Tale Of A Boy's Life In The West Bank Prompts Calls For Withdrawal Of The Book
Jewish pressure groups are calling on a publisher to withdraw a children's book about a Palestinian boy growing up amid the intifada on the West Bank.
A Little Piece of Ground, by the multi-award-winning author Elizabeth Laird, is a fictional account of how a 12-year-old called Karim - whose family's olive groves have been confiscated by settlers - copes when his father is stripped and humiliated by Israeli troops.
As the boy is swept up in the protest against the occupation, and his friends make a fake bomb, he dreams of developing an "acid formula to dissolves the steel in Israeli tanks".
Macmillan has received three demands for the book to be pulped, and many bookshops are worried about stocking it, lest it provoke further protests from Jewish groups. So far, most of the attacks on Laird have come from North America, led by a chain of Canadian bookshops which made the first "vitriolic" complaint to her publisher. It is understood that others have come from Jewish pressure groups.
The New Zealand-born novelist wrote her book after visiting Ramallah as part of a British Council scheme to encourage writing for children. She denies the story is anti-Israeli.
"I did expect comeback, but to say that any criticism of Israel is anti-semitic is doing Israel a disservice. This is an important story that should be told. It shows a child under military occupation. It's terrible for the occupiers, and terrible for the occupied. I hope I have shown how awful it is for the soldiers too," said Laird, who has lived in Beirut and Iraq.
"There is already a great deal of understanding of Israel. All western people have felt sympathetic to Israel, for good reason often; and I don't think that should stop. The voice of the Palestinian child, on the other hand, has not been heard."
Children's writer Ann Jungman, a member of the liberal Jews for Justice in Palestine group, said that she admired the book but still found it biased. "It's not what is in there that I object to. It's what has been left out. There should have been a broader picture. All the Palestinians are reasonable, and all the Israelis are monsters."
Laird, who has won the Children's Book Award, the Smarties Prize and been nominated three times for the Carnegie Medal, claimed A Little Piece of Ground was not meant to explain politics. "It's true, lots of Israelis are trying to come to an accommodation with the Palestinians, and many refuse to serve in the West Bank. But the book is written through the eyes of a 12-year-old who just sees men with guns. It would not have been true to my characters to do otherwise.
"The book is not so much about politics as about brothers, friendship, falling in love and football."
The title comes from a scrap of waste land that Karim and his friends turn into a football pitch and which later becomes a flashpoint in the violence.