On August 12, 1949, at the Israeli military site Nirim, located in the Negev Desert, a battalion of Israeli occupation army soldiers detained a young Palestinian girl after killing her family, and raped her several times, before finally killing her and burying her in the desert on the The depth is less than an arm’s length, turning her burial site into one of the basic places on which the “State of Israel” was built.
This incident remained secret, and investigations into it were hidden for more than half a century, until the Hebrew newspaper “Haaretz” was able to obtain secret documents containing the testimonies of the soldiers involved in the crime, to publish in 2003 an article that finally revealed the painful details of the girl’s rape and murder (1). .
The girl’s identity remained unknown. Her name was not known or mentioned in the investigations, and her age was not determined, although it was likely that she was in her early teens. We will never hear her screams, and we will never know what she said or felt. Were her entire family killed? Or is there anyone left who makes her cry?
Palestinian writer Adeniya Shibli decided to give a voice to this little girl through her novel “A Secondary Detail.”
Sexual violence against women as a weapon
This victim is one of thousands or more victims. There are no clear and specific statistics in numbers, but there are many documented testimonies about incidents of sexual violence against Palestinian women, both during the 1948 war and even at the present time. In an article (2) published in the Israeli newspaper “Haaretz” in 2016, the writer “Amir Oren” referred to what he described as “a history of corruption and rot behind the legacy of Israeli battles,” based on the same files of the Israeli military prosecution in which many of the incidents were documented. Rape against Palestinian women and teenage girls, files that were closed without punishment being extended to the perpetrators.
The same thing was confirmed by Nadra Shalhoub-Kevorkian, a professor of law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and an activist in the field of gender-related military violence in conflict areas, in a media interview, where she pointed to the use of rape of Palestinian women as a military tactic throughout the history of the conflict. The use of sexual crimes against women continues to find its resonances until the contemporary time. In 2014, Mordechai Kedar, a researcher in Middle East affairs at the Israeli Bar-Ilan University, suggested raping the mothers and sisters of Palestinian resistance fighters as a solution to deter the resistance, during his interview with Israeli Radio Beit (3).
Canceling the Palestinian voice
The novel “A Minor Detail” by Palestinian writer Adeniya Shibli was published in Arabic in 2017, and was translated by Elizabeth Jacquet into English. It was nominated for the National Book Award in the United States of America in 2020, and was shortlisted for the International Booker Prize in 2021.
Recently, the novel won the Liberato Press Prize 2023, after it was translated into German by Günter Oort. The writer was supposed to receive the award at a ceremony held last October 20 at the Frankfurt Book Fair, an event that is considered one of the largest and most important industry gatherings. Publishing worldwide. But with the echoes of “Al-Aqsa Flood,” cultural circles, whether in the Arab world or in Germany, were surprised by the decision to cancel and postpone the concert, a decision that met with widespread objection, as it was seen as a cancellation of the Palestinian voice, as indicated by the protest letter signed by more than 1,300 writers from all over the world. the world.
It is noteworthy that Jürgen Bos, director of the Frankfurt Book Fair, had issued a statement condemning the Hamas movement, and indicated plans to give Israeli and Jewish voices additional time to become more visible during the book fair. He also announced the Frankfurt Book Fair’s full solidarity with Israel.
Minor details substitute for misleading history
The victim suffered from her voice being silenced and canceled simply because she was Palestinian, something that seems to continue to this day. From the beginning, the title of the novel, “A Minor Detail,” appears to be a bitter sarcasm about how a horrific crime such as mass rape and murder turns into just a secondary detail that history does not pay attention to. The victims in history books turn into mere numbers for the millions of people whose lives ended, who were displaced or bereaved. But they remain merely secondary details on the sidelines of the nations’ defeats.
The events of the novel “A Secondary Detail” take place in two parts. The first part traces the details of the rape and murder referred to in the introduction to the report, which occurred in 1949, when an Israeli occupation army faction was tasked with securing the new southern border line between Egypt and Israel, through what was called “clearing lands” from “Arab infiltrators”, about a year after the 1948 Nakba, during which more than 700,000 Palestinians were displaced from their lands.
