
A proud Arab family in Palestine struggles to hold on to its identity during the birth of the State of Israel In the early 1920s, young Ibrahim al Soukori has achieved his dreams of heading his small Palestinian town, becoming a proud father, and making the pilgrimage to Mecca. But his family’s journey has just begun, and soon global war and/b>… See more details below
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A proud Arab family in Palestine struggles to hold on to its identity during the birth of the State of Israel In the early 1920s, young Ibrahim al Soukori has achieved his dreams of heading his small Palestinian town, becoming a proud father, and making the pilgrimage to Mecca. But his family’s journey has just begun, and soon global war and Israel’s formation force them on a path to possible dissolution. Ibrahim’s sons and daughters squabble and find peace with the nearby kibbutz, suffer betrayals, and hold together even when displaced to distant refugee camps. Written by an author best known for his sympathetic portrayal of Israel’s difficult birth, The Haj speaks to the history of a troubled region from the perspective of a remarkable Arab dynasty. This ebook features an illustrated biography of Leon Uris including rare photos from the author’s estate.
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Read an Excerpt
By Leon Uris
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1989 James W. Hall
All rights reserved.
I am Ishmael. I WAS born in Palestine during the riots of 1936. Since many things written here took place before my birth, you ask, 'How could Ishmael know of them?' Take the case of my father, Ibrahim, becoming the Muktar of Tabah. In our world the repetition of stories is a way of life. Everyone eventually knows all of the tales of the past.
Other events happened here when I was not present. Aha! How could I know of these? Do not forget, my esteemed reader, that we Arabs are unusually gifted in matters of fantasy and magic. Did we not give the world A Thousand and One Nights?
There are times I will speak to you in my own voice. Others will speak in theirs. Our tale comes from a million suns and moons and comets and all that I cannot possibly know will reach these pages with the help of Allah and our special magic.
As a male child I was entitled to my mother's breasts for as long as I demanded them and was not weaned until my fifth birthday. Usually this signaled the boy was coming out of the kitchen, but I was small and still able to hide among the women. My mother, Hagar, was a large woman with great breasts. Not only were they filled with milk, but they gave me a place where I could nestle and feel an enormous comfort. I managed to hide from the world of men until 1944, when I was eight years of age. One day my father, Ibrahim, sent my mother away to her own village many miles to the south. She was rarely given time off, so her sudden departure was both traumatic and ominous for me. As an infant and a young child, I lived with women who sheltered and protected me. My grandmother had raised me part of the time because my mother not only had the duties of the kitchen, the house, and the family, but she worked in the big fields and attended the plot beside the house as well. It was a few days after my grandmother died that my mother was sent away.
Fetching water had been my only chore. I had gone to the village well with my mother every day. Now she was gone. I was greeted with taunts. The women all cackled and laughed at me. They told me my father was going to take a second wife. That was why my father had sent her out of the village, to spare himself her anger and humiliation. Soon my playmates joined in the chorus of taunts and some threw stones at me.
I saw my father taking his morning stroll to the coffeehouse, which was owned by him and my Uncle Farouk and which was where he spent most of his day. I ran up to him and cried about what was happening. As usual, he brushed me aside harshly, walking on. I ran after him and tugged at his coat, a tug barely strong enough to demand his attention. As he turned I threw my little fist at him and said I hated him.
My father grabbed me by the arm and shook me so violently I thought I would faint. Then he tossed me like garbage, so that I landed in the open sewer that ran down from the top of the village.
There I was, dressed as a girl, shrieking at the top of my lungs. I could feel salt from my tears and snot from my nose dripping into my mouth. I shrieked in desperation, for even at that age I realized there was nothing I could do about my situation. There was no way to either rebel or protest.
I have seen that little boy over and over again in refugee camps playing in garbage dumps, being hit and shaken and taunted by adults and family and playmates. All screaming to an unhearing Allah.
Our Village of Tabah sat near the road to Jerusalem. My family was of the Soukori clan, which had once belonged to the Wahhabi Bedouin tribe. The Wahhabi were great warriors who came from the Arabian Peninsula about two hundred and fifty years ago and purified the region for Islam through sword and fire.
