Review of ‘Return’ by Ghada Karmi

“We travel like other people, but we return to nowhere ... 
we have a country of words” - Mahmoud Darwish

 Return is a memoir of what it is like to live through exile and occupation of Palestine from the perspective of a daughter, mother, sister and activist who grew up in Jerusalem prior to Al Nakba in 1948.


From a personal perspective it tells the story of British failure and complicity in the United Nations sponsored formation of yet another settler state at a time when national liberation struggles were in full swing in India, China, and Africa.

The book tells of the sad anomaly of Palestine through the eyes of a young girl and then, upon her return in 2005, the dismay at how the national liberation struggle had become complicit in further settlement of the apartheid state of Israel.

Ghada Karmi, a medical doctor from London and daughter of a famous Palestinian scholar living in exile Amman in Jordan, was engaged as a media consultant by the Palestinian Authority and paid by the UN Development Program.

Ghada Karmi arrives in her homeland when her father, over 100 years old, is very sick and when her country is being carved up by Ariel Sharon, the butcher of Beirut.

During her return Gaza is made into an open air prison by the Israeli military under the pretext of withdrawal of Israeli settlements. Hamas is elected to government and the Palestinian authority is feeling the failure of the Oslo Accord in 1993.

The author remembers “the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) at its zenith in the 1960s” and is critical of the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to acknowledge the failure of the ‘two-state solution’ where it pretends that it is an equal partner with Israel and not a people struggling under brutal occupation. Karmi tells of complicity of Palestinian businessmen with the Israeli authorities in assisting to build the settlements for Zionists with no connection with Palestine.

This is a personal account where the author meets many Palestinian leaders from Darwish to Abbas. Ghada tells the story of Fatima al-Basha a family maid who looked after her as a child during a time of turmoil. Ghada tells of the Palestinian revolt against British rule in the form of a general strike that closed the port of Jaffa where the famous oranges were exported to Europe. This was countered by the opening a rival port at Tel Aviv, later to become the capital of the newly formed Israel, after the terrorist gang, Haganah, had pushed people from their homes.

Karmi writes:

“Assisted by the nascent 15,000-strong Jewish army that the British had trained and which the Jews named the Haganah, they put down the revolt with brutal harshness. Thousands of Palestinians, most of them peasants, were killed, their leaders executed or imprisoned, and many homes were demolished – a practice faithfully emulated by Israel against the Palestinians today.”

Ghada Karmi’s focus is upon the need for Return denied her generation resulting in a loss of identity. She tells of a strong sense of national identity forged by the PLO in exile being lost upon Arafat’s return to Gaza and then finally to Ramallah.

The promise of statehood under the two-state solution, denied to the 1948 generation, is subverted and finally lost. Such a solution meant that the people of Jerusalem (and those of many Palestinian villages inside Israel) would never be able to return to their homes. Including Ghada Karmi and her family.

Interestingly, although much of the story of Karmi’s involvement with the Palestinian authority occurs in 2005 there is no mention of Palestinian civil society’s call for a ‘boycott, divestment and sanction campaign’ (BDS) against Israel.

It is this call that puts to one side the sectarian rivalry created around the ‘two-state solution’ and asks people to censure Israel directly for its crimes under international law. It would be interesting to hear Ghada Karmi’s views on BDS.

Nevertheless, the carve-up of Gaza and subsequent war crimes by Israel in punishing Palestinians for their dreams puts tactical questions in the shade.

Ghada Karmi tells how important is the Return for the cultural survival of her people. But Karmi does not shirk any issue, she explores the role of Islam and how the importance of women in the struggle is down-played when it is the women who keep a central part of the resistance alive – the Palestinian family.

It is her reflection on Fatima’s life that brings home the greatest sense of loss for the author. Her parents found refuge in a social and intellectual world to substitute for the place they lost but their daughter, Ghada writes about her beloved Fatima:

“Fatima’s house was small and square-shaped with a wooden roof. Inside it was cool and homely, its one room the place where everyone sat, ate and slept. Fatima’s family was poor and just managed to make ends meet, but in my memory it could not have been richer. Fatima’s daughters were warm and affectionate and it seemed to me everyone loved and cared for each other. We relished the simple peasant food she gave us – homemade bread – local black and green olives, fresh spring onions, olive oil and thyme, and it was as if we had eaten the best food in the world.”

I recommend this book.

Ian Curr
30 Aug 2015

Excerpts From: Ghada Karmi. “Return: A Palestinian Memoir” Verso Books.

Return is available in Brisbane at Avid Reader. Details of launch are below:

Where: Avid Reader Bookshop , 193 Boundary St, West End, Brisbane, Queensland 4101 (AU).
Date: Friday, 4, September, 2015
Time: 6:00:pm –   8:00:pm

2 thoughts on “Review of ‘Return’ by Ghada Karmi

  1. Interview with Ghada Karmi says:

    [soundcloud url="" params="auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true" width="100%" height="450" iframe="true" /]

Please comment down below