Genet Among the Palestinians
On the morning of September 19, 1982, the French writer Jean Genet visited the Palestinian refugee camp of Shatila near Beirut. Two nights earlier, Israel had permitted its Lebanese allies to enter the surrounded camp, and they had massacred its Palestinian inhabitants. A walk through Shatila, wrote Genet, “resembled a game of hopscotch. . . . A photograph doesn’t show how you must jump over the bodies as you walk along from one corpse to the next.”
The “thick white smell of death” in Shatila inspired Genet to one last self-invention. He had been a thief and prisoner, then a world-famous novelist and dramatist. Now he would be reborn as a witness for the Palestinians. Prisoner of Love, his book-length memoir of the Palestinian fedayeen, appeared a month after his death in 1986. This was the first new writing Genet had produced in years, and it rekindled an interest in his life and work. A masterful new biography by Edmund White1 more than satisfies that interest.
About the Author
Martin Kramer is the Wexler-Fromer fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and senior fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem and the Olin Institute at Harvard. He is the author of Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America.