When home is no longer home [Book Review]

Sam Bahour
5 min readSep 1, 2022

Among the extensive literature on Palestine and Israel, Stranger in My Own Land: Palestine, Israel and One Family’s Story of Home by Fida Jiryis provides a rare, and rarely accessible, perspective. The author was born to Palestinian parents from Fassouta, a Christian village in Upper Galilee, on the Israeli side of the Lebanese border. As a child, Jiryis lived through the horrors of the 1982 Lebanon war and then moved with her family to Cyprus. She is one of a handful of Palestinians who tried to exercise their right to return, only to find that home was no longer home. She ended up studying in Scotland, living in Canada, and ultimately returning to Palestine: to Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.

Her book guides us through her journey. First, though, she provides crucial context — including an account of her family’s trials and traumas in the aftermath of the creation of Israel by force in 1948 and their decision to stay on in Palestine rather than flee. Their story is the story of the Palestinian people.

Hers is a family memoir intertwined with Palestinian history and the struggle for emancipation, in Israel as well as in occupied Palestinian territory. The family’s story illuminates the human dimensions of the Palestinians’ ongoing plight: dispossession, military rule, resistance, emigration, struggle, loss, dispersion, and ultimately returning home.

Though everyone interested in the Middle East knows that 1948 was a pivotal year, they rarely encounter an authentic insider account of how Palestinians who stayed in Israel (behind the Green Line) dealt with their new Israeli citizenship. Few are aware of their many legitimate, nonviolent, attempts to challenge their inferior status under Israel’s political system. With little success, until resort to violence began to seem the only option not yet tried. Jiryis describes what she encountered when she entered the landscape of this complex reality: ‘Our identity was a warped mutation between Palestinian and Israeli; we were a minority struggling to survive, while trying to hold on to its own fabric.’

The author’s father, the renowned Sabri Jiryis, was at the forefront of this challenge. One of the first Palestinian political activists inside Israel, an active member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation and trusted confidant…