Wall of tears: The human face of the Israel-Palestine conflict

Author: David Kerr

Review by: Mark Furlong

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This novel purports to be even-handed and grounded in fact. In fact, the plot is profoundly partisan. For this reason it is impossible to review Wall of Tears without being a spoiler. I apologize. The following gives away a good part of the book’s story.

Wall of tears is an account of the history of two families, one Israeli and the other Palestinian. One figure – Uri, a Jewish boy who matures to become a successful doctor and humanist – is at the centre of this fictional account. His counterpart – Ghazi, from a Palestinian family – has a very different trajectory. He grows up to be a mechanic and misanthropic terrorist. At its base, this pointed contrast is the lesson the reader is incited to learn.

In their youth Ghazi and Uri are neighbours: their families first meet when Ghazi’s dispossessed family are compassionately treated  by Uri’s father Abdiel. Over the period described in the book Abdiel, very much facilitated by Uri’s love and professional expertise, is healed from his trauma as a holocaust survivor. This growth allows Abdiel to face his looming mortality, as it also enables father and son to achieve a never-been-better relationship. This trajectory is counterpointed by the destructive path taken by Ghazi and his family. The key feature in this descent is the murder of Abi – who is in love with Uri – by her brother Ghazi. A romantic backstory sets up this homicide.

Why did Ghazi murder his sister? Arguably, the account of Ghazi’s motivation is lock-and-key to the bias inherent in the book. Leaving the detail out, Ghazi’s motivation is not said to be tethered to his loyalty to a cause. Rather, something base is at work: Ghazi is deeply jealous of Uri. He is a prestigious success. I am only a grease-monkey. In this vision Ghazi acts dishonourably whilst Uri remains the good man.

In concert with the persistent image of men having agency and women being carers, this unbalanced depiction embeds an Exodus-like quality. Less speculatively, a good deal of what is presented as fact is misleading if not wrong. For example, in the ‘Key events’ chronology set out at the book’s conclusion one reads: ‘2008 – Israel launches Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in Gaza after repeated rocket firings into the south of Israel.’ Unambiguously, this is not an adequate, let alone unbiased, account of an event where casualties were astonishingly asymmetric.

Wall of Tears is an infuriating book if one’s starting point is the premise that Palestinians have suffered, and continue to suffer, monumental injustice at the hands of the Israel state and its international backers. On the other hand, if one believes both Israelis and Palestinians have been, and continue to be, subject to trauma then Wall of Tears is a well-meaning novel that attempts, however unevenly, to humanize the history of conflict between two groups – mindful one ‘side’ in this conflict is a militarized state and the other a dispossessed people.