Friday, 14 May 2010

Dodging rockets and bullets!

A BAHRAIN-based father who spent his childhood dodging Israeli rockets and bullets in a Palestinian refugee camp, is publishing a book he hopes will send a message to the world.

Bapco engineer Jamal Krayem Kanj was born in the Nahr El Bared camp in northern Lebanon, 10 years after the creation of Israel exactly 62 years ago today, which immediately sparked the disastrous Arab-Israeli war.

His book Children of Catastrophe: Journey from a Palestinian Refugee Camp to America charts his own life in the camp, dodging Israeli rockets and bullets, along with the misery Palestinians have been forced to endure.

It tells how he ran away at 11 with a group of other boys to join the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), then based in Syria, but was turned away because they were all so young.

At 19, he went to study in the US, where he became a California-registered civil engineer and achieved a Master of Business Administration degree.

Mr Kanj went back to Gaza, Palestine, in 1996 as part of a United Nations project to distribute food and water, shortly before moving to Bahrain to join Bapco.

The father-of-three, now an American citizen, says his book tells not just his story but that of a nation's struggle.

It also documents the story of Nahr El Bared itself: the story of a refugee camp that grew from an initial clump of muddy UN tents to become a vibrant trading centre in north Lebanon, before its eventual destruction at the hands of the Lebanese army as they battled with militants from the Fatah Al Islam group in the summer of 2007.

Throughout it all, the spirit of the remarkable people of the camp shines through, and the book provides a moving testament to how refugees in Lebanon have managed to persist in their struggle for their "right to return", as well as survive socially, economically and politically, says Mr Kanj.

"I lived through the tumultuous period when the PLO took over the refugee camps in 1969 and during the most intense part of the Lebanese civil war," he told the GDN.

"I ran away from home to join the PLO when I was only 11 years old; I survived many Israeli raids on the camp and cheated death in one air raid in 1972.

"After living in the US for almost 30 years and having been active in political issues, I felt, we Palestinians have a strong story to tell, but sadly unknown in the US.

"I felt that sharing the individual experience, within the historical context of the Palestine Israel conflict, would help individuals in the West to better understand the Palestinian side of the story.

"I wrote the book in a year or less, but took at least two years to continue refining it, while trying to find a publisher who was willing to publish the book.

"Writing is a passion of mine, I hope for this to be my first book.

"The book is a narrative collection of the life in a Palestinian refugee camp.

"It attempts to focus on the inimitable personal experiences of refugees.

"How the refugees' continued dilemma has shaped the trying political process, hindering thus far a final agreement between the Palestinians and Israel."

The book is a combination of historical background, explaining the Palestinian plight and the emergence of the PLO, along with a personal narrative of growing up in the camp and how children were able to deal with their daily tribulations, yet grow into normal human beings.

"It recounts how as a teenager, I experienced love and cheated death in Israeli raids," said Mr Kanj.

"It then leads to the ultimate experience of many young Palestinian refugees who seek life outside the camp, in order to support and sustain those who remain behind. "

He also narrates visiting his long-lost homeland and meeting, for the first time, relatives who remained in their homes after the creation of Israel.

"The pro-Palestinian reader will find in the book a new manifest to advance their intellectual convictions and bring about a better understanding of their point of view," said Mr Kanj.

"The pro-Israeli reader will value the human experience and find it easier to grasp the book's narratives, presented without the mentally gruelling and antagonistic intellectual squabble."

Mr Kanj is the co-founder of the Middle East Cultural and Information Centre in San Diego and served as the secretary-general of the US chapter of a national Palestinian student union.

The book is due to be published next month and will be on sale online through, at $24 (about BD9).

No comments: