Running on Eggs
by Anna Levine, Front Street/ Cricket Books, $15.95
Samir and Yonatan
by Daniella Carmi, translated by Yael Lotan, Arthur Levine Books/Scholastic Press, $15.95
Running on Eggs and Samir and Yonatan both tell of young people overcoming fears separating Israelis and Palestinians. Each book’s teen protagonist grows a friendship with someone from “the other side,” though one of the main characters in each has lost a family member to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Despite this, they reconcile their desire for friendship with the need to be loyal to their own communities. These books poignantly and candidly portray the tensions, distrust, and nervousness any bridge building evokes.
In Running on Eggs, the narrator, a Jewish girl named Karen, lives on a kibbutz just south of the Lebanon border. Yasmine, a Palestinian-Israeli girl, lives in an Arab village near the kibbutz. The two girls meet on the bus that takes them to their separate schools, and during practice sessions for a community track team. Yasmine, the superior runner, has to quit the team because her father demands that she dress more traditionally— she replaces her running shorts with long skirts. The girls begin clandestine meetings in the unclaimed land between the kibbutz and the village, where Yasmine helps Karen prepare for a big race. They know their family and friends would disapprove of their training together, and the girls’ friendship is complicated further because Karen wants to win the race in memory of her father, killed in the 1982 Lebanon war. She’s afraid that Yasmine will not understand this. Once the connection between the girls is exposed, their friendship and trust for one another is tested. The two communities are brought together by Karen and Yasmine’s association, and both sets of friends and families embrace and support their friendship.
Samir and Yonatan is a more nuanced portrayal of the life of young Palestinians and Israelis. Samir, a Palestinian boy, fell off his bike, shattering his knee, and must spend several weeks in a Jewish hospital within Israel—a fate he considers worse than that of his younger brother Fadi, who was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers. The book intertwines two complex threads: the budding friendship between Samir and Yonatan, another patient in the children’s ward, and Samir’s own memories of and feelings about growing up surrounded by war. Yonatan is a quiet and introspective Jewish boy who only speaks to Samir after the lights go out. He introduces Samir to the wonders of the universe outside the window and the possibility of escaping into the world of the stars. Samir is alone in this world of Jews. His family is unable to visit him because the government has closed off the West Bank. He spends much of his time reflecting on how his younger brother’s death changed each person in his family, and each relationship. Author Carmi excellently represents the unhappy reality of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, and the confusion of a young boy who is both thankful and regretful to be removed from that world for a short period of time.
These two books and their main characters move beyond the typical stereotypes of Israelis and Palestinians, showing how young people are often able to conquer fear and hatred in ways that their elders are not.
Enid Schatz has worked for Interns for Peace in Israel and is now a PhD candidate in Philadelphia, researching rural Malawi women.