Adania Shibli’s Minor Detail

“Sometimes it’s inevitable for the past to be forgotten, especially if the present is no less horrific.”  Minor Detail by Adania Shibli is a rallying call to readers never to forget the horrors the Palestinians have endured for over 75 years. 

The first part of the novel is based on the true story of a young Bedouin woman who was captured, raped and then murdered by Zionist soldiers in 1949. 

Shibli hits the reader with the full horror of this tale. She does not hold back in describing the humiliation and horror the young woman would have endured at the hands of the Zionists.  And she shows that rape and brutalisation were part of the Zionists’ colonial project following the 1948 Nakba. 

The rape of the girl is sanctioned by the Israeli platoon leader, who instructs all of the soldiers in his command to assault her. 

This Israeli character is eerily disciplined, obsessed with hygiene, and seemingly cut off from all emotion or empathy. It’s clear that, to him, raping the girl is merely the inevitable outcome of war—-as routine as going out on patrol. 

Through this character, you start to understand some of the myths that Zionists constructed about Palestine.  The platoon leader describes the land as desolate and barren. 

He states that it’s the job of the Zionists to cultivate it and make it habitable. This lie that Palestine was a land without a people that needed to be taken care of persists today, as Israeli settlers continue to rob land from the Palestinians. 

The second half of the book follows another nameless character, this time a Palestinian woman, who becomes obsessed with the story of the rape and murder of the young woman. 

In her journey to discover the truth about what happened, the reader understands the reality of living in an apartheid state. As the woman travels through her homeland, she is forced to cross borders and checkpoints and is harassed by armed soldiers. The daily oppression affects her deeply. 

The parallels emerge between how she is treated and how the young woman back in 1949 was brutalised. Both women aren’t considered human by the Zionists.

As I read the book, the continuity between the two stories presented and the dehumanisation of Palestinians by the mainstream media today leapt out. 

Dehumanisation and racism have always been the tools of the colonisers or oppressors to try to justify their own brutality. And in another show of that racism, the Frankfurt Book Fair cancelled an award ceremony that was set to be held for Shibli to celebrate Minor Detail. 

The organisers posted on social media following the cancellation that the “terror war against Israel contradicts all the values that Frankfurter Buchmesse stands for”. 

The cancellation of the award to Shibli is no minor detail in itself. It represents how the establishment will go to any lengths to marginalise Palestinian voices, especially those as unflinching as Shibli’s. 

But the actions of the Frankfurt Book Festival does mean more people are talking about and reading Minor Detail.  For this I’m thankful. Minor Detail is a gut-wrenching and difficult read, but it exposes a brutal history that must be remembered. 


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