Susan Abulhawa ( Arabic: سوزان أبو الهوى ) was born in 1970 in Kuwait. She is a Palestinian-American writer, journalist and activist - the author of a bestselling novel, Mornings in Jenin, published in 2010, and the founder of a non-governmental organization, Playgrounds for Palestine. Her second novel, The Blue Between Sky And Water, was sold in 19 languages before its release. It was published in the UK on June 4, 2015, and was published in the US on September 1, 2015. She currently lives in Yardley, Pennsylvania.
Abulhawa's parents, born in At-Tur in Jerusalem, were refugees of the Israeli 1967 war. Her father was expelled at gunpoint and her mother, who was in Germany at the time, was unable to return. The couple reunited in Jordan before moving to Kuwait, where Abulhawa was born in 1970. Her family was broken up following the war and Susan was sent to live with an uncle in the U.S., where she stayed until she was five years old. She was then passed between various family members in Kuwait and Jordan until at 10, she was taken to Jerusalem where she ended up in an orphanage.
At age 13, she moved to Charlotte, North Carolina as a foster child and has been in the US ever since. She majored in Biology in college and attended the University of South Carolina School of Medicine as a graduate student in the Department of Biomedical Science, where she completed a Master's Degree in Neuroscience.
She later turned to journalism and fiction writing. She has contributed to several anthologies and has been published in both major and minor US and international newspapers. Mornings in Jenin was her debut novel - an international bestseller, published in at least 26 languages. In 2013, Abulhawa published a collection of poetry entitled "My Voice Sought The Wind" and her second novel, The Blue Between Sky And Water, was sold in 19 languages before its release.
Abulhawa is the founder of Playgrounds for Palestine, an NGO that focuses on Palestinian children by building playgrounds in Palestine and UN refugee camps in Lebanon. Its first playground was erected in early 2002.
In 2000 Abulhawa traveled to Palestine, where she said: “listening to the echo of her childhood on the slopes of the Mount of Olives and cradling the young daughter who had finally given her purpose, she set her life on its indeterminable course.”
That path was to be one of political activism, of vocally opposing Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory and campaigning to provide playgrounds for Palestinian children. Abulhawa herself has described her return to Palestine as a reawakening, saying: “when I heard the adhan for the first time and realized how much I'd missed it, I broke down in tears.”
So in 2001, Abulhawa set up Playgrounds for Palestine, starting off with donated slides and swings for a playground in Bethlehem. Playground equipment is purchased abroad, then shipped and assembled locally, usually on donated land. The playgrounds are thereafter owned and maintained by local NGOs or municipalities. The organization ANERA (American Near East Refugee Aid) is heavily involved in various phases of the operation.
As of 2012, Playgrounds for Palestine had established four playgrounds in Gaza, two in refugee camps in Lebanon, and one in a refugee camp in Syria. Abulhawa is no longer the driving force in the organization - according to a 2012 profile, which states that volunteers are continuing her work. She had also begun to write op-eds for newspapers. She is now heavily involved in the campaign for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions and as a speaker for Al Awda, the Right to Return coalition.
Mornings in Jenin - Abulhawa, who at that time was working for a drug company, visited Jenin as an international observer in the aftermath of the 2002 Israeli attack on a refugee camp there. The visit transformed her she later said: “You grow up as a Palestinian knowing about these massacres and the wars and the injustice but it was completely different to be there.”
“What I saw in Jenin was shocking at so many levels,” she later said, “but it was also quite humbling to watch how the people came together and shared what little they had. So when I left there, I really wanted to tell their story because I knew nobody was going to talk about it.”
Returning to the U.S., she had trouble reconciling the concerns of her coworkers at the drug company with the travails of the people of Jenin. “They were two parts of my life and it was suffocating. A few months later I was laid off and it was probably the best thing that happened to me.”
The result was a novel, Mornings in Jenin, which was published in 2010. It has been described as “a poignant, lyrical tale tracing four generations of the Abulheja family as they suffer loss after loss - first, with the kidnapping of their son Ismael in the 1948 Naqba by an Israeli soldier and then through their violent expulsion from their village near Haifa.”
The novel follows the family through successive horrors inflicted during the 1967 war, the siege of Lebanon and slaughters in Jenin, Sabra and Shatila, the devastation and agonies wreaked on ordinary Palestinians are depicted through the struggles of the book's protagonist Amal, whose brother Ismael is raised as the Arab-hating David.
The novel has been translated into Arabic by Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing. It has also been translated into at least two dozen other languages and has become an international bestseller.
“In the Palestinian narrative,” she has said apropos of the book's story, “there are no two sides. There are no two sides to this conflict in the same way that there were no two sides to the Holocaust. There were no two sides to apartheid. There are no two sides to slavery. You have a nuclear power that is pitted against principally an unarmed civilian population. This is not a matter of sides.”
The French author and philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy called Mornings in Jenin “a concentration of anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish clichés masquerading as fiction.”
Abulhawa responded by dismissing Levy as a “French pop star of philosophy and intellectual elitism” and accusing him of name-calling: “He simply slaps on the word 'anti-Semitism' to discredit any negative portrayal of Israel...
Mr. Levy accuses us of 'demonizing Israel', when in fact, all we do is pull back the curtain, however slightly, to show a dark truth he wishes to keep hidden. I suspect that Mr Levy feels, as most Jewish supporters of Israel do, that he is more entitled to my grandfather's farms than I am. After all, that is really the foundation of Israel, isn't it?”
Filmworks Dubai has bought the film rights to Mornings in Jenin and planned to begin production in late 2013. Anna Soler-Pont, head of the Pontas agency, which sold the film rights to the novel, said, “This is going to be a special project. There aren’t any epic films on Palestine yet.
- Mornings in Jenin, novel (Bloomsbury, 2010).
- The Blue Between Sky and Water, novel (Bloomsbury, 2015).
- Shattered Illusions, anthology (Amal Press, 2002)
- Searching Jenin, anthology (Cune Press, 2003).
- Seeking Palestine: New Palestinian Writing on Exile and Home anthology (2012)
- My Voice Sought The Wind, poetry collection (Just World Books, November 2013)
- Political commentary in major US and international periodicals, including the New York Daily News, Christian Science Monitor, Chicago Tribune and the Philadelphia Inquirer.
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