Disgusting and addictive testimonies from Gaza by the refugee writer Mahmoud Jouda

Disgusting and addictive testimonies from Gaza by the refugee writer Mahmoud Jouda

“She was shot in the head.” They are often short sentences, the equivalent of a snap of the fingers, in which Mahmoud Jouda’s characters A garden for lost legs suddenly lose their lives or limbs to Israeli snipers.

In the novel we follow the writer as he listens to the stories of crippled Gazans, sometimes unexpectedly and sometimes planned by his friend Hassan. The events take place in the years 2018 and 2019, when Gazans walked to Israel’s separation fence every Friday to demand their return to historic Palestine. The weekly demonstrations were known as the March of Return. These protests initially had a relatively spontaneous character: there were no Hamas or Islamic Jihad flags; there were mainly peaceful demonstrations by all generations. Most came out of desperation, because of the desperate situation and the small chance of a job in Gaza. But there were also people like Jouda, who came to watch and then felt called to walk closer to the fence.

Also read
this interview

Writer Mahmoud Jouda has fled Gaza.

The Israeli army saw the run-up as a threat. Snipers shot the demonstrators with dumdum bullets, which break into pieces on impact with the body, causing extensive damage. “The hole where the bullet entered was barely visible, but the hole it came out of was the size of a fist,” Jouda writes. In the two years, 214 Gazans were killed at the border fence, and about 8,000 people were hit by live ammunition. Many lost limbs, especially legs.

Hassan encourages his friend to listen to the stories and get as close to the victims’ experience as possible: he is convinced that Jouda will write down the stories. Jouda emphasizes that he is a good writer, sometimes on his own and sometimes through someone else – perhaps to answer the question of why he should record these stories. In any case, he has not hesitated at all: the disgusting testimonies are addictive. Every time you want to put the book down, look away from the violence, but Jouda manages to give you the feeling that you have no choice but to keep watching.

Jouda makes an art of introducing and mutilating characters almost casually, in often cold-blooded prose. Minor characters suddenly find themselves on stretchers or rolling down a hill. You rarely see a bullet coming, but once it penetrates the flesh, the life of the victim and his loved ones changes forever. When a boy is shot in the head and falls into a coma, his father leaves for the demonstrations in desperation, where he loses his leg as soon as he gets off the bus. “And now I sit at home and go through life in silence,” he says to Jouda. “I still have to ask the soldier why he made our lives so quiet.”

A fascinating and puzzling aspect of the novel is that Jouda almost always has the Israeli army embodied by beautiful blonde soldiers, whose generous curves he describes without exception. There is a lot of lust in the novel, the oppressor exerts a great attraction for the victims – an attraction that the Israeli soldier cuts off with a bullet. Sometimes in the crotch, as with a Gazan who went to the fence in anger and cursed at a sniper who had just killed a boy. “She had enormous buttocks,” he tells Jouda. ‘She raised her middle finger at me, scolding, and I in turn fell back and put my hand on my genitals. That’s when she fired.’ The theme of castration, also in the Palestinian classic Men in the sun by Ghassan Kanafani plays a major role, this gives Jouda a new layer. The oppressor as femme fatale, who traps and humiliates the Gazan with her body.

But the majority of the novel focuses on how the lives of the mutilated continue. About their lost loves, depressions, their searches for a leg to bury properly. And about anger. About the stolen land, the silence of the international community, the ostracism from Gazan society, and how Hamas hijacked the peaceful marches and sent thousands of civilians to the fence. Jouda is not a revolutionary who portrays the demonstrators as brave and heroic. Brave they were, but ‘it is the bravery of people who have nothing left to lose, the heroism of the desperate. A misplaced heroism.’

A garden for lost legs is a testimony to a recent history that Jouda tries to save from oblivion. In the novel he dreams of a garden for lost legs near the fence, a cemetery for all orphaned limbs. A place where they can finally find peace. As long as they don’t find it, they will continue to haunt Jouda and the reader.