Throughout her literary journey, Sahar Khalifeh has registered the
realities of Palestinian life. Thus, her work constitutes a very
immediate documentation of our modern history. Sahar Khalifeh does
not wait for events to ferment, but ventures to write about them as
they unfold, giving her work the value of an affidavit or document
beyond any literary judgement.
In al-Subbar (The Cactus, 1976) and Abbad al-Shams (The Sunflower,
1980), Sahar Khalifeh registers the events of the occupation and
Palestinians' resistance. She also depicts the complicated problem
related to the option of Sumud, that is of remaining in the
homeland, while being forced to work in the occupier's institutions
and establishments, or leaving the homeland in search of the
family's livelihood. In Bab el-Saha (The Door to the Courtyard,
1990), the author registers the history of the Palestinian Intifada
drawing deep parallels with women's struggle against their history
At the end of her novel al-Mirath (The Inheritance, 1997), Khalifeh
stops to ponder the catastrophic events that followed the Oslo
agreements and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority -
whose identity was forged through Hebrew letters and the will of a
Zionist military governor. The Palestinians' whole being was
splintered, then eroded by the occupation, individual interests and
the privileges granted to the "nouveau riche" of the "revolution"
and their sycophants. This laid the ground for the present
Khalifeh, while registering major events in modern Palestinian
history, does not neglect the other main focus of her creative
drive: The issue of womens' rights. She utilizes the atrocious
realities of women's enslavement and lack of emancipation to incite
revolt and achieve equality.
This is a primary theme in all of her novels, especially Lam N'aud
Jawari Lakum (We are Not Your Slaves Any More) and Muthakkirat
Imra'ah Ghair Wki'iyyah (Memoirs of an Idealistic Woman). Sahar
Khalifeh's creativity is manifest in the dialectic connection
between the issues of nationality and gender. All her novels
present a picture of women as social martyrs. This picture is
repeated in a number of variations, becoming the author's statement
of defense in favor of women and against male behavior in the
patriarchal Arab society.
In Sahar Khalifeh's six novels, there are ever-ready battle grounds
on which the author pitches men against women. And even when
conditions of national confrontation dictate a unification of
forces against a common national enemy, Khalifeh still lets out war
cries against men. Nevertheless, the events and characters within
her novels indicate that the gender issue can never be resolved
just by struggling against men; rather both sexes must battle
manifestations of oppression on both the social and national
levels, including that against women. Men, in the final analysis,
are the victims of their social history and current environment.
Even women have been historically programmed to conform to a male
perspective of women. As a result, many have taken an aggressive
stand towards their own kind, whereas many progressive men have
taken a stand supportive of women's rights.
Sahar Khalifeh emphasizes that the involvement of both genders in
the national struggle would guarantee the strengthening of women's
position,elevating it and changing Arab society's patriarchal
behavior and attitude towards them.
In her novels, Khalifeh discusses whether the problems of
alienation and identity lie within the person who is searching, as
in the cases of Zeina, the young woman who comes from America or
Hamdan Guevara, who comes from a world of revolution and theories
in Beirut and Tunis; or if the real problem lies within what is
being created on Palestinian soil in the guise of the "Palestinian
Authority", while the occupation strangles the Palestinians by
continuing to confiscate and settle their lands, oppressing and
degrading its people.
Khalifeh also questions whether the real problem is the incredibly
backward society, which imposes such pressures on people's lives
that it becomes impossible to detach oneself from this, even by
moving to another place to reach a happier or more reasonable
conclusion to one's search.