Paul Cossali and Clive Robson, Stateless in Gaza (London: Zed Press, 1986).

Stateless in Gaza comprises interviews with 60 Gazans — from women activists to housewives, from resistance writers to laborers in Israel — who talk about life in the occupied strip. Cossali, a teacher and solidarity activist, and Robson, a development worker, allow Gazans to tell their stories directly, bringing into focus the major issues that confront those who live in this “forgotten corner of Palestine.”

Their first chapter, a brief historical background, is supplemented by reminiscences of those interviewed on such topics as life before occupation, the role of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency after 1950, Egypt’s policy toward Gaza and the impact of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) there.

Women express their views on social issues in the second chapter. The authors present these as “essentially a right-left right-left split,” using these categories broadly. “[T]he right believes that considering issues such as the role of family, attitudes of and towards women, marriage and social divisions is a luxury and an irrelevance while Israeli troops are still on every street corner. The left, broadly speaking, sees the failure to tackle conservative social attitudes as a contributing factor to the failure to achieve that Israeli withdrawal.

A discussion of national leadership and resistance draws on local Palestinians’ assessments of the pre-intifada period. According to the authors, the Israelis have often interpreted West Bank and Gazan criticism of the “outside leadership” (the PLO) as a call for “moderate” leadership. In fact, Cossali and Robson write, “the majority of Gazans we spoke to are calling for a more radical, more decisive and more open leadership.” At the time of these interviews, the authors suggest, an organized grassroots movement was slowly being constructed, representing “the first real attempt to organise from the bottom.”

Stateless in Gaza was not intended to be an academic work with a structured analysis. It is valuable primarily for its simple, first-hand relay of the voices of so many “forgotten” Gazans. The book is greatly enriched by the variety in the backgrounds of those interviewed. A little more information about the authors themselves — their relation to Gaza and its inhabitants — would have been helpful.

How to cite this article:

Rania Atalla "Cossali and Robson, Stateless in Gaza," Middle East Report 157 (March/April 1989).

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