Helen Winternitz, an American journalist, spent a year in the small village of Nahalin, southwest of Bethlehem and almost completely encircled by Israeli settlements on confiscated land, to gain a better understanding of the problems of Palestinians under Israeli rule.
In 1988, while Winternitz was living in Nahalin, resentment against Israeli oppression erupted in a Palestinian uprising—the intifada—all over the West Bank. A SEASON OF STONES is aptly named; frustrated and angry young Palestinians hurled stones at Israeli soldiers at every opportunity, and bloody confrontations occurred. Winternitz develops these two inextricable themes—the day-by-day experience of life in the village, and the Palestinian struggle—as she also reveals her own personal struggles in adjusting to a foreign culture.
Gaining the villagers’ trust and finding lodgings in the village were ongoing difficulties. Although welcomed into many homes and finally able to rent a room, she nevertheless had to negotiate her acceptance continually. She was suspected of spying, was stoned and ambushed, and eventually was asked to leave the village because a Moslem fundamentalist sect objected to the presence of an unmarried Western woman living apart from her family. She was never able to overcome the cultural differences that separated her from the villagers.
Nevertheless, Winternitz never wanted to be anywhere else. She gathered olives, cooked and sewed with the women, practiced her “serviceable” Arabic, and discussed the social, economic, and political problems of the Palestinians with the men. She presents their story with respect and sympathy.
The book is appealing from both a literary and historical standpoint. Its strength lies in Winternitz’s remarkable attention to the most minute and mundane details of the personal lives of the Arab villagers, always captured within the broader context of the Middle-East crisis. Unique interviews and eyewitness accounts, provided in a straightforward journalistic style and enriched by a sensitive discussion of both the villagers’ and her own perceptions and responses, make this book a significant contribution to our understanding of the Middle East.