Cover image of "A Grave in Gaza," a novel about the Palestinian Intifada

The Palestine Quartet by Welsh journalist Matt Rees skillfully explores the dynamics of Palestinian and Israeli society during the Second Intifada (2000-2005). In four novels published from 2007 to 2010, Rees plumbs the depths of the conflict that roiled the tiny Mediterranean land, with echoes still heard today. Each of the four books is structured as an amateur detective story, with Palestinian high school history teacher Omar Yussef in the role of sleuth. A Grave in Gaza, the second of the four novels, shifts the scene from Omar Yussef’s home town of Bethlehem to Gaza. There, in the company of two United Nations officials, he becomes caught up in a complex murder case involving high-level corruption and the criminal gangs that double as Islamic activists.

Crime in Gaza during the Palestinian Intifada

Omar Yussef arrives in Gaza with Magnus Wallender, the director of the many United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) schools in Palestinian refugee camps. There, they meet with James Cree, the Scots director of security for UNRWA in Palestine. (Omar Yussef is the principal of the Girls’ School in UNRWA’s Dehaisha refugee camp in Bethlehem.) They have come to conduct an inspection tour of UNRWA schools in Gaza. But the trio is immediately confronted with a crisis: one of their local teachers has been arrested by the secret police and charged with spying for the CIA.

A Grave in Gaza (Omar Yussef #2 of 4) by Matt Rees (2008) 228 pages ★★★★☆

Aerial photo of Gaza City, where the action unfolds in this novel about the Palestinian Intifada
Aerial view of Gaza City in 2007, around the time when this novel is set. Image: The Jerusalem Post

Palestinian secret police, the United Nations, and the Palestinian National Authority

Eyad Masharawi teaches part-time at the school in Shati refugee camp. He also works part-time as a lecturer at Al-Azhar University. Masharawi is an outspoken critic of the government and the university administration. He had uncovered evidence that the university president was selling degrees to members of the secret police so they could gain promotion. It’s clear that the charge of espionage is absurd. After all, the head of the secret police himself collaborates closely with the CIA.

Omar Yussef and his two UN companions set out to gain Masharawi’s release. Soon, they stumble onto two seemingly unrelated crimes. Graves in a World War II British cemetery have been desecrated. And a secret police officer has been murdered. But are these crimes in fact unrelated to the jailing of Eyad Masharawi? Omar Yussef soon begins to see connections—and the stakes rise higher and higher as the Palestinian National Authority becomes involved as well. As his investigation proceeds, both Omar Yussef and his companions will find themselves targeted for death.

About Arab names

Omar Yussef’s full name is Omar Yussef Sirhan, but he is known among his fellow Arabs as Abu Ramiz, or Father of Ramiz, his son. Arab characters in this novel are routinely identified in this fashion, although they are sometimes addressed by their first and middle names, too. For many Western readers this may take a little getting used to.

About the author

Photo of Matt Rees, author of this novel about the Palestinian Intifada

Welsh novelist and journalist Matt Rees covered the Middle East and lived in Jerusalem for 20 years. He was TIME‘s Jerusalem bureau chief from 2000 until 2006, writing award-winning stories about the Palestinian Intifada. Rees also worked as Middle East correspondent for The Scotsman and Newsweek. He is the author of nine novels and one work of nonfiction. Rees is best known for the Palestine Quartet, the four Omar Yussef novels published from 2007 to 2010.

Previously I reviewed the first of the Omar Yussef novels. It’s The Collaborator of Bethlehem (A murder in Palestine exposes the fault lines in the refugee community). I’ve also reviewed The Ambassador by Yehuda Avner and Matt Rees (An alternate history of Israel and World War II).

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