Frequently Asked Questions
Violence can be upsetting for kids as it is for adults. But violence of many sorts is already part of kids’ everyday lives, not to mention what they see online and in media. Some students’ homes and communities experience violence. Popular culture is full of violence, including in books like Harry Potter, Little Women, and Lord of the Flies that kids already read in schools.
I don’t believe the way to address the potential of upsetting readers is to hide information from kids about how their peers in other places live. On the contrary, reading, analyzing and processing violence in books can help kids understand the violence in their own lives and help build their views about violence and how to disrupt it. And if you think it’s traumatizing for kids to read about Israeli military occupation, imagine growing up there!
Good question with several answers! First, this book is about a Palestinian-American girl and her relationship with her identity and homeland. It’s her experience. There is no Israeli “side” of this person’s experience. Second, Ida in the Middle is a novel, a work of fiction, and should not be expected to live up to criteria you might apply in a college course on Israel–Palestine or a newspaper article seeking to explain the history behind the news headlines. Third, there are many books, films, organizations, etc. that portray and share Israeli experiences while Palestinian stories have been marginalized. This book is a Palestinian story that can help bring Palestinians to the forefront of discussions and push back against that marginalization.
Most importantly, there are not just two sides! Palestinians have many diverse positions about the political situation and Israelis also hold a broad spectrum of opinions. In other words, there isn’t one Israeli “side” to show. Ida in the Middle does portray Israelis who choose to act differently in relation to Palestine than one might expect.
Antisemitism is hatred of Jews. There is nothing antisemitic about the existence of Palestinians, Palestinian views, or honestly considering Israeli policy. And there is nothing pro-Jewish about supporting Israel unconditionally. Israel is a state like any other state, and people should be able to criticize the decisions of the Israeli government in the same way they can criticize any other state.
Anyone who has learned the narrative that Israel is perfect, innocent, and above reproach might feel uncomfortable reading about how Israeli policy affects Palestinians in the story. That kind of discomfort, I would argue, is good and certainly not to be avoided.
The truth is that I wanted to write a book that my daughters would love. When they were kids, they were voracious readers (and they still are). I wanted to write a book they would find exciting and tell their friends about. At the time I wrote “Ida in the Middle” I didn’t have any hopes that anyone else would read the book or that it might contribute to better understanding of Palestinians. Now, as it’s publication approaches, I do have those hopes.
Not exactly, but pretty much everything that happens in the book happened to us or people we loved while we were living in Palestine from 2004-2017 and continues to happen today. The characters are also amalgams of real people–friends, family, acquaintances. Ida originally grew from my observations of my middle daughter, Jassi, who, like Ida, was “in between” a lot of stuff when she grew up. Like Ida, Jassi grew to embrace the many aspects of herself and develop into her own person with clear beliefs and commitments about how to make a difference in the world. All kids have to figure out who they are and how to live, and I think they benefit from reading about other kids’ journeys.
I hope you will read more! Reach out to Palestinians! Listen to the news critically! Seek non-mainstream sources of information! Get involved in social justice efforts that will help liberate all peoples!
For children’s books in English, you may want to check out Randa Abdel Fattah, Ibtisam Barakat, Ahlam Bsharat, Susan Muaddi Darraj, Sonia Nimr, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Wafa Shami, among others. For adults, some prominent fiction and non-fiction writers available in English are Susan Abulhawa, Hala Alayan, Ghasan Kanafani, Rashid Khalidi, Sahar Khalifeh, Edward Said and Adania Shibli, among many, many others
Sadly, at least in the United States, many people believe that Palestinian humanity and rights come at the expense of Jews. Good and decent people do not want to harm Jews, so they tend to keep quiet and allow US policy to continue feeding ongoing violence in Israel–Palestine. Palestine is a big deal for me because in my own Jewish upbringing, I was taught that standing up for the oppressed and fighting for equality is integral to living an ethical life. It’s also a matter of self-interest: How can anyone be safe until everyone is safe? How can anyone be liberated while someone else is oppressed? I hope that folks who agree with me will speak out and take action for social justice in Palestine and elsewhere.