Eventually the power of the Wahhabi was broken by invading Turkish and Egyptian armies. Many of the clans split off from the main tribe and some migrated to Palestine. Our branch of the tribe roamed an area between Gaza and Beersheba, crossing back and forth from the Negev to the Sinai deserts.
Several clans, numbering over a hundred and fifty families, moved north and settled on the land. However, we still retained very close ties with the Wahhabi through marriage, reinforced at festival and wedding and funeral times, and we used them as cameleers during the harvest and manure-gathering seasons.
My father, Ibrahim, was a great man who was feared and respected in the entire region. My father was not only the muktar, the head of the village, he was the agent of the landowners. Our family were sayyids, direct descendants of the Prophet Mohammed, and this gave us status above the others. In addition to Tabah, there were smaller villages of former Wahhabi Bedouin in the area and he controlled them as well. My father's power came from the fact that he ran the legal, clerical, and police apparatus and was endowed to verify the documents that spelled out the property and inheritances of the villagers. He was the only one in the area who had made the Haj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. A painting and the date over the front door of our house commemorated the glorious event.
At first he was known as Ibrahim al Soukori al Wahhabi, to denote his clan and tribe, but Arab names change with the birth of male children. Unfortunately, my parents' first two were girls and this was a small disaster. Everyone, particularly the women at the village well, whispered behind his back that he was Abu Banat, A Father of Daughters, a most terrible insult.
My father threatened to get rid of my mother, who had brought this humiliation to him. She begged for a final chance, and by Allah's will their third child was a son, my oldest brother, Kamal. After Kamal's birth my father could then assume the honorable title of Ibrahim Abu Kamal, which means 'Abraham, father of Kamal.'
Three more sons followed Kamal and my father basked in glory. But alas, there were three more daughters before my own birth. One of my brothers and two of my sisters died before I ever knew them. My brother died from cholera. One of my sisters died of the stomach and the other from a chest ailment. They all died before their first year. It was usual for a family of ten to lose three or more children, but my father felt particularly blessed to have four sons who survived.
My two oldest sisters were eventually contracted into marriage. They married in the Wahhabi tribe but to men from distant villages. As was the custom, they went off to live in the home of their husband's parents.
My father was only a young man, in his early twenties, when he declared himself muktar, 'the elected one.' His father had been muktar and when he died there was to be a new election. The sheiks of the other four clans had agreed that the eldest among them would take over the position. However, my father disagreed and the story of his courage and greatness has been told many, many times.
Ibrahim had been born five years before the turn of the century. When he became muktar he had achieved the most exalted position in the village, for he no longer had to work. In a short time, he had three sons, one remaining daughter, and a wife, all of working age. He had the best and most of the land, collected the rents, and governed six villages. He did not even wear field shoes but shoes that others wore only on the Sabbath.
My Uncle Farouk was a slave to my father. He and my father owned the village café and store together. Uncle Farouk had been a sickly child and had been left in the kitchen to die, but as the fate of Allah would have it, he was discovered by some Christian missionaries who had a nearby settlement and they nursed him to health and also taught him to read and write. He was the only truly literate person in Tabah and my father was able to use Farouk's great powers to his personal advantage.
Ibrahim would make a perfunctory round of calls each day on his way from the house to the café, fingering his worry beads, reciting the Koran under his breath, and generally reinforcing his position. Most of the day he held court at the café, smoking his water pipe, greeting, and sincerely listening to complaints of the villagers. Mainly, he and the other men repeated stories from the past.
When my father came home each night, my mother and sister, Nada, washed his feet and he sat in an oversized chair. Just before the meal, my brothers came into the room, knelt, kissed his hand, and reported on their day's work. Uncle Farouk or some male cousins or friends were generally invited to the meal, which was eaten while sitting on the floor, and they ate with their fingers from a common plate. Later, my mother, Nada, and I ate in the kitchen from the leftovers.
My father owned the best horse in the village, a faint remainder of our Bedouin past. My next older brother, Jamil, was responsible for grooming him. Once during each phase of the moon my father rode off to settle matters in surrounding villages. He was an extraordinary sight to behold, galloping off with his special robes flowing out behind him.
Until the day I was abruptly weaned from my mother, my life had been pleasant enough. The only child left who was near my age was my sister Nada, who was two years older. I loved her very much. We were still allowed to play together because I was in the province of the women, but I knew that the day would soon come when I would be forbidden to have a friendship with a girl, even though she was my own sister.
Nada had great brown eyes and liked to tease and hug me. To this day I can feel her fingers rubbing through my hair. She took care of me, often. All the mothers worked in the fields and if there was no old grandmother to attend the children, they had to look out for themselves.
We had no toys except what we made of sticks and yarn, and until I saw the Jewish kibbutz I did not know that things like playgrounds or toy rooms or libraries even existed. Nada had made a doll of sticks and cloth that she named Ishmael, after me, and she would pretend to nurse it against her tiny nipples. I think she had her nursing fantasy because, as a girl, she had been weaned at an early age and I still had the privilege of my mother's breasts.
My mother continually tried to push me over the threshold into the room to join with the men, but I was in no hurry to leave the warmth and comfort of the women for a place I sensed was hostile.CHAPTER 2
My father took as his second wife Ramiza, who was the youngest daughter of Sheik Walid Azziz, chief of the Palestinian Wahhabi Bedouin tribe. The great sheik was my father's uncle, so his new wife was also his first cousin. She was sixteen and my father almost fifty. After their wedding my mother was allowed to return to Tabah.
I never saw my mother smile again.
My father's bedroom had the only raised bedstead in the village. Everyone else slept on goatskin rugs or thin mats. The room that is usually built for a second wife had not been completed, so my father took Ramiza to his bed and ordered my mother to sleep in the adjoining room on the floor. There was an opening atop the door between the two rooms to allow the breezes to flow through the house, so everything that happened in the bedroom could clearly be heard in the next room.
I slept with my mother, folded up in her arms, my head between her breasts. When my father and Ramiza made love every night, my mother lay awake, only a few feet from them, forced to listen to them have sex, sometimes half the night long. When my father kissed Ramiza and groaned and spoke words of endearment to her, my mother's massive body convulsed with pain. I could feel her fingers claw at me unconsciously and hear her stifled sobs and sometimes I could feel her tears. And when I wept as well, she soothed me by stroking my genitals.
After many, many nights, when my father's initial passion for Ramiza had been spent, he invited my mother to return to his bed. But something had left my mother. She was cold to him and he could no longer arouse her. This infuriated him. In anger, he virtually cast her out of the house.
The Village of Tabah was a two-hour donkey ride to the town of Ramle and a three-hour ride to Lydda. Each town had two market days a week and the family owned a stall in the marketplace. Until my father took his new wife, my second brother, Omar, tended the stalls. Now Hagar, my mother, was ordered to Ramle and Lydda four days a week to sell our surplus produce. She started out after the morning prayer at sunrise and returned very late in the evening after dark.
Hagar was one of the two best dayas, or midwives, in the village. She was greatly respected as a keeper of the formulas of herbs and medicines. These days when she went to the village water well or the communal ovens, there was snickering behind her back and cruel insults in passing.
As in any society where women are the chattel of men, they seek the path of revenge through their sons, and my mother selected me. Four days a week I rode on the donkey cart with her to Ramle and Lydda.
It was in the stall at the Lydda bazaar that I first saw someone use an abacus, a wooden frame holding sliding beads for adding and subtracting. The man was a leather merchant, a maker and mender of harnesses, and he allowed me to enter and play in his booth. We became friends and together we fashioned an abacus like his by using prayer beads. Before I was nine I could count to infinity and became faster than the merchant in addition and subtraction.
'Learn to count,' my mother had been saying repeatedly.
At first I didn't realize what she meant, but she pressed me to learn to read and write as well. The leather merchant was semiliterate and helped me greatly, but soon I surpassed him again. After a time I could read all the labels on all the crates in the entire bazaar. Then I began to learn words in the newspapers we used for wrappers.
When I was free to play at home, Hagar ordered me to count all the houses in Tabah, all the orchards, and learn who farmed each field. After that she dropped me off in the outlying villages where my father collected rents and she told me to count their houses and fields as well. A family could own or sharecrop as many as ten to fifteen separate plots scattered from one end of the village's land to the other. With continued intermarriages, dowries of land to new brides, older people dying off, and dividing the land among many sons, it was extremely difficult to have an accurate record of who farmed what. Since most of the land was sharecropped, the farmers always tried to work an extra plot that was not accounted for or in other ways tried to cheat on their rent and taxes.
