Balcony on the Moon: Coming of Age in Palestine

Ibtisam Barakat’s memoir Balcony on the Moon picks up where her Tasting the Sky leaves off, tracing the course of Barakat’s life from her childhood following the Six-Day War to her acceptance at university. It’s a book about the effects of the war and the Israeli occupation on her family as well as the author’s love of school, her dawning love of writing, and her developing commitment to literacy and equal rights for women and girls.

Her story is also polemical. The Author’s Note offers a one-sided account of the history of what to her is exclusively “Palestine.” As she tells it, Israel was founded “because of the Holocaust and extensive Jewish immigration to Palestine, with the aim of making it a national home for Jews.” In other words, Jews were interlopers, with no roots in this region worth reporting to young readers.

Is Barakat aware of the continuous Jewish presence in Palestine since the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE, well before the Arab invasion of the seventh century? Does she know that there were Jewish communities, some quite large, in Tiberias and Jerusalem? Why does she avoid mentioning Arab in-migration, which increased under the British Mandate in part because of economic activity and job opportunities generated by the Jews of the Yishuv (the Jewish settlement)? In fact, from 1922 to 1947, it was the cities with large Jewish populations, like Haifa, Jerusalem, and Jaffa, where the Arab populations increased most markedly, not the all-Arab cities.

Barakat also faults Israel for failing to implement UN General Assembly Resolution 194 which, she says, “aimed to facilitate a peaceful return of the Palestinian refugees to their homes,” as though this was something simple to do. She seems unaware that Palestinian refugees have no right of return under international law, as Einat Wilf and Adi Schwartz demonstrate exhaustively in their book The War of Return:

There is no international law that requires Israel to allow Palestinian refugees and their descendants to return to Israel. In addition, no treaties or binding UN resolutions were violated by Israel’s expulsion of Palestinians during the 1948 conflict and none provide a right of return for Palestinian refugees. Refugee status in itself does not entail a right to return to one’s original country.[1]

Furthermore, to admit a large population of hostile Arabs into the nascent Israeli state would, of course, have been suicidal, especially when the young country was struggling to settle and accommodate hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing hostile countries in the Middle East and North Africa. The mass of Jewish refugees from Muslim countries – approximately equivalent to the number of Palestinian refugees – is invisible in Barakat’s account.

As in Tasting the Sky, Barakat also offers a distorted history of the Six-Day War. She says it “occurred” in 1967, failing to acknowledge what it really was:  an attempt by four Arab countries (Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Iraq) to wipe Israel off the map and even to annihilate the Jews.[2]

Grateful to schools run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for the life-altering education it offered her, Barakat paints a sanitized picture of the agency. She notes that it was the sole UN agency devoted to “one displaced people,” but fails to ask why the UN, which already had the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees), with its extensive refugee-support network serving millions of post-World War II refugees, had to create one exclusively for the Palestinians. The truth is that this decision was political. UNRWA defined refugees differently; under the UNRWA definition, refugee status is passed on to future generations. Perhaps, having lost to Israel on the battlefield, the Arabs decided to perpetuate the conflict rather than resolve the refugees’ situation.[3] UNRWA schools have been found responsible for teaching for conflict rather than peace, and many of their teachers have posted inflammatory material inciting to violence on their Facebook pages.[4]

The map at the start of the book implies that there was an independent entity called “Palestine” before 1948. This is the misinformation communicated in the notorious “map that lies” used as anti-Israel propaganda. It ignores the partition of the Palestine Mandate accepted by Israel and rejected by the Arabs in 1947, instead implying that all of Israel was a legal entity known as “Palestine” and stolen by Israel in ’48 and ’67. This is false.


[1] Adi Schwartz and Einat Wilf, The War of Return: How Western Indulgence of the Palestinian Dream Has Obstructed the Path to Peace. New York:  All Points Books, 2020, p. 182.

[2] See review of Tasting the Sky.

[3] For an exhaustive discussion of UNRWA’s creation and how it prevented the rehabilitation of Palestinian refugees, see Schwartz and Wilf, The War of Return.

[4] See joint IMPACT-se/UN Watch report, “UN Teachers Call to Murder Jews, Reveals New Report,” March 14, 2023, at


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