Friday, September 18, 2009
A Grave in Gaza
Friday, September 18, 2009
We think of Gaza as conflicted, and so does Matt Beynon Rees, but Rees sees things in a different way.
In Rees' A Grave in Gaza, death comes from within the ruling council, not from the outside. The council's fight against Israel fuels the hatred, but, in this book, it is factional, almost tribal, conflict which kills people.
These people smuggle weapons to use against Israel. The advent of a new weapon sets off a fight between the factions of the council, even between factions of the same group. A small UN contingent sent to evaluate the schools gets caught in the middle.
One group kidnaps a UN official. Before this kidnapping, another kidnapping, and a host of other crimes can be traced back to their source, the landscape is littered with bodies. Major leaders have been killed.
So, to save his kidnapped colleague, Omar Yussef (an ordinary teacher) has to discover, not who did it, but which group has the weapon everyone is fighting for. He is looking, not just for a single killer, but for the source of a host of killers among all these deadly people.
This is an excellent book, not your ordinary detective story. Solving the crime won't change anything. Gaza is a place where there is little respect for human life. That will continue. But Omar Yussef's solution might put off some violence and save at least one individual.
If you can't tell already, this book describes incredible violence. The book portrays missile attacks against Israel, not just as missile attacks against Israel, but as weapons in the internecine fight between council factions. Omar Yussef and his friends get caught in the middle.
You get the feeling that any outsider in Gaza might be caught in the middle. At one point in the book, someone tells Omar Yussef that every crime is related. In Gaza, even the smallest or most insignificant crime is tied to the whole web of greater crime. And that's the way this book shows things to be.
I loved this book. It might not be everyone's cup of tea because it involves what we used to call in seminary "systemic evil." Systemic evil (religious institutions which discriminate against gays, a society which allows grinding poverty while others are obscenely wealthy, etc.) is much harder to deal with than your average criminal might be. There are no quick solutions to the evil Omar Yussef faces.
So Omar Yussef does the only thing he can do. The best he can. He fails to save a lot of people, but he puts the violence off a little while. And he survives.
I really appreciate Matt Beynon Rees. He shows the inner workings of a society I would otherwise not know. And his hero makes it clear that one man can make at least a little difference.