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An Irish Writer and a US Scholar Walk Into a Bar

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The Irish writer is Eimear McBride. The scholar is a fellow named Chas Freeman. They did not actually walk into a bar together. Most likely they have never met. But they are soul-mates.

Chas and Eimear have each recently offered readers a deeper look into the evils of Israel's occupation. The old "walk into a bar" line is merely a device to entice you to read what they want to share.

Eimear McBride speaks first. She is back from her first visit to Palestine. She is angry. She has brought many pictures with her. She slams one of them on a table.

In the picture, a Palestinian boy stands on the tiled floor of what had been his bathroom. The roof and the walls are gone.

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The house was not bombed. It was destroyed, one might say to the boy, by some bad people who didn't want him to live there.

After she returned to Ireland, Eimear McBride wrote an essay which appeared April 15, in The Irish Times, under the headline : "Eimear McBride in the West Bank: 'All that is human in me recoils from this'."

In the essay she gives the background of the picture of the boy:

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As I took a photo of a man's goats grazing in the rubble of what had been his house, he said: "Hey take a picture of my son". But when I did, he said: "No, where his kitchen should be, where his toilet was." When he put the child down, his baby shoes soaked up the wet from the tile fragments surrounding the skeletal remains of a squat loo and the thin line of debris dividing it from where a kitchen must have been. I took the photo and looked at the little sodden feet. I couldn't imagine how they would ever get dry in that tiny tin shack where this little boy, along with his whole family, now lived, and hoped would not be torn down again soon.

From where I stood I could easily see into the warm, well-built homes of the settlers beside, who were obliging their close neighbours to live in this foulness, who must've looked out every day through the well-fitted glass of their comfortable kitchens on to this shameful site.

Eimear McBride's essay will appear in early June in the anthology, Kingdom of Olives and Ash, edited by Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman. McBride's visit to the West Bank came after an invitation from Breaking the Silence, an organisation of Israeli army combat veterans against the occupation.

McBride's novel, A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing, won the inaugural Goldsmiths Prize in 2013 and the 2014 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction. She is 41 years old.

Her opening words in the Irish Times essay begin:

I had not thought about the world for a very long time and, of all places, this place had seemed easier to ignore. I am driving down to Jericho now and, for the first time in a week, I breathe.

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Not because I have become accustomed to the hassle of checkpoints or seeing young men and women, still teenagers some, looking out at me from behind guns that they know how to use. Not because I have stopped noticing how grown men and women close themselves up behind a mask of quietude in order to cope with their every movement being at the whim of those same youngsters.

Image by Eimear McBride)   Permission   Details   DMCA

The red signs at every turn off into the West Bank, warning that the Israeli government forbids entry and that entry is dangerous, have not ceased, in a whole variety of selfish and unselfish ways, to alarm me. Quite to the contrary, I am only beginning to see, learning how to look, and my sense of alarm is off the charts.

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James Wall is currently a Contributing Editor of The Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, Illinois. From 1972 through 1999, he was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine. Many sources have influenced Jim's writings over (more...)

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