HIDDEN HISTORIES: Palestine and the Eastern Mediterranean

For thousands of years, the region of Palestine and the East Mediterranean has been denied an indigenous voice for an inclusive history. Three religions ascribe their origins to this part of the world, appropriating and re-appropriating the “Holy Land” time and again.

HIDDEN HISTORIES: Palestine and the Eastern Mediterranean
Book by Basem Ra’ad. Pluto Press (2010)

Reviewed by Sam Bahour. June 1, 2015

I just finished reading this fascinating book. It literally sat on my desk for three years after buying it from the author following a lecture he gave in Ramallah. It is one of those books that you know you must read, but you are fully aware that you need to be in a particular mindset, because it will radically rewire your thinking.

It’s a heavy read, in terms of history, religion, archeology, culture, language, colonialism, and so much more. The lightest chapter is titled, Cats of Jerusalem, and it will make you never ignore cats in Jerusalem again.

I recommend this extremely well-documented read for anyone willing to challenge their existing body of knowledge, especially about monotheistic religions, as well as the origin of Palestinians. I strongly recommend it to Palestinian students thinking of what to research in their studies, especially PhD students.

A few excerpts to whet your intellectual appetite:

“Consider the religion industry and the investments made over many centuries just in terms of religious buildings, personnel, related literature, promotional activities, and in art objects and paraphernalia. Such investments lend credibility by virtue of the resulting massive productions, so that to doubt the veracity of these creations appears daunting.” (p. 86)

“In the West, the nineteenth century experienced an awakening and a blinding at the same time, an existential recognition that was countered by religious fixations: a dichotomy of existential barrenness and conformist reaffirmation. This was later expressed differently in the modernist period, and eludes naming or definition in the postmodernist, “post-historical” condition with its globalizing trends. At the same time, some of the inventions and falsifications of reality have established their effective hegemony.” (p. 87)

“In one of the greatest confiscations of national heritage, the Israelis have turned an imaginary, “biblical” landscape into an identity with the land by appropriating and exploiting Palestine’s environment and resources, as well as aspects of Palestinian heritage — all the elements that Palestinians have lived with for millennia.” (pp. 117–118)

“The people of Palestine are ancient. Their ancientness is not a fabricated one. It is not assumed. It is real. They do not need to constantly assert it or to reassure themselves they are an ancient people or insist on how ancient they are. But Palestine’s wholeness was shattered in 1948, and its direct links to that wholeness and its relatedness to the region have been disrupted. In this situation, how possible is it to maintain a naturalness that has been subject to such an attack? How can the lived past be recovered when its presence is now only infrequently recorded, silently, in what people say and do? How does one search for what is left of the indigenous Palestinian culture in an environment contaminated by the savagery of the present?” (p. 196)

“Monotheistic sequencing remains one of the most damaging assumptions about the history of Palestine and its people.” (p. 197)

Book was released in Arabic (2014) from Dar el Adab (دار الآداب) in Beirut.