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The atmosphere of fear among the Palestinians

A Gaza life
Forfatter: Marte Heian-Engdal
Forlag: J.M.Stenersen forlag (Norge)
PALESTINE/ISRAEL / Life in Gaza is at times like reading a good novel, not least because the stories about Israel's war against ordinary Palestinians are so vividly described.


Let me start with the end: Congratulations, Marte Heian-Engdal! This is a very good compilation of the story of a Palestinian refugee family and the first part of Israel's "plausible genocide" against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

A Gaza Life: The Family, the Escape and the Lost Land is divided into four with the titles "The lost land", "Gaza life", "Everyday conflict" and "Flugten", followed by a map and timeline. But unfortunately without an index at the back showing the names and places that appear in the book.

Decades of mass killing and occupation

Several decades before Heian-Engdal came to the coastal strip the size of Mjøsa for the first time, as NRK's ​​Middle East correspondent, I heard Palestinians' own descriptions of displacement and the flight from their homes in what became Israel. Even more had witnessed the Israelis' mass killing of the refugees during the short-lived period the occupation av Gaza Strip in 1956, and countless could recall the 1967 invasion and the continued brutal occupation and colonization that followed.

It is this story that Marte Heian-Engdal so masterfully describes by following four generations The Rantisi family. She uses good literary techniques by including many colorful details also from the political development in Gaza. At the top, we get to meet key Palestinian leaders.

The story of the rise of Hamas with Israel's help and support is startling to many.

The account of the rise of Hamas with Israel's help and support, as a counterweight to the PLO, is sensational for many, and the portrayal of the Palestinian struggle for power in the Gaza Strip is good. President Mahmoud Abbas also gets his passport signed as he deserves. The story of how Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu allowed Qatar to pump millions of dollars into Hamas to make the Islamist party strong, in a divide-and-rule policy towards the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, is included in the book.

I also like the way Heian-Engdal deals with Israel's war against the Palestinians at the turn of 2008/2009. Here she makes an original twist and gives readers a type of insight I rarely see in non-fiction about Palestine. The personal stories from Israel's war against the population of Gaza in 2014 through the fourth generation of the Rantisi family are equally worth reading. We get to follow young Osama's tortuous path out into the world to study. It is touching to read the nice one
the love story that follows. It gives an insight into the traditional Palestinian life that many young people try – and some succeed in – to get out of.

For me is A Gaza life at times like reading a good novel, not least because the stories about Israel's war against ordinary Palestinians are so graphically described. The author moves on safe ground, for this material she knows.

October 7, 2023

The last part of the 377 text pages in A Gaza life covers the time from the Hamas attack on October 7, 2023 and the horrors that followed. The stories from kibbutzim near the borders that were invaded are told in a commendable way. The author separates facts from outrageous claims. For example, the one about the beheading of Israeli infants and similar atrocities that the US president and other leaders repeated, but later had to deny. It was strategic Israeli propaganda.

Heian-Engdal also conveys well the atmosphere of terror among the Palestinians and the evil of the Israeli armed forces in the days, weeks and months that followed. She clings to the Rantisi family and follows them in their escape from their home, just outside Gaza City, southwards and on to safety beyond the coastal strip. This gives the book an extra dimension.


For the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, this is a new one nakba – a disaster. The Israelis' previous displacements of around 80 Palestinians are now taking place on an even larger scale. Homes are razed to the ground, now as in 000 and 1948. In addition, Israel has destroyed universities, hospitals, schools and public buildings. At the top, they are starving the Palestinians. Thus, Israel is guilty of what the UN Criminal Court in The Hague has determined is "a plausible genocide».

This is the first book about Israel's war and war crimes against Gaza's population in 2024, which has been published in Norwegian, as far as I know.

Sparkling non-fiction

Normally, a reviewer is expected to have objections to the book they are reviewing. I have that too, but to a lesser extent. I'm not missing many important facts, just a few.

The first book about Israel's war and war crimes against Gaza's population in 2024 in Norwegian.

Heian-Engdal writes: "That the Jews really needed a state of their own could be ascertained by pointing out that being Jew itself was becoming increasingly dangerous […]. This was the backdrop when a number of Russian and European Jewish men came to the conclusion that the only solution was to establish a separate Jewish state where such persecution could not occur, and where Jewish culture, tradition and religion could be cultivated without fear."

However, she lacks the important information that the first Jews Zionistthe leaders also planned to expel non-Jews who already lived in the future Jewish state.

I have several similar comments, also in mentions of recent history, but it would be easy tiling to address these in a short review. Nor would my quibble change the conclusion: Thank you and praise that we have a knowledgeable Norwegian historian and researcher who writes sparkling non-fiction.

I know from experience that every writer has assistants. Some are friends and acquaintances, others are language cleaners, proofreaders and not least designers who give the books a face. The most important is equally the book's editor.

A Gaza life will be a strong candidate for this year's Brage award nomination.

(Odd) Karsten Tveit has covered the Middle East for over forty years of his journalistic career. He has been NRK's ​​correspondent for three four-year periods and has written several award-winning books. His latest book Palestine. Israel's robbery, our betrayal came out in autumn 2023.

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