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Children of Catastrophe: Journey from a Palestinian Refugee Camp to America [Kindle Edition]

Jamal Kanj
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $24.95
Kindle Price: $2.99
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Book Description

A great deal has been written over the years addressing the Palestine-Israel conflict, and the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem. However, few works on the subject really present the personal aspect: What is it like to be a refugee? What propels a decent human being to take up arms, to become a freedom fighter or a terrorist? This book tells the remarkable story of one such refugee, following his journey from childhood in the Nahr El Bared Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, becoming a member of the PLO, through to eventual emigration, a new life as an engineer in the United States, and a 'return' trip to historic Palestine. Running parallel to the personal narrative, the book 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 despite more than sixty years of dispossession, war and repression.


Editorial Reviews

Review

Born ten years after the "Nakba" (the Arabic word for "catastrophe," denoting Palestinian refugee exodus that attended the creation of the state of Israel), Jamal Kanj was born and raised in Lebanon in the Nahr El Bared refugee camp, which was recently destroyed by the Lebanese Army during fighting with Fatah al Islam, before immigrating to the United States. In this memoir, he describes life growing up in the camp, focusing on both the daily life of Palestinians in the camp and on the politics of the refugees (Kanj himself became a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization for a time). He also includes a chapter discussing the 2007 destruction of the camp.

Jamal Kanj’s story evokes all the emotions experienced through life’s trials, enhanced and exaggerated by it being experienced within a refugee camp that remained under continual stress from external forces. The book is well written and does not dwell on the deprivations, but instead emphasizes the successes of life within the camp, successes against many seemingly overwhelming odds. From that success, the success of survival and more, the Palestinian identity will remain strong within its own community. Children of Catastrophe helps explain that identity and brings it to life in a straight forward manner, for those beyond the borders of the community, to the larger community of global humanitarian awareness.

The Israel and Palestine conflict has shattered countless lives. "Children of Catastrophe: Journey from a Palestinian Refugee Camp to America" is a memoir form Jamal Krayem Kanj, as he reflects on his own journey through the conflict, and how from a refugee camp struggling to survive he found his way to America and made his own way in life. A unique story with a powerful message, "Children of Catastrophe" is a moving and thoughtful read that would do well in any international memoir collection.

About the Author

JAMAL KANJ was born in a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon ten years after the creation of the state of Israel. He moved to the United States in late 1977, and has been active in various local and national political organizations. He is a cofounder of the Middle East Cultural and Information Center in San Diego and served as the Secretary General for the US chapter of the General Union of Palestine Students. Today, Kanj is a professional engineer who works on water infrastructure management.

Product Details

  • File Size: 977 KB
  • Print Length: 243 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1859642624
  • Publisher: Garnet Publishing; 1 edition (August 1, 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003ZYEXCE
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #522,237 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Takes you there, for better or worse... August 16, 2010
By Kat
Format:Paperback
Great insight into life in a refugee camp, paints an incredibly detailed picture. As an American, this book showed me a slice of life I never knew existed. Really shows the incredible spirit of the Palestinian people. While the subject matter overall is serious and sad, the book, while serious, is fascinating and entertaining.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
The Israel and Palestine conflict has shattered countless lives. "Children of Catastrophe: Journey from a Palestinian Refugee Camp to America" is a memoir form Jamal Krayem Kanj, as he reflects on his own journey through the conflict, and how from a refugee camp struggling to survive he found his way to America and made his own way in life. A unique story with a powerful message, "Children of Catastrophe" is a moving and thoughtful read that would do well in any international memoir collection.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb September 12, 2010
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I highly recommend this book. Most Americans know nothing about what happened to the Palestinians in 1948, thanks to a highly successful censorship and disinformation process here in the United States. This book shows one small piece of a massive human tragedy that has been completely ignored by Hollywood.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the untold January 16, 2011
Format:Paperback
To me, reading memoirs is like reading thick textbooks, and I never read them if I don't have to for school. I picked up Kanji's book with this mindset, expecting to drop it after a few pages. But, the next thing I knew, two hours had passed and I was over halfway through the book. The prose was simple, but powerful. The book was littered with facts yet still intimate. The story itself was violent and somehow also beautiful. I recommend this book, not just to people interested in Middle Eastern politics or culture, but to anyone looking for a powerful story they've never read before.

There aren't that many out there.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The parents of Jamal Kanj, the author, were alongside 800,000 other Palestinians, evacuated from their villages and towns by Israeli terrorist groups, an ethnic cleansing that was supported by the founding Israeli Government and overseen by the former British occupiers of Palestine. One of these terrorist groups, the Haganah, served as the foundation of the now official army of Israel, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF).

Jamal wasn't yet born when his family was pursued through the upper Galillee and into Southern Lebanon. He was born a refugee in the Nahr al Bared refugee camp in Lebanon where his family was placed with several thousand other Palestinians. The rights afforded to other Lebanese nationals: the rights for travel and education and self-determinacy were stripped from him and his family. Through no fault of their own, the Palestinians were now exiled from their homeland.

This book describes the life of Jamal. He lives his whole childhood in the square mile refugee camp. What starts off in 1949 as a shelter for Palestinian refugees set up with basic tent facilities, transforms over time to a vibrant town supporting its own community through trade and development. It is also a story of a victim that keeps getting punished. The camp is continuously targeted by Israeli forces in retaliation attacks for crimes committed elsewhere or through acts of aggression aimed at instilling fear in the population, trying to extinguishing any flailing hopes left of them one day returning to their homeland. Jamal leaves the camp at 16 or 17 to study in Baghdad and soon after is accepted to an american university.

