A Rebel in Gaza: Behind the Lines of the Arab Spring, One Woman’s Story

By Asmaa al-Ghoul and Selim Nassib
Translated by Mike Mitchell

206 pages.
October 2018. Hardcover and Paperback. Ebook also available.
$28.95 | 9780998777023 (hc)
$18.95 | 9780998777054 (pb)

Gaza has always been rebellious . . .  stubborn, addictive. I’m her daughter, and I look like her.

Asmaa al-Ghoul is a Palestinian journalist who grew up in the Rafah refugee camp in Gaza. Her book offers a rare view of a young woman coming into her own political and secular beliefs amidst the region’s relentless violence. She has been called “too strong minded,” frequently criticized for not covering her hair and for being outspoken. As a journalist and activist, she has led demonstrations and been vocal in her opposition to Hamas and Fatah, which has led her to family strife, imprisonment, brutal interrogations, death threats and attacks.

A Rebel in Gaza is Asmaa’s story as told to Franco-Lebanese writer Selim Nassib over meetings, phone calls, Skype, and even texts during the 2014 Israeli siege of Gaza, when she was locked in the “open air prison” that her homeland had become. Both determined and dedicated to its liberation through writing, education and culture, she paints the sensory portrait of the native country she passionately loves, which over years has become a cauldron of wars and fundamentalism.



Asmaa al-Ghoul, who was born in the Rafah refugee camp at the southern end of the Strip, writes with clarity and tenderness of Gaza’s harsh realities. Despite it all, she insists: “People continued to laugh in Gaza.” Her own laughter bubbles through the pages of A Rebel in Gaza: a stubborn, defiant joy in living, as keen as her rage or her grief.
In a foreword, Al-Ghoul writes of her eagerness to avoid “the prevailing clichés” that might confine her narrative. The usual smeary lenses through which the region is viewed are blessedly absent. There are many villains and few heroes, but even the villains are decent sometimes. Al-Ghoul is equally allergic to pieties. In an early chapter, she commits the cardinal heresy of admitting that she has no desire to return to the village from which her grandmother fled in 1948 and considers the refugee camp in which she was born to be her only homeland.
The world would be poorer without Al-Ghoul’s voice, without her warmth, her fury and her laughter.
– Ben Ehrenreich, The Guardian

Debut author [Asmaa] Al-Ghoul, a journalist from Rafah, picks apart the paradoxes of being female in Palestine, illustrating in vivid and direct language how Hamas and Fatah, on one hand, and the Israelis, on the other, conspire to restrict acceptable behavior for women in the territory. […] This searching exploration illuminates the crossroads of gender and Palestinian identity.
–  Publishers Weekly

A vocal advocate of democratic reform in Gaza, Al-Ghoul says that Hamas’ repressive policies hinder the national aspirations of Palestinians and peace with Israel. A fierce advocate of women’s rights, some of Al-Ghoul’s most vocal opponents are religious Muslim women. She says that Gaza’s secular and Islamist camps both have strong female contingents, and that “this is healthy, to see all these voices in the same small area.” But Al-Ghoul’s criticism of Hamas does not make her pro-Israel. She recalls watching her father being beaten by Israeli soldiers in the first intifada, during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, as the rest of the family hid in the bathroom. “I was fasting and we were crying a lot,” she said. “My mouth gets dry now when I remember that day.” Al-Ghoul says she eschews violence and hopes one day to see peace between Israelis and Palestinians. […] Ultimately, though, she looks to her writing to sustain her.
JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency)

Fierce and defiant, Al-Ghoul’s book is as much a celebration of Gazan resilience in the face of raging internal and external conflicts as it is of one woman’s life-affirming strength of will. An eloquent, provocative, and timely memoir.
–  Kirkus Reviews

Refreshing and eye-opening. This memoir was a page turner, and I appreciated Asmaa’s challenging perspective, her outspokenness and her strength. […]  I would recommend this memoir to anyone interested in the ongoing conflict in Gaza, or to anyone who wishes to read a thrilling memoir by a strong, brave and inspiring woman living under difficult circumstances.
– Sayeh Hassan, sister-hood

A stirring account of bravery and resistance in our time. [Al-Ghoul’s] slender memoir paints a picture of a woman who has stuck to her convictions despite harassment, ostracism, verbal abuse, surveillance, physical violence, and death threats. Al-Ghoul’s unfiltered and vivid dispatches are themselves an act of courage. Her book feels like an invitation to connect at a level that transcends or, more accurately, runs deeper than our divides.
Al-Ghoul uses stories to make a crucial intersectional observation about the experiences of women in conflict zones. Along with the many free thinkers in her family, al-Ghoul credits her love of books for allowing her to rise above rigid and regressive belief systems. A Rebel in Gaza is a testament to the power of lived experience and to the importance of sharing stories if we are to shift our collective consciousness.
Al-Ghoul dares to build bridges, to pierce through propaganda, stereotypes, and bigotry, and to provide multicolored snapshots of a conflict that’s too often presented in superficial black-and-white sketches. Her stunning book celebrates women’s role in resisting hatred, in affirming life while oppressive patriarchal regimes perpetuate war and death. It’s a powerful self-portrait of a woman who refuses to cave, who, in fact, chooses to put on a ruby-colored dress and stand out from the crowd: a rebel from Gaza and for a more just world.
– Hagar Scher, Women’s Review of Books