This part relies on intense language, close to dryness and declarativeness, which does not reveal the characters’ feelings or inner thoughts as much as it focuses on small, sensual details. It focuses especially on the platoon leader, who seems extremely obsessed with cleanliness, and details related to him cleaning his body, or killing spiders, are repeated several times. The little girl sneaking into his tent, in an obsession similar to his obsession with what he called “cleansing” the region of Arabs. However, this leader, who is obsessed with cleanliness, suffers from a stinking wound in his thigh, but he ignores the pus and mold in it, and tries to get rid of the smell of the girl in the tent after raping her. The girl left the smell of fuel in his tent, which he himself ordered to use to sterilize her hair after cutting it. The smell haunts him, and the girl’s words in an incomprehensible language mix with the barking of her dog, so he orders her killed and buried in a place near the camp.
In the second part, the writer moves to the beginning of the current century, and it is the part that is narrated by a woman living in Ramallah. Unlike the first part, the second part explains the narrator’s feelings and thoughts with great precision, revealing her psychological fragility and anxiety that is close to pathological anxiety. The newspaper’s report on the crime of rape and murder catches her attention. The horrific details of the crime do not catch her attention because, as she says: “There is nothing extraordinary in its main details, if they are compared with daily events in a place dominated by the noise of occupation and constant killing.” But what catches her attention is Her vision is really a “minor detail,” which is that the date of the incident coincides with the date of her birth, a quarter of a century apart.
At the beginning, she hesitates between the idea of chasing the story and searching for what is behind it, and forgetting it because “sometimes it is inevitable to ignore the events of the past, if what is happening in the present is no less terrifying than them,” but forgetting does not work. The narrator is dominated by the idea of moving to the original crime site. In order to trace this story, and give a voice to the victim to tell the events from her perspective. But this simple desire to move from one place to another within the borders of the country itself reveals to readers a daily tragedy that the Palestinian lives on his land because of the occupation, as simply moving from one point to another requires many maneuvers, risks, and strict permits. The country has become divided into regions, and residents must Each area has special permits to visit the other area, and some are not permitted to visit some areas.
Thus, the narrator resorts to borrowing her colleague’s identity and renting a car using the identity of another colleague, and begins the journey, taking with her a map of Palestine before 1948 and a current map. She finally reaches her destination, where she explores the Israeli Military History Museum, the archives, and the crime site in Nirim, and discovers how the history written by the victor is misleading. The documents do not give her anything, while she can find evidence in an old woman, whom she meets by chance. The woman may be the age of the victim if she had lived, perhaps she knew her, or heard about her when she was young.
Does the margin reveal the truth about the center?
In 1980, Carlo Ginzburg published a research paper entitled “Morelli, Freud, and Sherlock Holmes: Clues and the Scientific Method” (4) in which he studies the role of small details in revealing the historical truth, based on the method of art historian Giovanni Morelli in verifying fake paintings. Instead of looking at the basic parts of the painting, which is what imitators of works of art are accustomed to putting the most effort into, Morelli advises relying on looking at the small details that they usually do not pay enough attention to, and thus, by contemplating them, it is possible to discover the falsity. In his article, Ginzburg links this method to the Freudian approach to psychology and the methods of the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, each of which relies on exploring the margins to uncover the secrets of the center, thus proposing a dialectical relationship between the margin and the center as a cognitive approach (5).
The narrator says about herself that she often sees fly droppings on the painting and not the painting itself. She focuses on the less important details, and refers to the previously mentioned method that art specialists use to judge the authenticity of paintings by paying attention to secondary details.
The writer hovers around the secondary details through clever glimpses, forming a heavy-handed picture of how daily violence turns into marginal details that do not occupy the mind. When the Israeli occupation forces bomb the building next to her work, claiming that three resistance men were sheltering there, the narrator does not wonder about the fate of the three young men, as much as she is disturbed by the shattered window and the dust particles caused by the explosion.
