The Unlikely Settler

Publication Date: Mar 25, 2014

416 pp


List Price US $21.99
ISBN: 9781590516843


List Price US $24.95
ISBN: 9781590516836

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict seen by an outsider who craves to make sense of herself, her marriage, and the city she lives in

The Unlikely Settler is none other than a young Bengali journalist who moves to Jerusalem with her English-Jewish husband and two children. He speaks Arabic and is an arch believer in the peace process; she leaves her career behind to follow his dream. Jerusalem propels Pelham into a world where freedom from tribal allegiance is a challenging prospect. From the school you choose for your children to the wine you buy, you take sides at every turn.

Pelham’s complicated relationship with her husband, Leo, is as emotive as the city she lives in, as full of energy, pain, and contradictions. As she tries to navigate the complexities and absurdities of daily life in Jerusalem, often with hilarious results, Pelham achieves deep insights into the respective woes and guilt of her Palestinian and Israeli friends. Her intelligent analysis suggests a very different approach to a potential resolution of the conflict.


Author’s Note: This book is a memoir of my life in the Middle East and a depiction of the events and places around me. In some places I have taken creative license or have embellished, dramatized, or added or removed elements from certain incidents and circumstances for the purposes of flow, effect, or efficiency of storytelling or economy of language. In particular, a number of the stories in this book involving my husband Leo and various statements depicting his views and conduct or other personal information regarding him, are products of my imagination and are not intended to be considered literally true.

Excerpt from The Unlikely Settler

During our fifth year in Jerusalem, I was faced with a dilemma: where to give birth to our third child. In London, where my two older children were born and where my husband wanted me to go? In Bethlehem, because my friends recommended the Holy Family Hospital there? Or in Jerusalem, where I had met a Jewish orthodox obstetrician I really liked?

I tried not to rule out Bethlehem. Many of our expatriate friends—journalists and diplomats—went to Palestinian cities to deliver their babies to avoid probable future difficulties for their work life in the Middle East. I went to see the hospital in Bethlehem. It had a beautiful setting, amid lovely gardens, and a state-of-the-art neonatal unit. The delivery rooms were spacious and airy with a view of the primordial hills. But it sounded so clichéd. Born in Bethlehem. Implicated in too much compassion and sacrifice. A birth loaded with expectations. Given that Bethlehem had one of the highest birth rates in Palestine, the land should have been inundated by now with hundreds of thousands of compassionate Apostles. If only forgiveness had been the core value of this place, peace would have flourished in the hills around Jesus’s birthplace, rather than outposts of hate. I could not help my eye being drawn to the ugly architecture of the Israeli settlements that dotted the landscape around Bethlehem. It was too ominous a place to give birth.

I carried on seeing my doctor, who traveled from his home in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank to his practice in Jerusalem’s ultra-orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim.

“How can you compromise your politics by seeing a settler doctor? Don’t you think you are implicitly supporting the Israeli occupation?” said Leo, my husband, an expert on Middle East affairs.

“It’s up to the mother of the baby to decide where she feels comfortable to give birth,” I replied.

“[D]istinctive…The Unlikely Settler is, well, unsettling.” —BookList

“A touching personal delineation of divided loyalties and riven hearts.” —Kirkus

“Personal drama and inner conflicts are intertwined naturally with the dramas and conflicts of the outside world in this emotionally moving memoir.” —Zeruya Shalev, author of Thera and Husband and Wife

“It’s fascinating and refreshing to see everyday life in Jerusalem through the sharp, affectionate eyes of Lipika Pelham as she encounters and befriends Zionists, Ultra-Orthodox Haredis, Arab Jews, left wing intellectuals, Israeli Arabs, Palestinians, Bedouins, Christians, expatriates and international peace-keepers in this city of warring sides and emotional flare-ups. It helps to understand the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” —Claudia Roden, author of The Book of Jewish Food

“Pelham achieves deep insights into the respective woes and guilt of her Palestinian and Israeli friends.” —Between the Covers

“Lipika Pelham’s experience as the Bengali wife of a Jewish Englishman living with their family in Jerusalem offers a fresh, objective, and very human perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The history of both cultures is well represented, as are the ramifications of the political decisions that shifted entire populations. Her writing is vivid and her storytelling as straightforward as you’d expect from someone who wrote for the BBC. This book will appeal to anyone interested in gaining more understanding of the tense situation in the Middle East, and will particularly appeal to parents faced with raising their children in a culture that is not quite their own. Five stars!” —Julie Wernersbach, BookPeople (Austin, TX)