the short story project

Mandelbaum Gate

Kamal Riahi On:

Mandelbaum Gate by Emile Habiby

Borders and crossings, the most dangerous places throughout history and across geography. Whenever relations between neighbouring countries are highly tense, a particular literature of anxiety, angst, and fear emerges, such as in the cases of Mexico and the United States of America, between the two Koreas, and between the two Germanies prior to reunification. This particular tragic literature becomes its most tragic when the barrier artificially divides a territory into two halves, one of which is occupied.

It is at the Mandelbaum Gate on the border between occupied Palestinian lands and Arab territory that Emile Habibi sets his 1954 story of the cruelty of barriers that divide us into human and savage. It tells the story of a grandmother who wishes to cross to the other side and meet her daughter. She fears she might never return and lose the memories of seventy-five years and the family she will leave behind on the other side under Israeli control.

The story observes a crucial moment in Palestinians’ lives at border crossings, a moment that founds a tragedy of undeclared death; the death that happens and we continue to live. Feelings of remorse at being dispossessed of one’s homeland as though willingly; a sense of self-betrayal that kills those who cross borders.

Between permission for the old woman to cross, and permission for the little naïve girl to cross, the story of the terrible nature of awareness of borders raises the suggestion that the free Palestinian is the naïve child.

This story by Emile Habibi reveals the violation of one of the most important human rights, freedom of movement as outlined in Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state;” and “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.” The story of the old woman exposes the violation of the Palestinian “right of return”.