Miral, a novel written by Rula Jebreal and made into a film by American filmmaker Julian Schnabel, is the story of a young girl’s coming of age–physically, emotionally and politically–in a Jerusalem of the 1980s, which finds itself smothered with student demonstrations, violent resistance, and unrelenting occupation alongside everyday uncharted life.
After the tragic death of their mother, Miral and her younger sister, Rania, are put in Hind Husseini’s school for young girls. The girls visit their father, an imam at al-Aqsa, as well as spend their summers with him. The school becomes a second home for the young girls as they find themselves trying to deal with the seemingly worsening political situation in the Occupied Territories and also with life’s daily hurdles and occasional struggles.
Miral becomes increasingly involved with the political resistance, particularly the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, much to the dismay and worry of her family and her school. Her impulsive nature, immature experience and resounding passion for her people put herself, her family, and the her fellow students in constant danger. Ultimately, Miral is forced to make a decision having to choose between joining the resistance movement and continuing her education. She pursues studies to use her mind and ability as forms of resistance– to be, as Husseini says to Miral, “future women leaders of Palestine, not martyrs.”
Despite some memorable characters and moments, as well as the (ultimately brief) acknowledgment of Hind Husseini’s work and life, the books fails to be anything more than, as the Omar El-Khairy notes in a review of the film, “Palestine as Hollywood fantasy.” While the film is markedly different from the novel in many ways, El-Khairy’s critiques remain as relevant as for the book as they do for the movie. The book is written to be a film seemingly more about sexually adventurous, politically aggressive and unorthodox Palestinian Muslim women who stand against the almost invariably abusive, rigidly-traditional minded men who try to exert certain sort control over the various women in the novel, as opposed to a novel about the Palestinian experience, during the volatile period of the Intifada, especially for young women.