This normalization with violence occurs as a result of living in a daily life based on bombing, killing, and rape. These heartbreaking details move to the margins and become a daily and normal matter, while moving from one place to another becomes an exceptional matter that raises panic in the soul. By moving from the center to the margins, to secondary details, the novel raises its questions about identity, language, and the heavy legacy of defeats that write a misleading history from which the voices of the victims are erased.
The burden of history is borne by maps
During the narrator’s journey in the second part to regain the victim’s voice, she uses two maps: One is Arab for pre-1948 Palestine, and the other is current, and by comparing the two maps it explores how the names of Arab villages and streets were erased and replaced by Israeli ones. Maps here become a necessary means of reading history, and restoring the policies of erasure, deletion, and replacement on “maps” and their counterparts on “the land.” From the processes of ethnic genocide, displacement and settlement.
The author describes the feelings of panic that become a daily reality for the Palestinian citizen, on his journey from one region to another, as if he were living under surveillance inside a large prison, fraught with borders that are difficult to understand and crossing which threatens his life at every moment. Moving from one city to another, from one street to another, and visiting a museum open to the public are things that you can simply do in any other country, but they turn into a nightmare only if you are Palestinian (6).
The writer relied on intense language, which seemed tense in some places, just like the language of a gagged girl whose mouth was gagged while being raped, so she was unable to scream. And if she screamed, she screamed in Arabic, so the platoon commander did not differentiate between her screaming and the barking of her dog that was following her, and it became like the sound of her screaming that would not be silent.
This barking, which was extended in the second part of the text, confirms its circular structure. Its howling at night wakes the narrator, and haunts her while she is in her car, as if it is a howling that is still echoing after more than half a century. We will see the details of the soldiers’ clothes and cars in the museum that the narrator visits, and we will smell the smell of the fuel that drowned the victim’s hair, when the narrator accidentally spills fuel on her hands and clothes, and the smell creeps into her nose, just as it surrounded the nose of the Israeli platoon leader. The circular structure of the text culminates in the closing scene, bringing violence together between the victim and the narrator, as murder and violence are a recurring structure in the Israeli occupation that is repeated every day (7).
The voice of the voiceless
The narrator’s anxious journey, which seemed ambitious to give her victim a voice, led her nowhere. What she hoped to find in the Israeli state archives or museum did not exceed what she knew. What she found was a misleading history narrative written from the point of view of the victor, while the victims and the defeated were missing. Their voices were erased, and in Nirim, when she meets an old Palestinian woman who may remember what happened, and carries an oral history that is more truthful and important than the written history, she remains silent and does not ask her, and the possibility of the truth is lost along with everything that is lost under the burden of anxiety and fear that silences tongues. It is as if the narrator was also lost for a few moments, and became preoccupied with the center, which excluded from her sight the secondary detail formed in the old woman, the oral narration that no one hears and no one asks, while she alone may have satisfactory answers.
Adeniya Shibli was born in Palestine in 1974, and her works have been translated into a number of languages, including English, French, German, Italian, and Hebrew. She received the Young Writer Award from the A. M. Qattan Foundation twice: the first in 2001 for her novel “Messas,” and the second in 2003 for her novel “Massas.” We are all equally far from love.” The writer lives between Jerusalem and Berlin. She holds a doctorate from the University of East London. She also worked as a visiting professor in the Department of Philosophy and Cultural Studies at Birzeit University, Palestine.
- I Saw Fit to Remove Her From the World’ – Haaretz Com
- The Truth About the Israel Defense Forces, ‘The World’s Most Moral Army’
- Israeli Professor: Rape Hamas Militants’ Mothers and Sisters to Deter Terrorist Attacks | IBTimes UK
- Morelli, Freud and Sherlock Holmes: Clues and Scientific Method
- Full article: Minor Detail
- “Nothing moved except the mirage”: Analysing Fear and Freedom in Adania Shibli’s Minor Detail — by Dr. Chaandreyi Mukherjee | INVERSE JOURNAL
- Minor Detail – Adania Shibli | Full Stop