The Unlikely Settler

Overview

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict seen by an outsider who craves to make sense of herself, her marriage, and the city she lives in

The Unlikely Settler is none other than a young Bengali journalist who moves to Jerusalem with her English-Jewish husband and two children. He speaks Arabic and is an arch believer in the peace process; she leaves her career behind to follow his dream. Jerusalem propels Pelham into a world where freedom from tribal allegiance is a challenging ...

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The Unlikely Settler

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Overview

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict seen by an outsider who craves to make sense of herself, her marriage, and the city she lives in

The Unlikely Settler is none other than a young Bengali journalist who moves to Jerusalem with her English-Jewish husband and two children. He speaks Arabic and is an arch believer in the peace process; she leaves her career behind to follow his dream. Jerusalem propels Pelham into a world where freedom from tribal allegiance is a challenging prospect. From the school you choose for your children to the wine you buy, you take sides at every turn.

Pelham’s complicated relationship with her husband, Leo, is as emotive as the city she lives in, as full of energy, pain, and contradictions. As she tries to navigate the complexities and absurdities of daily life in Jerusalem, often with hilarious results, Pelham achieves deep insights into the respective woes and guilt of her Palestinian and Israeli friends. Her intelligent analysis suggests a very different approach to a potential resolution of the conflict.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"[D]istinctive...The Unlikely Settler is, well, unsettling." —BookList

"A touching personal delineation of divided loyalties and riven hearts." —Kirkus

“Personal drama and inner conflicts are intertwined naturally with the dramas and conflicts of the outside world in this emotionally moving memoir.” —Zeruya Shalev, author of Thera and Husband and Wife

“It’s fascinating and refreshing to see everyday life in Jerusalem through the sharp, affectionate eyes of Lipika Pelham as she encounters and befriends Zionists, Ultra-Orthodox Haredis, Arab Jews, left wing intellectuals, Israeli Arabs, Palestinians, Bedouins, Christians, expatriates and international peace-keepers in this city of warring sides and emotional flare-ups. It helps to understand the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” —Claudia Roden, author of The Book of Jewish Food

 “Pelham achieves deep insights into the respective woes and guilt of her Palestinian and Israeli friends.” —Between the Covers

Kirkus Reviews
2014-02-02
Bittersweet memoir of a multicultural marriage riding the perilous shoals of Jerusalem's ethnic split. In the 1990s, Bangladesh-born author Pelham, a journalist with BBC World Service, married Leo, a London Jew whose job as a roving Middle East reporter took the family from Morocco to Syria to Jerusalem. From the outset, the author was deeply conflicted about her own divided upbringing and balked at the thought of living in strife-ridden Jerusalem: The daughter of a Bengali Muslim father, Pelham considered herself more Hindu and Indian; while respecting her husband's Jewish faith, she balked at conversion. Leo's work with international NGOs took him often into Gaza, while Pelham was keenly aware of the Israeli slight to Muslim culture, music and Arabic language. Frequently going to Ramallah to visit her Arab friends and conduct interviews, she realized she was entering a thriving world that Israelis knew little about. The children, too, were conflicted: The elder boy, who attended an Anglo international school, resisted learning Hebrew and hated letting others know his Jewish last name; the younger daughter adored her Israeli "peace" nursery school and broke out into patriotic songs in Hebrew. Israel's "South Africa syndrome" exacerbated the underlying trouble in the marriage, and the enforced vigilance, entrenchment and pressure both oppressed her and prodded her to "reinvent" herself. She quit her position and became a stringer at the Jerusalem bureau, which took her on an interview to a refugee camp, where Palestinian children spit on her daughter. Immersed in her documentary work on honor killings, she was led deeply into Palestinian life, while "the rotating cycle of doom" both within Jerusalem and the marriage caused violent scenes and recriminations between the couple, who loved each other but could similarly not find peace, until the birth of a third child. A touching personal delineation of divided loyalties and riven hearts.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590516836
  • Publisher: Other Press, LLC
  • Publication date: 3/25/2014
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 1,476,646
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Lipika Pelham was born and raised on the border between Bangladesh and India, and in the past twenty years has lived in England, Morocco, Jordan, and Israel. In her early twenties she joined the BBC World Service and reported from India, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Morocco, and Israel. In 2005 Lipika moved with her family to Jerusalem, where she became a documentary filmmaker, winning among other prizes the prestigious Centre Méditerranéen de la Communication Audiovisuelle Prix Spécial du Jury in 2010.

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Read an Excerpt

During our fifth year in Jerusalem, I was faced with a dilemma: where to give birth to our third child. In London, where my two older children were born and where my husband wanted me to go? In Bethlehem, because my friends recommended the Holy Family Hospital there? Or in Jerusalem, where I had met a Jewish orthodox obstetrician I really liked?

I tried not to rule out Bethlehem. Many of our expatriate friends—journalists and diplomats—went to Palestinian cities to deliver their babies to avoid probable future difficulties for their work life in the Middle East. I went to see the hospital in Bethlehem. It had a beautiful setting, amid lovely gardens, and a state-of-the-art neonatal unit. The delivery rooms were spacious and airy with a view of the primordial hills. But it sounded so clichéd. Born in Bethlehem. Implicated in too much compassion and sacrifice. A birth loaded with expectations.
Given that Bethlehem had one of the highest birth rates in Palestine, the land should have been inundated by now with hundreds of thousands of compassionate Apostles. If only forgiveness had been the core value of this place, peace would have flourished in the hills around Jesus’s birthplace, rather than outposts of hate. I could not help my eye being drawn to the ugly architecture of the Israeli settlements that dotted the landscape around Bethlehem. It was too ominous a place to give birth.

I carried on seeing my doctor, who traveled from his home in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank to his practice in Jerusalem’s ultra-orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim.

“How can you compromise your politics by seeing a settler doctor?
Don’t you think you are implicitly supporting the Israeli occupation?” said Leo, my husband, an expert on Middle East affairs.

“It’s up to the mother of the baby to decide where she feels comfortable to give birth,” I replied.

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