The Drone Eats with Me: A Gaza Diary, by Atef Abu Saif, Feb 2016 LTER
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REVIEW: "Since 1948--before that in fact, since the British mandate began in 1917--Gaza has barely gone 10 years without a war. Wars stand as markers in a Gazan's life: there's one planted firmly in your childhood, one or two more in your adolescence, and so on… They toll the passing of time as you grow older, like rings in a tree trunk. Sadly, for many Gazans, one of these wars will also mark life's end. Life is what we have in between these wars" (2). “The Drone Eats with Me: A Gaza Diary,” by Atef Abu Saif, Phd., exists as the author’s perspective of his community’s life during Israel’s retribution for the killing of three of its teenage citizens.
The synopsis of “The Drone Eats with Me” leads bibliophiles to ascertain that this manuscript specifically addresses one side of the on-going, multi-generational, and several decades-long Arab-Israeli Conflict. While this work serves as the Palestinian author’s perspective of that struggle, his piece produces a powerful, yet tender, treatment of universal wartime themes that evoke emotional and intellectual perspectives that anyone can find highly-relatable. The writer addresses the role of parent or spouse as superhero, changes in lifestyle, religious practices, and societal norms, access to resources, war categorization, technology, media manipulation, death, survival, and hope for the future.
Categorizing types of war depends upon one’s position—aggressor or defender. Populaces on the receiving end undergo war. Conversely, aggressors wield the power to brand the conflict; it may be “just’ a drone strike, an escalation of tensions, or an operation, etc. Regardless of the situation’s label, drone technology permanently affects the nature of warfare. Atef Abu Saif views the flying soldiers as an entire judicial system. It judges and executes without trial. “We are all guilty until proven otherwise, and how are we ever going to do that, whether alive or not" (12)? Throughout the book, the author establishes that death generates greater power because it appeals to a media-provided wider audience, thereby affording opportunities for the world to recognize the possibility of your innocence…even if it no longer matters to you.
Media outlets require escalating death tolls to maintain their audiences. "Everything is turned into numbers. The stories are hidden, disguised, lost behind these numbers. Human beings, souls, bodies--all converted into numbers" (76), and the author’s writing style created vivid and indelible visualization of death to his readers. “To watch as bodies are scattered about in piles in front of you like discarded exam papers outside of school at the end of term, like old letters torn up by a jilted lover, like the paperwork of a bankrupt businessman piling up at the back of his shop. One leg here, one arm there, an eye, a severed head, fingers, hair, intestines...nothing belongs to anything in particular" (116). This book serves as a delivery vehicle to re-humanize all of the numbers and make many of the dismembered bodies whole.
Being made whole again did not simply equate to surviving a conflict with all body parts intact. Facets of one’s life experienced devastation, too. The author’s mother left her seaside home during the war of 1948, thinking that she would be able to return. She never could, which unveiled an interesting irony to me. Israel’s policy of "the law of return," (the right for every Jewish person to return to Israel and make it his/her homeland) did not apply to Palestinians. They had to live their lives under an unofficial “law of no return.”
Dr. Saif sometimes resorted to returning to Arab poetry, because his wife earned her bachelor’s degree in that field. He highlighted and quoted an author named “Darwish.” I immediately thought he referred to Egypt’s former head of intelligence under Nasser, whose last name was also “Darwish.” According to his daughter, Nonie Darwish, the Israelis aimed for a targeted assassination of Col. Darwish—it killed him; but, Nonie’s younger brother had gone with his father to the office that day and incurred significant injuries. The Israelis reportedly provided medical care to the child; the Egyptians did not…something that became a long-standing point of contention to Ms. Darwish. Regardless of this side story, I finally opted to do a search on Arab poets with that same last name. Mahmoud Darwish came up in the results as a Palestinian poet; after reading more about his writing style and themes, I realized that there existed similarities in how Atef Abu Saif and Mahmoud Darwish shared Palestinian concepts and, perhaps, in how they conveyed them. I could not help but wonder if Dr. Saif’s love for his wife motivated the author to become more influenced by Darwish. Either way, Saif influenced me to want to learn more about the older Palestinian author and read his works.
“The Drone Eats with Me: A Gaza Diary,” could have been about a man who was angry with the Israelis and/or wanted to cheer on the Palestinian Liberation Organization; instead, he used this piece as a vehicle to share the semantics of war. The beauty with which he expressed himself caused the reader to understand the author’s most basic themes, instantly creating an avenue to connect with the writer and create an elevated level of compassion. There was a beauty to how he conveyed universal themes in his subtle delivery of strong analogies. This was a beautifully crafted book, and one that I found to be highly-recommendable.