In his last posts, Assaf Gavron wrote about hang­ing out in the West Bankmoon­light­ing as an Israeli mover in New York City and about Israeli fast food. His most recent book, Almost Dead, is now avail­able. He’s been blog­ging all week for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

As a sol­dier in Gaza in the first Intifa­da, I unknow­ing­ly start­ed the research to a nov­el I was to pub­lish 18 years lat­er (22 years lat­er, this month, in Eng­lish trans­la­tion). Gaza hard­ly appears in the pages of this nov­el, Almost Dead, but what I saw in its refugee camps, their streets and their hous­es, was the main inspi­ra­tion to the sto­ry of Fah­mi, one of the two sto­ry­tellers of the novel.

That peri­od of a few months in 1988 was the first time I was exposed to Pales­tin­ian life. The first time I under­stood what occu­pa­tion” means, how it works, and how life under it looks like. How young kids behave when they are giv­en pow­er over oth­er peo­ple, and how those peo­ple react to them.

Liv­ing in Tel Aviv in 2002 was the start­ing point for the sec­ond sto­ry­teller ofAlmost Dead, the Israeli 30-some­thing hi-tech engi­neer Eitan Croc” Enoch. The sur­re­al and chaot­ic atmos­phere, with sui­cide bombs going off on a dai­ly basis in Israeli cities and peo­ple liv­ing in trau­ma and para­noia while try­ing to con­duct their nor­mal” dai­ly life, almost called me to deal with it through writing.

So here I was, with these two sides of the coin, two sto­ries run­ning par­al­lel and at the same time bit­ter­ly col­lid­ing, so close and so apart, so sim­i­lar and so dif­fer­ent and all the oth­er clichés (though clichés are some­times true). I want­ed to look into this point in time and to go deep­er, to write about life at this time and place, as lived on both sides of the fence.

For Croc’s sto­ry, I only had to look around me. The peo­ple, the jobs, the city, the sen­si­bil­i­ties were all around me. For Fahmi’s, I had to work hard­er. So I start­ed with my Gaza mem­o­ries for the looks, the smells, the alleys and the cur­fews. But my sto­ry takes place a decade and a half lat­er, dur­ing a dif­fer­ent, blood­i­er sec­ond intifa­da, and in the West Bank. And now it was much more dif­fi­cult for me to gain access to this place. In fact, the actu­al refugee camp where Fah­mi lives in is for­bid­den ground for Israelis. So I read books and mag­a­zine arti­cles, watched the many doc­u­men­taries made by Israelis as well as for­eign­ers on sui­cide bombers and on the occu­pa­tion, and trav­eled where I could — for exam­ple, to vis­it a friend doing a reserve army ser­vice in Ramallah.

The final part of get­ting Fahmi’s sto­ry right was to find Pales­tini­ans who can read Hebrew and would be pre­pared to read the texts and give me their com­ments. Through inter­net forums and coop­er­a­tion orga­ni­za­tions I found two read­ers, pro­fes­sors of Hebrew in the Gaza Uni­ver­si­ty. Con­nect­ing with them and shar­ing my texts with them was excit­ing and tremen­dous­ly use­ful – their com­ments on things as small as the brand of cheese my char­ac­ter would eat and as big as the way he would behave near a woman were cru­cial. Most impor­tant­ly, their over­all approval of Fahmi’s char­ac­ter and reli­a­bil­i­ty gave me the final courage to pub­lish the book.

Almost Dead was just pub­lished by Harper­Collins in the US. It was pub­lished in Israel in 2006, and since then has appeared in Ger­man, Ital­ian, Dutch, and soon in French. A movie based on the nov­el is in pro­duc­tion by Neu Film­pro­duk­tion from Berlin (”Good­bye Lenin”, Run Lola Run”).