Return to Gaza – Arthur Neslen in the Guardian

Arthur Neslen in Gaza

Writing in the Guardian, Arthur Neslen, author of Occupied Minds: A Journey Through the Israeli Psyche, recounts his experience of being attacked in Gaza in 2009:

On 26 May 2009, I had finished an interview at the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) headquarters in Gaza City and was taking photographs outside for a book I was writing about Palestinian identity. Visitors to the Strip were few and far between then, especially after the kidnap of the BBC journalist Alan Johnston by Palestinian militants in 2007. I’d worked with Alan at the BBC World Service, and after his abduction I put off going to Gaza for as long as I could. But after his release, and then Israel’s bombing campaign and invasion the following winter, I needed to return. Mental health groups were reporting an epidemic of post-traumatic stress sweeping the Strip that no book about Palestinian identity could ignore.

That day as I crouched, snapping away, a finger tapped my back. I turned and hauled myself up to see a young, trim-bearded man in a red bandanna, smiling from ear to ear. He looked so pleased to see me that I automatically smiled back and said, “Ahlan wa sahlan” (“Greetings”). But the man, whom I will call Khalid, seemed in a trance. Still smiling, he held up a long, red-and-white-handled dagger. Then he unsheathed the blade, raised it above his head and plunged it towards my chest. A split-second of dissonance between the smile and the dagger broke with a jolt as I spun around and sprinted off down the street, yelling for help.

Last year Neslen met up with his attacker, Khalid, who has changed his views on Western visitors to Gaza:

Throughout our conversation, I have consciously tried to calm any tension by slowing my speech, lowering my tone, avoiding any outward sign of emotion. “The most important thing is that nobody told me that these people did not launch wars against the Palestinians,” Khalid says. “Since then, I have understood that they did not and things have been better. There are solidarity people who come here to help. If they didn’t hurt Palestinians, I would, of course, be happy to work with them and be friends.”

At this, I lean forward and we embrace. As we do, I feel my shoulder blades instinctively tense. I realise that I don’t actually know how I feel towards Khalid. His initial justification to the police after the attack on me had been that he thought I was “a Yahud [Jew] who had come to steal Palestinian land”. Perhaps it was a plea for extenuating circumstances. The only Jews he had ever met were uniformed gunmen who brought with them fears of collaboration, expulsion and death.

I do not request an apology and none is offered. Khalid has been a diagnosed schizophrenic since 2007 and, Asad says, had never behaved violently before he was arrested during Operation Cast L

Visit the Guardian to read the article in full.

Occupied Minds

A Journey Through the Israeli Psyche

Arthur Neslen

Illustrated interviews with Israelis, offering a unique insight into the diversity and contradictions of Israeli identity.

“Occupied Minds is meticulously and rigorously researched and referenced, with detailed footnotes. It is an excellent book for the serious general reader on the Isreali-Palestine/Arab conflict, giving a broad, comprehensive spectrum of people, a confluence of ideas and ideologies. For people who already have a certain depth of background understanding, clear of myths and misapprehensions, and to experts in this tragic conflict, it fills in the minutiae.” – Jewish Socialist

“[This book] is an important key to understanding the realities beyond the headlines.” – Internet Bookwatch

£17.99 only £16.00 on the Pluto site

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