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A Small Door Set in Concrete

One Woman’s Story of Challenging Borders in Israel/Palestine

“I was taught from the start not to be silent.”

For years, renowned activist and scholar Ilana Hammerman has given the world remarkable translations of Kafka. With A Small Door Set in Concrete, she turns to the actual surreal existence that is life in the West Bank after decades of occupation.

After losing her husband and her sister, Hammerman set out to travel to the end of the world. She began her trip with the hope that it would reveal the right path to take in life. But she soon realized that finding answers was less important than experiencing the freedom to move from place to place without restriction. Hammerman returned to the West Bank with a renewed joie de vivre and a resolution: she would become a regular visitor to the men, women, and children who were on the other side of the wall, unable to move or act freely. She would listen to their dreams and fight to bring some justice into their lives.

A Small Door Set in Concrete is a moving picture of lives filled with destruction and frustration but also infusions of joy. Whether joining Palestinian laborers lining up behind checkpoints hours before the crack of dawn in the hope of crossing into Israel for a day’s work, accompanying a family to military court for their loved one’s hearing, or smuggling Palestinian children across borders for a day at the beach, Hammerman fearlessly ventures into territories where few Israelis dare set foot and challenges her readers not to avert their eyes in the face of injustice.

Hammerman neither preaches nor politicks. Instead, she engages in a much more personal, everyday kind of activism. Hammerman is adept at revealing the absurdities of a land where people are stripped of their humanity. And she is equally skilled at illuminating the humanity of those caught in this political web. To those who have become simply statistics or targets to those in Israel and around the world, she gives names, faces, dreams, desires.
This is not a book that allows us to sit passively. It is a slap in the face, a necessary splash of cold water that will reawaken the humanity inside all of us.

296 pages | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2019

Biography and Letters

Jewish Studies

Middle Eastern Studies


"Above all, Hammerman shows how the Occupation works to cast Palestinians as 'creatures of a different species,' rather than 'normal human beings.' Her remarkable book is a fierce corrective to this."

Times Literary Supplement

“Intense, heartbreaking, and filled with memories of shared laughter and tears, A Small Door Set in Concrete is the work of a sensitive, courageous soul. Its stories of injustice and oppression might be overwhelming were it not for Hammerman’s example of facing it all with compassion and courage. Her text demands to know why nothing is being done and calls upon the world to effect change through the power of mass civil disobedience.”

Foreword Reviews

"If [Hammerman] is working toward a long-term change, it is through the reader. Buried in Hammerman’s words is a quiet but insistent alarm clock. She proposes an awakening to the coffee shops and living rooms beyond the point where cars of casual passers-by turn back. She urges an opening of the consciousness that can only occur outside the physical and metaphysical contours of a state."

Al Jadid

“This is a forceful and weighty book . . . written in a quiet, personal voice, and with humor. It is a documentary book, but it is written like literature in the full sense of the word. It produces in the reader—at least it did in this reader—empathy and emotion, and it reads like a powerful, consciousness-changing novel.”

David Grossman, author of To the End of the Land | Praise for the Hebrew edition

“At the heart of the book is a woman on her own, free, inquisitive, friendly, who drives children to the sea so that they can see it for the first time, and who meets families and friends and officials and speaks with them and observes them. A woman who is capable of ‘ridiculing fears and prejudices, of crossing barriers of walls and fences with her body, her spirit, and her mind, and of defying limitations that reside in the soul—limitations of submission and obedience, and especially of fear—and vanquishing them.’”

Omri Herzog, Haaretz | Praise for the Hebrew edition

“If you want a book whose words are clear and simple and which says things that come out of a wise heart, this is a book for you. . . . Hammerman is not boring for one moment: her book is vibrant, personal, and relevant, and its intensity is tangible under the surface. Sometimes the descriptions become fine literature by virtue of the narrative ease, with the anger neutralized. It is not the storyteller who is shouting, it is the story that cries out without raising its voice.”

Talma Admon, Maariv | Praise for the Hebrew edition

“I am torn while I read it. I weep. . . . The writing is so honest and so lovely. It is as if there is no other way to seduce the horror. But please, do read it.”

Lea Aini, author of Bat ha-Makom | Praise for the Hebrew edition

Israeli journalist, translator, and editor Hammerman’s memoir of life along the Israel-Palestine border is a fascinating view into the region’s ongoing tensions in the early 2000s. She finds both the absurd and tragic in the bureaucratic structures that keep Palestinians and Israelis divided. [...] As this is written primarily in the third person, readers may at times forget that they're not reading farcical fiction, though the ways in which Hammerman conveys the humanity of each person ground her memoir in reality. A final section includes Hammerman’s first-person articles reported from the Gaza Strip. Readers will appreciate Hammerman’s literary depiction of life on the ground in the borderland."


"Although Hammerman does not deal with the origin of the question of Palestine, nor does she bring up the 1948 historical moment, the narrative is a must read for all readers who wish to learn about the plight of Palestinians under Israeli occupation, a plight that has been taking place since 1967, under the very eyes of the international community and human rights agencies."

Arab Studies Quarterly

Table of Contents

Foreword by David Shulman


In the Land of the Maoris
In the Land of the Palestinians

The West Bank

Someone at the Door
The Passengers in Car Trunks
The Walkers
Her Own Passenger in the Car Trunk

The Story of Adnan Abdallah
The Story of Jamil
The Story of the Invisible Ones

Seeing Them See the Sea
The Wonders of Ice Cream and What She Got Out of Them
A Beauty Spot, a Pearl

The Seasons in Hebron
Autumn: Through the Hole That Once Was a Lock
Winter: Blessed Be He Who Does Wondrous Deeds
Spring: Childhood

The Gaza Strip

Lamenting Her Unseeing Eyes, Winter 2011

Gaza Strip in the First Person
Prologue, 2016
Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here, January 1988
Visiting R. in Prison in Gaza, June 1988
How We Didn’t Manage to Visit R. a Second Time, August 1988
Facing the Sea, with H., Summer 1988
Three Spasms, Jerusalem, 1991
Being Guests in the Gaza Strip, January 1991
Open Letter to Abu Ashraf and Those Who Send Him to Do Their Bidding, June 1991
This Is Not My War! Summer 1991
Nor Is This War Mine, Summer 2014


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