By: Wasan Abu-Baker*
Dr. Rola Ghanem is a Palestinian contemporary novelist, from the city of Tulkarem. Her short story, Feelings Out of the Law, is a beautiful piece that creatively covers a significance topic within Palestinian society. She is brave to bring to light social issues found in society which challenge traditions, customs, and values long held in Palestine.
The title of the novel means the feelings that oppose laws in society. Love doesn’t adapt itself to the laws of society, it breaks all barriers. Those laws are not those associated with legality, they are the authority of the old traditions and customs that still control our lives. Sometimes traditional society harms us, hinders our progress in life, prevents us from pursuing happiness replacing it with misery, and imposes backwardness and disability. Dr. Rola Ghanem carries these concerns of her Palestinian society on her shoulders, writing about the Palestinian cause and finding solutions. She likes to narrate short novels with a joyful end for her characters who struggle. Women have a strong presence in her novels.
The patriarchal Palestinian society contains an element of oppression to women, mistreatment of the lower socioeconomic classes. Palestinian society also places a strong emphasis on education which is viewed by many as a means to obtain freedom from the occupation. Palestinians pursue knowledge and education despite the constant checkpoints and closures put up by the Israeli Army.
In Palestinian society, this desire to pursue progress creates these contradictions and challenges. Palestinians want to progress, on the other hand, we send our children to universities expecting that the genders will not mix. In this novel, Abu Rafiq, Ahlam’s father, represents patriarchal society. His wealth and position of power allow him to control family decisions. Abu Rafiq loves learning and progress but contradicts himself by adhering to strict and unreasonable customs and traditions that hinder the science and progress. These traditions collide with the freedom of the individual and deprive them of dignity and personality. He sends his daughter to the Arab American university in Jenin and encourages her to learn, despite her fear of the university environment and distance from her hometown of Tulkarem. While at college Ahlam falls in love with Baha, a security guard he grew up in the Jenin refugee camp. He was a high school dropout; his father was martyred in the intifada and his brother imprisoned.
When Ahlam’s father found out about the relationship he forced her to leave college and sent her to live in Dubai with her uncle. Her grandmother, whom she was attached to while living in Palestine, quickly got sick and passed away after Ahlam was sent away. Abu Rafiq eventually comes around, changes his mind, and Ahlam marries Baha. Dr. Rola Ghanem manages to portray Abu Rafiq in a good light and overcomes that traditional stubbornness usually depicted in Palestinian society. However, this change only occurred after a difficult challenge and loss have occurred. These actions are a part of a repeating cycle where we continue making the same mistakes as our previous generation, but Dr. Ghanem brings the story to good end by showing the possibility of change and enlightenment in Abu Rafiq.
Also in the novel are marginalized female characters; Ahlam, Baha mother, Om Moaid who suffers from her relationship with her husband expressing her feelings and her bad luck. Om Hatem who has two sons who have been imprisoned, shows the patience and steadfastness of Palestinian women.
We are also introduced to Ahlam’s Grandmother who stands up for Om Hatem, her neighbor when the Israeli soldiers arrested Om Hatem’s son. That is the symbol of the Palestinian woman standing strong to protect her community in the face of anything. The novel also introduces us to Ahlam’s friends in college who are Three girls who share their feelings about their daily suffering with the Israeli checkpoints.
*Wasan Abu-Baker is an American activist with a Palestinian origin. She is vice chair of Corpus Christi National Justice for our Neighbors in Corpus Christi, Texas, a member of ABCD New addition Team, and a staff writer for Kings River Life Magazine in the US. She holds an MA in special education from St John Fisher College in Rochester, New York.