When the Bird Stopped Singing: Life in Ramallah Under Seige


The Israeli army invaded Ramallah in March 2002. A tank stood at the end of Raja Shehadeh's road; Israeli soldiers patrolled from the roof toops. Four soldiers took over his brother's apartment and then used him as a human shield as they went through the building, while his wife tried to keep her composure for the sake of their frightened childred, ages four and six.
This is an account of what it is like to be under seige: the terror, the frustrations, the humiliations, and the ...

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When the Birds Stopped Singing: Life in Ramallah Under Siege

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The Israeli army invaded Ramallah in March 2002. A tank stood at the end of Raja Shehadeh's road; Israeli soldiers patrolled from the roof toops. Four soldiers took over his brother's apartment and then used him as a human shield as they went through the building, while his wife tried to keep her composure for the sake of their frightened childred, ages four and six.
This is an account of what it is like to be under seige: the terror, the frustrations, the humiliations, and the rage. How do you pass your time when you are imprisoned in your own home? What do you do when you cannot cross the neighborhood to help your sick mother?
Shehadeh's recent memoir, Strangers in the House: Coming of Age in Occupied Palestine, was the first book by a Palestinian writer to chronicle a life of displacement on the West Bank from 1967 to the present. It received international acclaim and was a finalist for the 2002 Lionel Gelber Prize. When the Birds Stopped Singing is a book of the moment, a chronicle of life today as lived by ordinary Palestinians throughout the West Bank and Gaza in the grip of the most stringent Israeli security measures in years. And yet it is also an enduring document, at once literary and of great political import, that should serve as a cautionary tale for today's and future generations. 

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Shehadeh's voice is a rare one... angry yet dispassionate, comitted yet free." — Michael Ignatieff

"Shehadeh captures the rage and despair of lives stunted by occupation." — Washington Post 

The Washington Post
On one level the book is a factual account of the siege of one Palestinian city -- the misbehavior of the army, the deprivation and humiliations of the residents, the hopelessly inept response of Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority. — Glenn Frankel
Publishers Weekly
This short, powerful book should be required reading for anyone who has ever wondered what it's like to be an ordinary citizen living in a war zone. Shehadeh's view of the volatile Israeli-Palestinian conflict is certainly not neutral, dealing with his emotions and experiences during Israel's incursion into his West Bank city during the spring of 2002. It is, however, remarkably balanced for a man in his situation. Under curfew and trapped in his home, Shehadeh, a lawyer, writer and human rights activist (Strangers in the House), concentrates on conserving his food supply, distracting himself with his legal work, trying not to wonder when his wife, who is out of the country, will be able to get home, and trying not to be angry. "I've learned how to create small spaces of my own in which to live," he writes. "I'm continuing to exercise for half an hour by vigorously walking around the courtyard with appropriate music blasting. Today it was Shostakovich quintets." Intermingled with his rage at Israel's right-wing government and at the Arab world, which expresses sympathy with the Palestinian plight while treating it as little more than a reality TV show, is the realization that something has to change. "The Israelis are being hit and have casualties and our life has been brought to a standstill. We are killing each other. We have to stop. This is what is important, not what the outside world thinks." (Sept. 1) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
The city of Ramallah on the West Bank has long been an important center of Palestinian nationalism. Since the beginning of the most recent Palestinian uprising, the city has come under various curfews and military attacks by Israeli armed forces. In many ways, what has happened to Ramallah encapsulates the wretchedness of life for the Palestinians living in the rest of the occupied territories. In this book, Shehadeh (Strangers in the House), a prominent Palestinian lawyer and writer living in Ramallah, chronicles the daily struggle for existence in that city since March 28, 2002, the day before the latest full-scale Israeli invasion of that city started. As a founder of Al-Haq, a respected nonpartisan human rights organization, the author is well placed to chronicle a life of displacement, agony, and fear on the West Bank. This is Shehadeh's third book of diaries in which he portrays the indomitable spirit of people under occupation. He does so with verve and tact. A great addition to the recent firsthand writings on the Palestinians, this is highly recommended for public libraries.-Nader Entessar, Spring Hill Coll., Mobile, AL Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A thoughtful journal, by a Palestinian human-rights activist and attorney, documenting the Israeli invasion of the West Bank in April 2002. The reasons for that invasion were many, Shehadeh (Strangers in the House, 2002, etc.) acknowledges; they followed repeated episodes of illegal Israeli settlement in the "occupied territories" after the Oslo Accords and an attendant rise in the number of terror attacks on Israeli civilians--in particular, the bombing in March 2002 of a hotel in Netanya in which a wedding feast was being held, which resulted in 29 deaths and provided the Sharon government reason to send in the tanks. Shehadeh holds that the Oslo Accords were doomed to failure, for they allowed Israel to transfer responsibility for civilian affairs to the Palestinian Authority; at the same time, however, the intransigent Sharon regime took steps to keep the Authority from delivering services and imposed prolonged curfews and restrictions. Shehadeh writes affectingly of how the military occupation played out day by day in the once-thriving Palestinian city of Ramallah, where civilians now had to dodge military patrols, submit to house-to-house searches, and endure privation, many of them "stranded for days in buildings and shops without food, surviving on dried chickpeas that they soaked in water and ate." For his part, Shehadeh writes, he spent much of that terrible month pacing back and forth, regarding himself as fortunate because he had a large house. A balanced and sensitive observer, Shehadeh condemns governments, not individuals; in one moving passage, he recounts that an Israeli soldier left a note for a neighbor after a particularly destructive search: "Sorry for the mess. Ihope we meet in better times. Stay away from the windows." Yet his anger at the Israeli government--and that of Yasir Arafat--is evident and constant, and supporters of either will likely take issue with many of his remarks. A worthy companion to Mourid Barghouti’s like-minded I Saw Ramallah (p. 515).
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781586420697
  • Publisher: Steerforth Press
  • Publication date: 6/28/2003
  • Pages: 160
  • Sales rank: 1,424,390
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.50 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Raja Shehadeh is a Palestinian lawyer and writer who lives in Ramallah. He is a founder of Al-Haq, a pioneering, nonpartisan human rights organization, and the author of several books about international law, human rights, and the Middle East.

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