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Genevieve Cora Fraser: A Little Piece of Ground

"A Little Piece of Ground"
- Emblematic of Palestine and a Matter of Shame for Israel

By Genevieve Cora Fraser

I can see why the full weight of Zionist propaganda and intimidation tactics were leveled against Elizabeth Laird's children's masterpiece, "A Little Piece of Ground," targeted at an 11- 14 year-old readership. Truth can be painful, especially when it unmasks the real terrorist activity in Palestine, the state sponsored reign of terror orchestrated by the Israel Defense Force against families in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

"A Little Piece of Ground" is a beautifully written but intensely painful book. In today's world most preteens and teens are saturated with televised news and entertainment featuring violence and arch-villains. Laird's book is careful in describing conditions in Palestine, without targeting any religious group or ethnicity as the culprit. But what kids may need help with as they work through the multi-layered drama is placing blame where it belongs, on the politics and policies of Israel, not the world-wide Jewish community.

At heart, this is a gentle book that takes you into the inner life of the Aboudi family as seen through the eyes of the 12 year old Karim, a boy desperate to stretch his legs and play football and struggling to cope with his love-sick older brother and annoying younger sisters. "There is no place to play properly," he complains because the Israeli tanks have trashed the local school and playing field as well as areas throughout his home town of Ramallah. And there is so little time to play, or get groceries for that matter. The life of a typical Palestinian family is a life lived under curfew, where families are forced into nearly unbearable hardship, trapped in an apartment for days and weeks at a time, where stepping outside for a breath of fresh air may result in a bullet to the head.

The book also takes you on a journey into Ramallah during moments when the city is free to breathe before residents are locked up once again like criminals in holding cells. Karim's father is a merchant from a well-to-do village farming family. What should be a happy family week-end in the country becomes a nightmarish journey due to illegal settlement activities in the country side. At an impromptu checkpoint, Karim's father is forced out of the car and made to strip at gunpoint. He is joined in the humiliation by other men out for a family ride and a village elder in long flowing robes. Later at the farm, the act of harvesting olives nearly ends in the execution of the family by Israeli settlers who have decided that what has belonged to the Aboudi family for generations now belongs to them.

As the action progresses, Karim is befriended by a classmate who has grown up in a refugee camp and is determined to retake a bulldozed lot to make a proper place to play football, and to create a secret den as an after school hide-out. The effort to retake "a little piece of ground" brings them face to face with Israeli tanks and soldiers and a near fatal adventure that takes the reader into the heart of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

In addition to being a book about the youth of Palestine, "A Little Piece of Ground" has a message for the Palestinian people suffering under a 37-year-long brutal occupation, the longest in modern history. Before returning from the village to Ramallah, Karim's father, Hassan Aboudi sat silent at the family meal, but then "straightened his back and looked round the table. 'Endurance,' he said. 'That's what takes courage. Decency among ourselves. That's where we must be strong. When they steal from us and try to humiliate us, the real shame is on themselves.'"

Published in August 2003, "A Little Piece of Ground" was written with the assistance of the Palestinian author Sonia Nimr and published by Macmillan Children's Books, ISBN 0 330 43679 1. Cost UK £8.99 CDN $18.99. Discount prices are available.

Note: I was unable to purchase "A Little Piece of Ground" through in the United States, perhaps due to pressure from you-know-who, but was able to do so through their United Kingdom store. The book also appears to be available through the Amazon Canada site and may be purchased through your local bookstore by using the ISBN number (I hope, unless you-know-who has gotten to them too).

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