"The novel, 'Dreaming of Palestine,' mounts a fiery case against the
Israelis' treatment of Palestinians"
Dreaming of Palestine, Teenager Writes a Novel
By FRANK BRUNI - New York Times Dec 28, 2002
MILAN - At first Randa Ghazy wrote the kind of prose that many teenage
girls do, with characters who pined for romance or worried that they were
not as pretty as they wanted to be.
Then, around the time of her 15th birthday, she decided to try something
more ambitious. There was a short-story competition that she wanted to
enter, and what she produced for it was unlike anything she had done
Miss Ghazy's experiment paid off. Although she did not win the contest,
her story impressed one of the judges, an editor who asked her to expand
it into a full-length novel. That book was published in Italy last spring
and has since been translated into six languages.
"It was very unexpected," said Miss Ghazy, now 16, during a recent
interview here, as she smiled sweetly and chewed a piece of gum. "I was a
little star." But her success is not a simple tale of precocious
achievement, and the fact of her book is perhaps less interesting than its
content and fallout.
The novel, "Dreaming of Palestine," mounts a fiery case against the
Israelis' treatment of Palestinians, whom Miss Ghazy portrays as pitiable
victims of unrelenting terror.
The book drips blood and outrage, and Jewish groups in France, where it
recently went on sale, have been asking the government to withdraw it from
circulation, citing a 1949 law that prohibits forms of expression that
promote violence and hate among minors. "Dreaming of Palestine" has been
marketed there, as it was in Italy, for young adults.
Miss Ghazy, who was born and reared in Italy by parents who emigrated from
Egypt, said she was confused over the controversy.
"It's stupid," she said, leaning on an adjective that she used more than
once. Each time she did, it was a reminder of her age, as was the vigilant
presence throughout the interview of her mother and an executive with
Fabbri, her Italian publisher.
But at other moments Miss Ghazy seemed years ahead of her peers, citing
journalists and historical details with which few other 16-year-olds would
be familiar and switching effortlessly between Italian and English as she
She also mustered a diplomatic explanation for the political slant of her
book, saying she was simply plumbing one perspective, imagining the
Palestinian mind-set and trying "to explain the hate that Palestinians
She was, in other words, something of a riddle. Most perplexing of all was
why and how she came to feel strongly enough about the issue to churn out,
in what she said was little more than two weeks of frenetic work, the 216
rough-hewn pages of "Dreaming of Palestine," which tracks several young
Palestinians united by misery and a sense of righteous mission.
She has never been to Israel or the Palestinian territories. Before
writing the book, she said, she spent more time watching MTV than
broadcast news. Before her book tour, she added, she had never met a
Nonetheless, Miss Ghazy wove a story, lighter on plot than on raw passion,
of deep-seated, lopsided enmity.
"Isn't there a way to stop these sinners, the Jews?" one Palestinian
character in the novel asks another. "They're killing us all."
Other Palestinian characters allude to the Holocaust and suggest that
Israelis are doing to the Palestinians what was done to their own
All of this came from a high school student whose extracurricular
activities include volleyball and who at certain points during the
interview seemed more concerned with how she looked in jacket photographs
than with any protest over the book.
It was written in the late afternoon hours after her Greek and Latin
classes, on a home computer in a middle-class suburb of Milan, where her
father, Ibrahim, runs a rotisserie shop. He moved to Italy 30 years ago,
when he was selling cars and there was more money to be made here. He and
his wife, Sana, who is also Egyptian, had three children.
The family was in a tiny minority, both as Arabs and as Muslims who
observed certain rituals, like the Ramadan fast. Miss Ghazy said she was
acutely conscious of that. "I felt different from the others, because of
my skin, my religion," she said. "I was very insecure about myself."
"Not that anything happened," she added. Even so, she added, "I asked my
mom to take me to a psychologist, but she said, 'You don't need it.' "
Miss Ghazy became transfixed by other minorities' experiences. A fervent
reader, she devoured "Uncle Tom's Cabin," then "The Color Purple."
In other respects she was a typical Italian teenager. She listened to
American rock music. She hung posters of American movie heartthrobs, like
Ben Affleck and Brad Pitt, but replaced them when she was 14 with images
of "The Simpsons."
"I'm growing up," she explained.
She said that she had never felt any particular interest in current
politics. But her curiosity was piqued roughly two years ago when she
noticed a pair of news images. The first showed a Palestinian father
shielding his son from gunfire. The next showed the boy dead. Almost a
year later she wrote her short story. Then she did some research on the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict and wrote her novel. "I feel Egyptian," she
said. "So I also feel Arab and, thus, Palestinian."
Besides, she said, "Israelis have the power, and the guns."
Between the short story and the novel came the terrorist attacks of Sept.
11, 2001. Miss Ghazy said those events surely influenced her, although she
could not specify how.
At high school, she remembered, "Everyone was saying, 'But you agree with
bin Laden?'" It was a ridiculous question, she said, and it again made her
feel isolated and scrutinized. "They have such ignorance," she said.
She said only a handful of her classmates had read "Dreaming of
Palestine." It sold about 14,000 copies in Italy, where there was no
outcry over it. The Jewish population here is tiny, and the sympathies for
Palestinians more widespread than in the United States.
But one classmate who did read it, Miss Ghazy said, is the only Jewish
person she knows at school. "She thought I hated her," Miss Ghazy said,
dismissing the notion as silly. "She doesn't know anything about the war."
"I'm not racist," she said. "I'm angry — angry with the Israeli
government. This doesn't mean that I hate the whole nation."
As Miss Ghazy spoke, her mother sat close to her, watching and listening,
as if frightened by the terrain her daughter had entered. Luisa Sacchi,
the editorial director of Fabbri, also monitored Miss Ghazy's words.
Only Miss Ghazy seemed more or less unfazed.
At one point she held up the brand new Norwegian edition of "Dreaming of
Palestine," which had an odd image of a giant orange on its cover.
"Isn't it cute?" Miss Ghazy said.