Much of the book is interspersed with political events of the time and of historical background.
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More About the Author

I was born in a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon ten years after the creation of the state of Israel. Moved to the United States in late 1977, and has been active in various local and national political organizations. Cofounder of the Middle East Cultural and Information Center in San Diego and served as the Secretary General of the US chapter of a national Palestinian student union. I have a BS degree in Civil Engineering and MBA in Global Management. I am a California registered professional engineer and work on water infrastructure management.

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. 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; survived serious head injuries in Jerusalem in 1996 and worked with the UN in Gaza for part of 1997.


1. About the Book

A great deal has been written over the years on the Palestine-Israel conflict, and the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem. However, few works on the subject really present the personal aspect: What is it like to be a refugee? What propels a decent human being to take up arms, to become a freedom fighter or a "terrorist?"

This book tells of the author's journey from childhood in the Nahr El Bared Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, becoming a member of the PLO, through to eventual emigration, a new life as an engineer in the United States, and a 'return' trip to historic Palestine.

Running parallel to the personal narrative, the book 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 despite more than sixty years of dispossession, war and repression.

The book illustrates how refugees are able to remain uniquely Palestinians, and to survive socially, economically, and politically during the hypothetically "temporary" resident status in Lebanon. The refugees have indefatigably remained part of a nation, without the state. Israeli writer Danny Rubinstein said it best when describing the Palestinians in his book:

Every people in the world lives in a place. For Palestinians, the place lives in them.

The book story will move you emotionally and challenge you intellectually. It is heartrending, yet joyful. You are invited to a journey into the daily life of a refugee to discover hope and the "place" that lives inside every Palestinian.

2. THE MAIN THEMES AND OBJECTIVES

The story is a collection of events and people that have formed parts of the author's life experience either by chance, choice or circumstance. The book focuses on the inimitable personal experiences of refugees. The refugees' continued dilemma has shaped the trying Middle East peace process, hindering thus far a final agreement between the Palestinians and Israel.

The personal storyline relates how refugees in Lebanon survived following the 1948 catastrophe or "Al Nakba", despite many years of political repression. Their revolt twenty years later signalled the start of a tumultuous period in Lebanon and lead to the rise of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as the new undisputed universal authority for the Palestinian people.

Palestinian camps in Lebanon were uniquely positioned to carry the beacon for the "right of return" even after more than sixty years in Diaspora. The book explains how refugees are able to sustain themselves and how they endure the theoretically "temporary" resident status in Lebanon.


2. OVERALL BOOK STRUCTURE

The book starts with a brief historical background leading into the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem. The short background prepares the reader to navigate gently into the volatile daily life, building the camp, economy, political consciousness, the PLO emergence, and finally the camp's destruction.

The personal narrative takes the reader through the experience of growing up in the camp: How children were able to deal with their daily tribulations, yet were able to end up growing like normal dynamic human beings: it recounts how as a grown up teenager the author experienced love and cheated death in Israeli raids.

The structure then leads to the ultimate experience of many young Palestinian refugees who seek life outside the camp in order to support those who remain behind. It details the author's experience of visiting his long lost homeland and meeting for the first time relatives who remained in their homes after the creation of the state of Israel. The book concludes with the story of the destruction of Nahr El Bared camp at the hand of the Lebanese army in the summer of 2007.

3. WHY IT IS NEEDED

A myriad of books has been written to make fervent, and at times, one-sided polemics on the Palestine and Israel conflict. Nonetheless, little of the literature addresses the refugees' collective life experiences in the camps.

The book addresses the following questions:

* How were the camps created in Lebanon? How they were managed? How were refugees able to survive economically?
* In the larger Middle East context, why have Palestinian refugees refused to settle in the new host countries even after over sixty years since the creation of the State of Israel?
* Why is resolving the refugee issue vital to a lasting peace in the Middle East?

Answering the above questions will further the reader's awareness of the human aspect to the historical argument in the current public debate.

This book takes the reader on a journey into life in Nahr El Bared, where they will learn more about the refugees and their lost memories in a place they call home.

3. WHAT MAKES THE BOOK SPECIAL

The book goes beyond the internecine arguments and seeks to focus on the inimitable personal experiences of the lives of refugees. It explains how the refugees' problem has influenced the difficult political process blocking thus far an agreement between the Palestinians and Israel.

The book's subject is a unique reference for those seeking to understand how refugee camps in Lebanon are able to survive despite the economic, social and political hurdles imposed by the Government.

The author's handling of personal subject matter deftly intertwines political and emotional perspectives. As a result, it is an affecting read for those looking for the true story behind the Middle East peace process, widely perceived as "irrational and convoluted".

Kanj intends to answer the reader's curiosity about the Palestine refugee dynamics in the overall political setting, conflict and resolution. The refugee factor is becoming now even more pertinent as the refugee issue was a major cause not only for the failure of Camp David during the final months of the Clinton administration, but also for the continued impasse in the various peace initiatives and the ongoing negotiations between the Israeli Government and the Palestinian authority.

Unlike other books which discuss the Palestinian conflict, this book attempts to engage the readers on an emotional level in order for them to fathom the vehement radical stance taken today by some against Israel, and the Western military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan.



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