Children of Catastrophe: Journey from a Palestinian Refugee Camp to America

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Garnet Publishing Ltd, 2010 - Biography & Autobiography - 208 pages
This book tells the remarkable story of a Palestinian refugee, following his journey from childhood in the Nahr El Bared Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, becoming a member of the PLO, through to eventual emigration, a new life as an engineer in the United States, and a 'return' trip to historic Palestine. A great deal has been written over the years addressing the Palestine-Israel conflict, and the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem. However, few works on the subject really present the personal aspect: What is it like to be a refugee? What propels a decent human being to take up arms, to become a freedom fighter or a "terrorist?" Running parallel to Kanj's personal narrative, the book also documents the story of Nahr El Bared itself: the story of a refugee camp that grew from an initial clump of muddy UN tents to become a vibrant trading centre in north Lebanon, before its eventual destruction at the hands of the Lebanese army as they battled with militants from the Fatah Al Islam group in the summer of 2007. Throughout it all, the spirit of the remarkable people of the camp shines through, and the book provides a moving testament to how refugees in Lebanon have managed to persist in their struggle for their "right to return", as well as survive socially, economically and politically despite more than sixty years of dispossession, war and repression.


Born ten years after the Nakba" (the Arabic word for "catastrophe," denoting Palestinian refugee exodus that attended the creation of the state of Israel), Jamal Kanj was born and raised in Lebanon in the Nahr El Bared refugee camp, which was recently destroyed by the Lebanese Army during fighting with Fatah al Islam, before immigrating to the United States. In this memoir, he describes life growing up in the camp, focusing on both the daily life of Palestinians in the camp and on the politics of the refugees (Kanj himself became a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization for a time). He also includes a chapter discussing the 2007 destruction of the camp."
Book News, 2010/09

"The Israel and Palestine conflict has shattered countless lives. "Children of Catastrophe: Journey from a Palestinian Refugee Camp to America" is a memoir form Jamal Krayem Kanj, as he reflects on his own journey through the conflict, and how from a refugee camp struggling to survive he found his way to America and made his own way in life. A unique story with a powerful message, "Children of Catastrophe" is a moving and thoughtful read that would do well in any international memoir collection."
Midwest Book Review, 2010

"Jamal Kanj's story evokes all the emotions experienced through life's trials, enhanced and exaggerated by it being experienced within a refugee camp that remained under continual stress from external forces. The book is well written and does not dwell on the deprivations, but instead emphasizes the successes of life within the camp, successes against many seemingly overwhelming odds. From that success, the success of survival and more, the Palestinian identity will remain strong within its own community. Children of Catastrophe helps explain that identity and brings it to life in a straight forward manner, for those beyond the borders of the community, to the larger community of global humanitarian awareness."
Jim Miles, Canadian educator and contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews for The Palestine Chronicle , 2010/09

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The Making of a Refugee 1
Life in the Camp 29
Revolution and Political Evolution 51
Israeli Military Raids
Camp Economy 99
Lebanese Civil War 113
Journey into a New Life 135
A New American Home and the Return 159

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About the author (2010)

JAMAL KANJ was born in a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon ten years after the creation of the state of Israel. He moved to the United States in late 1977, and has been active in various local and national political organizations. He is a cofounder of the Middle East Cultural and Information Center in San Diego and served as the Secretary General for the US chapter of the General Union of Palestine Students. Today, Kanj is a professional engineer who works on water infrastructure management.

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