Omar Ouda lives in London but his heart is in the Gaza Strip. That is where is house is, that is where family members still live. But his home is under fire, in danger due to the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, and Omar must return.
But there is more that ties Omar to Gaza. His father, Mustafa Ouda, has been missing since Omar was a boy. One day Mustafa walked out of the family home, apparently after a heated argument with his wife, and the next day he was gone, vanished. Omar sets off to find his father, or at least to learn what happened to him, and that is the main theme of this short, but powerful novel.
Vanished (Rimal Publications, Cyprus, June 2015) is set against the political unrest in Palestine, from one Intifada to the next. The timeline includes the initial optimism after the signing of the Oslo Accords and the despair resulting from the Palestinian Authority's actions against opposition groups. In the midst of all this violence is the story of a young boy searching for his father. The journey Omar takes is fictional, but what he experiences is very real, and very troublesome.
In order to survive, some of the residents are coerced to work for the enemy. As he grows into adulthood, Omar collaborates with the Israeli army and later he serves with the Palestinian Authority. In both cases, he feels that he has betrayed his people.
The picture the book paints is one-sided, showing only the suffering of the Palestinians living in Gaza, but that's the whole point. The only Israelis readers encounter in this novel are soldiers carrying guns; only one of them is given a name and a speaking role. For many Gazans, armed soldiers are the only type of Israelis they will ever see.
It's hard to imagine how the characters in this book, like the residents of Gaza themselves, manage to lead normal lives in a very abnormal, besieged society. The author wisely stays away from political arguments, letting readers judge for themselves who is right and who is wrong. Unfortunately, as Omar discovers at the conclusion of his quest, there can be betrayal and deceit even among those closest to you.
Ahmed Masoud is a writer and director who grew up in the Gaza Strip and moved to the United Kingdom in 2002. He completed his postgraduate studies in English Literature and has an MA and a PhD research. He is the founder of Al Zaytouna, a UK-based Palestinian dance theatre troupe. He has written a play about the Syrian crisis and a number of other works, including a BBC Radio 4 play. Vanished is his first novel.
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Originally published at The Times of Israel.