Al-Ghoul makes much of literature’s ability to subvert doctrinaire conceptual frameworks. Doing so, she enables Palestinian society to retain a measure of psychological health. Nothing could be more important, as the sad truth is that the occupation shows no sign of coming to an end.
– Rayyan Al-Shawaf, The Believer Logger

Asmaa embodies all oppressions, all possible occupations. She has a spontaneity whereby nothing calculated; all of that entails risks for her, by the way. That’s what moved me most, the story she gave me: she never does anything premeditated. She told me, ‘I’m braver than myself.’ Her memoir is dominated by a sense of freedom that has absolutely nothing self-pitying. […] Her testimony, in the time in which we live, puts her in the clan of resistance. She is for and with ordinary people. Because she lucidly reports their reality, the perspective she offers on this part of the world becomes all the more human and necessary.
– interview with coauthor Selim Nassib in Le Droit

Rebellious but humble. […] With A Rebel in Gaza, Asmaa al-Ghoul delivers through the pen of Selim Nassib a poignant story. From Gaza to Cairo, via New York and even Seoul, where she will become friends with Mahmoud Darwich, they invite the reader to question assumptions, to open visible and invisible borders. This book is also a declaration of love.
– Agenda Culturel

The story of her life, translated from Arabic to French, is above all that of a struggle for freedom in the land of dual occupation: Israeli and Islamist.
La Croix

In Gaza, the intimate and the political are bound together, one does not go without the other. One can not imagine, living in France, the hell that life can be in Gaza for a free woman. To overcome it requires extraordinary willpower and courage, because Asmaa al-Ghoul has received and still receives an incredible number of threats. […] A political but at the same time sensual book, intersected by the glow of guava trees and olive trees, the scent of strong tea and jasmine.

Asmaa al-Ghoul has written a breathtaking book about life and death in Gaza and the unquenchable thirst for freedom. With Lebanese journalist Selim Nassib this young activist and author reveals the joys, tragedies as well as the relentless threats to Gazans, whether they be Hamas or Israeli invaders. I wish Asmaa and her family a long and fruitful life.
– Herbert Hadad, author of Finding Immortality: The Making of One American Family and the forthcoming Tender and Tough: 60 Years of Storytelling

“[The authors] comment on the dire situation in the Gaza Strip and Israel’s armed confrontation with Hamas, which has ruled Gaza for the past 11 years.”
– Sheldon Kirshner, The Times of Israel

Heart-wrenching. […] Written in a very personal and literary fashion. […] A Rebel in Gaza moved me so much [and opened] my eyes. All readers who claim to be compassionate should read A Rebel in Gaza.
– JD Jung, Underrated Reads


Asmaa in Rafah
Photo credit: Fares Al Ghoul, 2014, Rafah

Asmaa al-Ghoul is a Palestinian journalist and author. Born in 1982 in the Rafah refugee camp in the southern part of the Gaza Strip, and the eldest of nine siblings, Asmaa grew up in a society dominated by political strife, corruption and male chauvinism, but also by an incredible humanity. Described by the New York Times as a woman “known for her defiant stance against the violations of civil rights in Gaza,” Asmaa al-Ghoul is currently living in Southern France working on her next book, while maintaining a large social media following on her self-styled channel, where she has delivered some of her most important breaking news. She has reported and authored articles for, among others, the Washington D.C.-based Al MonitorAl Ayyam, Al Quds, Amine, and opened the Palestinian office for the Emirati magazine Woman of Today. At the age of 18, Al-Ghoul won the Palestinian Youth Literature Award. In 2010, she received a Hellman/Hammett grant from Human Rights Watch, aimed at helping writers “who dare to express ideas that criticize official public policy or people in power.” In 2012, Al-Ghoul was awarded the Courage in Journalism Award by the prestigious International Women’s Media Foundation. She currently works for Al Monitor, a Washington D.C. based media site specializing in the Middle-East and lives in Southern France, where she is writing her next book.

See also: Palestinian woman breaks taboo to cycle across Gaza strip by The Observers, a collaborative site of France 24.

Photo Selim mars18
Photo credit: Stefano Leone

Coauthor Selim Nassib (b. 1946), a Franco-Lebanese writer, is a journalist for Libération. A connoisseur of the Middle East, he is the author of the novels I Loved You for Your Voice and The Palestinian Lover (Europa Editions). He lives in Paris.