Top positive review
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Brilliant and enlightening
on 13 June 2011
Having not long returned from a visit to Israel and the West Bank I decided to read "Palestinian Walks" written by Raja Shehadeh, a Palestinian human rights lawyer who has stayed living in the West Bank through all the troubles of the last 60 years. It was a far better book than I had anticipated with the brilliant way that Shehadeh was able to intertwine the experiences, beauty and destruction of the environment witnessed in his walks, with personal reflections and history and incidents of the region.
I agree completely with the quotes from reviews of the Independent on Sunday "Delivering what many activists neglect to mention: the odd, slightly absurd details that really touch people" and the NY Times "Few Palestinians have opened their minds and hearts with such frankness."
The sadness and frustration of Shehadeh come over, without any hatred or bigotedness, and also incredibly not giving the reader an utter sense of despair at the end. Obviously Shehadeh is critical of Israeli policy in the West Bank, but he also expresses his frustration and anger with the former PLO leadership in exile at their insistence on recognition at the expense of an adequate land solution in the Oslo Agreement, as well as corrupt practices when in control.
It was the small details that were so enlightening. In the last two walks encounters and conversations with a young Israeli settler (An Imagined Sarha) and two young, angry Muslim Palestinians (The Masked Shepherds) are recorded which are so sensitively done. The tradegy of how particularly Israeli policy, as well as fear, makes contact between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs so limited is brilliantly displayed in the conversation which makes up a large part of the chapter "An Imagined Sarha". The book is worth reading for that conversation alone.
Also the chapter "And How Did You Get Over It?" was fascinating, when a Palestinian doctor and politician with whom Raja is friends asks on a walk how Raja overcome his anger at the defeat incurred by the Oslo Agreement. Raja reflects that he has not had to suffer as much as his father had to and that when he could walk and reflect on the geography and think about previous generations and civilisations which the land barely reflects now he comments:
"For a long time my enjoyment of these hills has been impaired by a preoccupation with the changes in land law relating to them. But such man-made constructs can be diminished if looked at in a particular way. Viewed from the perspective of the land they hardly count...Stones are gathered to build houses but then they crumble and return to the land, however large and formidable they might once have been.
Thinking in the long term made it possible for me to separate "the present" from the rest of time and thereby realize that what Palestine and Israel are now would not necessarily be for ever. I was here on earth for a relatively short period and after that time passed, life would go on without my points of view, biases and fears." (p170-1)