My father was barely literate himself and unable to contend with all the official documents, with their adornments of stamps and seals that spelled out boundaries, water rights, inheritances, and taxes. Uncle Farouk, who was partners with my father in the village store, the khan, and the coffeehouse, was far better able to cope with the mysteries of the documents. Farouk was also the village imam, the priest, and keeper of the official records for my father. My father didn't fully trust him and so he sent my oldest brother, Kamal, to school in Ramle as a precaution.
When my father collected the rents, he turned them over to the great landholder Fawzi Effendi Kabir, who lived in Damascus and who visited the Palestine district once a year to collect.
My mother had always suspected that Kamal and Uncle Farouk were working together to cheat my father, who got a percentage of the Effendi's rents as his agent.
When I had made my secret count of all the fields of the area, my mother pushed me out of the kitchen and told me to stick to my father like his shadow. At first I was fearful. Almost every time I slipped alongside him he would curse me off and other times he seized my arm and shook it or he would strike me. It was not that Ibrahim hated me or treated me any worse than he treated my brothers. Arab men can be very affectionate to their sons when they are little and dressed as girls and living with the women. But once they cross the threshold into the man's world they are generally ignored by their fathers. The relationship from then on is centered on obedience: complete, absolute, unquestioning obedience. It is the father's privilege. For this he allows his sons to work his fields for their living and when they take a bride, she comes into the father's house.
The father must be alert too, that his sons are not cheating him, and so the tradition of paternal indifference is a way of life. In order to vent frustrations, male children have full leave to boss around all the females, even their own mothers, and they are allowed to slap around their younger brothers. By the time I was four I had already learned to order my grandmother around, and on occasion I would assert my male rights over Nada and even my mother.
Excerpted from The Haj by Leon Uris. Copyright © 1989 James W. Hall. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Ishmael is a Palestinian who comes to manhood just in time for the legal rebirth of Israel. Before that, though, he watches as Jews gradually return to their ancient homeland. As men like Gideon Asch (who feels more like this novel's hero than does Ishmael, its apparent protagonist) drain the malarial swamps, reclaim the rich farmland, and found communities that men like Ishmael's father cannot drive out. Political maneuvering on an international scale combines with local events to push families like Ishmael's out of their ancient villages, rendering them stateless as one of the least expected results of Israel's return to nationhood. The tragic results sound like a half-century's worth of mideast headlines. And yet.... Excepting only Mein Kampf, I have never in my life read a book so filled with hate as this one is. Should I really believe that Arab culture, and the Moslem religion, are that hatred's source? I came away from THE HAJ quite sure that was the author's intention. Yet this attempt by the author of EXODUS at telling 'the other side of the story' left me feeling that he hadn't succeeded, because this cannot be the story that Palestinians would tell about themselves. Bogs down in places, particularly with lengthy lessons in history and politics - this material would have been better worked into the story. Well written overall, like everything else by Leon Uris (whose work I normally love). If nothing else, it's made me mightily curious to go out and learn more from hopefully less biased sources.
I feel Mr. Uris attacked the issue of the Palastinians well. A people unused to leading themselves, they turned to what leaders they had. Few of those leaders had the interests of their people above the interests of their wallets. The Jews had no where to go but up after WWII and the idealism to do so. The Jews came from a world that valued work and progress and the Palastinians did not. The Palastinian was too hidebound to change. They came from a tired feudal system that was doomed the moment the Turks lost Palestine to the British. The Palastinian people's own leaders sold the land right out from under them. Their leaders sold their country. The result was who ended up in a refugee camp and who did not. I did not like the abrupt ending. I felt the writer just ran out of ideas. Only this kept me from giving it a higher mark.
Excellent novel on the origins of the Israeli/Arab conflict, bends over backward to portray the Arabs in as positive a light as history will allow. This history will come as a surprise to anyone who has been fed the Arab propaganda line so prevalent in our press. It should come as no surprise that those who advocate this propaganda will attack the book as having no basis in fact. Ironically, these lies about "THE HAJ" reminds me of those episodes in the book itself, when Arabs are confronted with a truth they feel uncomfortable with. They concoct a version of events that makes them look better and even they themselves start believing their own invention. Take these emotional reviews with a grain of salt. Any reading of history will support the facts that Uris has based his novel on. A great read. Get a copy and read it today. It will help further understanding of today's struggles.
