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Strangers in the House: Coming of Age in Occupied Palestine

About the Book

Strangers in the House: Coming of Age in Occupied Palestine

Strangers in the House is a personal memoir in which the primary conflict is between father and son. Nevertheless, it's suffused with the tumultuous politics of the Middle East and the Palestinian issue forms much of the fabric of the author's relationships. This contributes to the multiple meanings of the title, which echoes the author's feelings about his family as well as the situation in Palestine in general.

Raja Shehadeh was born in the West Bank into a family of two strong, very different wills—his stately, aristocratic grandmother, always looking to the past, and his father, Aziz, full of nervous energy and barreling toward the future. In their immediate world, British misgovernance of the areas of the Middle East under its purview had quickly lead toward violence between Jews and Arabs. Thus, Raja's first breath was taken in a personal and political world already brimming with contention.

But while his father is fighting to realize a realistic solution for Palestinian sovereignty and dignity—efforts for which he is branded a traitor to the Arabs—Raja grows from being a sickly boy to a promising, intellectually vigorous man. Despite Aziz's brilliance, however, he is perhaps the last man to acknowledge his son's potential. Raja instead seeks out wisdom in his school experiences as a student of English literature in Beirut and London, an abortive trip to India, and a love affair with an American woman. The father's world of politics and law seems the last place Raja is headed.

Eventually, however, that's exactly where he ends up, working as a lawyer side by side with Aziz in Ramallah while the city is under Israeli occupation. Raja becomes a leader in developing legal means to assert Palestinian rights, even as the fire that once burned in his father's belly grows noticeably colder. Raja earns international kudos for trying to stop the disintegration of Palestinian law as an author and for his human rights work.

But an increasingly depressed Aziz has no encouraging words for his son. Where others see Raja as making strides in ending the excesses of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Aziz feels he is stirring up trouble. When the Israelis begin harassing the law firm and its employees, Aziz interprets it as evidence that he's been right all along. In the end, it's nearly too much for Raja, who temporarily leaves the law firm.

He eventually returns, but his relationship with his father isn't mended in time. While Raja is abroad on a speaking tour, Aziz is murdered. The public embraces the idea that he was assassinated as a traitor by a Palestinian extremist. However, Raja is convinced that Aziz's death is unrelated to politics. Transforming himself from an international human rights lawyer into a criminal prosecutor, he investigates the murder while goading the Israeli police into doing more about his father's case. After several setbacks and false victories, he is given a tantalizing glimpse of the truth: An Israeli police officer claims that one of Aziz's opponents in a land dispute killed him. Raja's oath to lay his father's spirit to rest with justice looks as if it's about to be fulfilled. But his optimism is short-lived, when he realizes that the murderer is being protected by the Israeli administration because he's an informant for the occupiers. Politics in Palestine, it seems, is inextricable from the personal.

Strangers in the House: Coming of Age in Occupied Palestine
by Raja Shehadeh

  • Publication Date: April 29, 2003
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics)
  • ISBN-10: 0142002933
  • ISBN-13: 9780142002933