Palestinian Walks: Notes from a Vanishing Landscape by Raja Shehadeh

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Palestinian Walks: Notes from a Vanishing Landscape by Raja Shehadeh

Category: Travel
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Sad, thoughtful and beautiful, this is a heartwrenching look at the vanishing Palestinian landscape and a damning indictment of both the Israeli settler policy and the PLO leadership. Sometimes, it's difficult not to despair.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 240 Date: August 2007
Publisher: Profile
ISBN: 978-1861978042

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Raja Shehadah has lived in Ramallah on the West Bank ever since his family left Jaffa in the nakbeh (cataclysm) of 1948, during which over a million Palestinians were displaced, creating a fresh diaspora to take the place of the one that felt it was coming home. In this sense, the nakbeh was - is - the ultimate irony. Shehadah is a lawyer and peace activist who has now turned to writing. In Palestinian Walks he ties the beauty he sees in his disappearing homeland to the crumbling of his dreams for a legal solution to the Israeli occupation. As you would expect, it is sad, angry, hopeless. However, it is also quite beautiful and, at times, touches on the profound.

There is an Arab tradition known as sarha. Sarha means to roam freely, to go where the spirit takes you. And Shehadah takes the reader on six sarhat, to explore his country's beautiful biblical hills, its olive groves, its wadis, its cliffs. While we watch its destruction by Israeli settlers, we realise that although development would arguably have happened anyway, it wouldn't have been so brutal, and the physical destruction of the landscape would not have been accompanied by the other destructions - of the Palestinian people's rights, freedoms and economy. Most of all, though, we realise from this intensely personal and lyrical account, just how it is to live in this troubled region. There is suffering and heartache, but there are also sublime moments in which connection to the land in which we were born becomes truly elevating and life-affirming.

Ah, y'know, what do you say in reviewing this book? So much gets in the way of being able to type anything worthwhile. Especially when you live in a country whose government - a government which, to your enduring shame, you actually voted for - runs around involving itself in wars costing hundreds of thousands of lives in the propagandised name of human rights, yet supports some of the most egregious abuses of human rights anywhere with money, weapons, diplomacy and rhetoric and as if that weren't enough, is gradually moving to criminalise any form of radical freedom of speech? What do you say? Gosh, it's dreadful doesn't quite cut it, does it?

Palestinians are watching their land, their homes, their freedoms and their hopes of prosperity vanish before their very eyes. Israel is to blame. We are to blame. Even their own leadership is to blame. If you would like to have any real conception of what this might mean to the people living there, then you should read this book. And if you wouldn't like to, then shame on you.

My thanks to the good people at Profile for sending the book.

Those interested in Middle Eastern politics generally might like to look at Interventions by Noam Chomsky.

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Buy Palestinian Walks: Notes from a Vanishing Landscape by Raja Shehadeh at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Palestinian Walks: Notes from a Vanishing Landscape by Raja Shehadeh at Amazon.com.


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Dave Robinson said:

Thank-you Jill Murphy for the passion, clarity and unconditional humaneness of your review. (Yeah, no less) What can one say when witnessing this tragic injustice from a safe distance? How can we translate our outrage and our empathy into any sort of effective action? We can certainly start with a robust and compassionate understanding.

Your last sentence made me weep - ...And if you wouldn't like to, then shame on you. Yes indeed. - Let us not be mistaken about what is going on here.