Uris shows some prejudice in this novel but it is only to be expected when a Jew writes about the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. It is still a good book. It is the story of Ibrahim, a Palestinian Muslim who has made the pilgrimage to Mecca and earned the right to be known as Haj. The narrator is Ishmael, Haj Ibrahim's youngest son, and he begins the tale when he is quite young. We are told from this boy's perspective the development of the fight for the country claimed by both Arab and Jew, a fight that has continued for more than half a century. As usual Uris keeps his readers on tenterhooks throughout the story of a family in torment, the boy Ishmael who outwits his older brothers to become his father's favourite, the daughter Nada who breaks all the rules of Muslim etiquette and Haga the first wife who has to hold the family together after Ibrahim takes a second wife.
This book is a great novel, but also a primer to understanding the mess in the middle east...it shows how the mistakes of a people can really place them in an unwinnable situation.
This book has been dissected by others. I found the story very engaging, and learned of the history of the Middle East, and cultures in the area-- or did I? The bias of the author comes through rather strongly leaving me wanting to read of similar events from other perspectives. As with many situations, there is not a singular truth. Do other readers have suggestions for novels or non fiction that captures other perspectives of this fascinating and relevant historical period.
I found the Hajj to be a step by step destruction of Palestinine society and culture told in a riveting novel and family level story. Even putting aside some of Uris'bias, one sees distasteful Arab behaviour, day in and day out as they try to influence the global community through a militant version of their ever present religion and their absolutely backwardlife style.
This book opened my eyes to the inner workings of Islam and to how double standards, hate, lies, and faulty theology damage persons, families, cultures and countries. I thought it was chilling reading, especially in a post-September 11 world.
After reading The Haj for a five themes of geography application project in Honors 9 geography, I feel somehow unfulfilled. The plot of this story was rather hard to follow, and the author could have left out some of the history. The characters were well developed, however I would have liked a little more about Sabri and Dr. Mudhil. I thought the endings of events were abrupt and impersonal. 'He died and was never heard from again.' 'So he chopped off her head.' The story line was pretty interesting but I felt it could have had a little more story and a little less useless information. I thought The Haj was a good book, but wouldn't recommend it to anyone who is not interested in Muslim culture or is subject to the Chinese water torture.
I really loved this book. I learned so much about Arab culture and Israel's constant conflict. I recently read this book but it seems like it is happening now. I see now that there will probably never be peace between the Palestinians and the Israelies. The mentality of the Arabs was absolutely shocking. I cannot imagine thinking or acting in that way but it was interesting to learn about. I want to read more of Leon Uris's books starting with Exodus.
The Haj by Leon Uris is an astonishing look in to the Arab mentality and way of life. It is also a sweeping epic of the time of the birth of Israel as the Jewish State as we know it today. If you have an interest in the modern history of the Land of Israel, or in Moslem life, read this.
I finished this novel as the Jews started to pull out of Gaza. This histically based novel has helped me understand that struggle. Great read with vivid characters.
I was loaned this book by a pro-Uris reader that told me that it was an excellent book on the Palestinian/Israeli issue. She failed to tell me that it was very racist, anti-Semitic, in the universal definition of the word Semite (Of, relating to, or constituting a subgroup of the Afro-Asiatic language group that includes Arabic, Hebrew, Amharic, and Aramaic.) or anti-Arab as some would have it, and full of stories that make for great entertainment but boil down to nothing but lies. The unfortunate part of reading it was not only did Uris fill it with uncountable lies, he puts down not only Arabs as humans but the religion of the majority of them, Islam. If Uris can justify his feeling towards the Arabs the way he does, then anyone who wants to, has the right to ridicule not only Jews, Israelis, or Zionist as an ethnicity, but Judaism as a religion. By reading this book, please, please, please realize that this book is pure fantasy and Uris does a great job of convincing the incognizant reader of the Palestinian/Israeli issues that Israel and Jews are victims. The reality of this situation can be found in other books written by Israel Shahak, Edward Said, Noam Chomsky and many other fair minded intellectuals. Uris is just a great fictional story teller trying to make a buck. And succeeding very well at that.