by Nazih Abu Nidal
Throughout her literary journey, Sahar Khalifeh has registered the realities of Palestinian life. Thus, her work constitutes a very immediate documentation of our modern history. Sahar Khalifeh does not wait for events to ferment, but ventures to write about them as they unfold, giving her work the value of an affidavit or document beyond any literary judgement.
In al-Subbar (The Cactus, 1976) and Abbad al-Shams (The Sunflower, 1980), Sahar Khalifeh registers the events of the occupation and Palestinians’ resistance. She also depicts the complicated problem related to the option of Sumud, that is of remaining in the homeland, while being forced to work in the occupier’s institutions and establishments, or leaving the homeland in search of the family’s livelihood. In Bab el-Saha (The Door to the Courtyard, 1990), the author registers the history of the Palestinian Intifada drawing deep parallels with women’s struggle against their history of enslavement.
At the end of her novel al-Mirath (The Inheritance, 1997), Khalifeh stops to ponder the catastrophic events that followed the Oslo agreements and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority - whose identity was forged through Hebrew letters and the will of a Zionist military governor. The Palestinians’ whole being was splintered, then eroded by the occupation, individual interests and the privileges granted to the “nouveau riche” of the “revolution” and their sycophants. This laid the ground for the present Intifada.
Khalifeh, while registering major events in modern Palestinian history, does not neglect the other main focus of her creative drive: The issue of womens’ rights. She utilizes the atrocious realities of women’s enslavement and lack of emancipation to incite revolt and achieve equality.
This is a primary theme in all of her novels, especially Lam N’aud Jawari Lakum (We are Not Your Slaves Any More) and Muthakkirat Imra’ah Ghair Wki’iyyah (Memoirs of an Idealistic Woman). Sahar Khalifeh’s creativity is manifest in the dialectic connection between the issues of nationality and gender. All her novels present a picture of women as social martyrs. This picture is repeated in a number of variations, becoming the author’s statement of defense in favor of women and against male behavior in the patriarchal Arab society.
In Sahar Khalifeh’s six novels, there are ever-ready battle grounds on which the author pitches men against women. And even when conditions of national confrontation dictate a unification of forces against a common national enemy, Khalifeh still lets out war cries against men. Nevertheless, the events and characters within her novels indicate that the gender issue can never be resolved just by struggling against men; rather both sexes must battle manifestations of oppression on both the social and national levels, including that against women. Men, in the final analysis, are the victims of their social history and current environment. Even women have been historically programmed to conform to a male perspective of women. As a result, many have taken an aggressive stand towards their own kind, whereas many progressive men have taken a stand supportive of women’s rights.
Sahar Khalifeh emphasizes that the involvement of both genders in the national struggle would guarantee the strengthening of women’s position,elevating it and changing Arab society’s patriarchal behavior and attitude towards them.
In her novels, Khalifeh discusses whether the problems of alienation and identity lie within the person who is searching, as in the cases of Zeina, the young woman who comes from America or Hamdan Guevara, who comes from a world of revolution and theories in Beirut and Tunis; or if the real problem lies within what is being created on Palestinian soil in the guise of the “Palestinian Authority”, while the occupation strangles the Palestinians by continuing to confiscate and settle their lands, oppressing and degrading its people.
Khalifeh also questions whether the real problem is the incredibly backward society, which imposes such pressures on people’s lives that it becomes impossible to detach oneself from this, even by moving to another place to reach a happier or more reasonable conclusion to one’s search.