‘All the Rivers,’ An Israeli-Palestinian Love Story
All the Rivers: A Novel By Dorit Rabinyan. Translated by Jessica Cohen (Random House, 264 pp. $27)
Sitting in the comfort of my liberal enclave in New York City and reading Dorit Rabinyan’s book about an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man who meet in Greenwich Village and fall in love, I try to comprehend that this best seller was censored in Israel.
A few months after All the Rivers was published there in May 2014, the country’s Ministry of Education removed it from its high school reading list. Education Minister Naftali Bennett explained that the book presents Israel’s soldiers as “criminal sadists,” compares them to terrorists and describes a romance between a “Palestinian security prisoner” and an Israeli woman.
It is clear that Bennett had not read the book (he admitted as much), which has recently been translated into English. The main character, Liat Benyamini, a 29-year-old Jewish linguistics student in New York
for six months, falls for a 27-year-old Palestinian painter, Hilmi Nasser, who is from Ramallah, in the West Bank.
‘Then we’re practically neighbors. I’m from Tel Aviv,’ Liat says. My voice must have dipped a little when I said that, sinking nervously into my throat, because Hilmi leaned over the table and whispered as if it were a big secret: ‘I know.’
Their relationship, though, is a big secret, which Liat is hiding from her family and friends.
‘I still feel horrified at myself and my extreme response to the mere possibility that Mom and Dad know about me and Hilmi,’ Liat told her friend who asked about what they would do if they knew. ‘They’d hang me.’
One of the beauties of the book is that this slow-burn romance does not hit you over the head with politics. While Liat dances around her memories of home—about going to the beach, serving in the army, slowly realizing how these might seem to a landlocked Palestinian who has to go through checkpoints to see the water—the plot allows this couple to evade their differences. He’s just an ambitious up-and-coming artist and she’s a student in love with love, no matter how unrealistic it might be.
It’s only later that their bubble is shattered. When Hilmi’s brother arrives, a heated discussion erupts about the future of their peoples—One-state solution or two? Who will control the water?—and the visit ends with Liat in tears. It’s then that the reader can truly understand how this Romeo and Juliet are doomed once they return to Israel.
One wonders what would happen, in an alternate universe, if they stayed in America. Could a love like this survive?
Amy Klein is a freelance writer living in New York City.
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