Shehadeh, Raja. PALESTINE WALKS: Notes on a Vanishing Landscape. 2008. Profile Books. London, UK.

“…for every story there is an ending.”

Palestine Walks: A Book Review by Theresa Wolfwood

Large urban settlements where there once were olive groves, forests, villages and pasture. Photo © Theresa Wolfwood.

“…the biography of these hills is… my own.”

This memoir is a guided journey; the reader goes with the author as he remembers and reflects on his sorhat (spiritual walks to nourish the soul) around his home city of Ramallah, for the last twenty—seven years. He has walked many routes, many times over in this period and is able to vividly express “the language of the hills.”

Palestine Walks: A Book Review by Theresa Wolfwood

Swathes of fence and Israeli-only highways, closed gates at check points. Photo © Theresa Wolfwood.

These are the changes Shehadeh meets, but as Shehadeh, a lawyer and founder of the Human Rights group, Al—Haq, looks back on his family and community life, rooted in these hills, he mourns the changes wrought by war and occupation to his land. Illegal urban settlements, industrial development, roads, wall, fence have all contributed to the shrinking and destruction of his beloved landscape. He writes that the destruction of this beautiful place is a loss for Arabs, Jews and all lovers of nature.

Palestine Walks: A Book Review by Theresa WolfwoodHe is disillusioned by his profession and has lost faith in the power of the law because the occupiers have no respect for even their own laws and are contemptuous of any effort by Palestinians to contest their theft and destruction. He meets Zionist settlers, who absolve themselves of any guilt: they claim that they serve a higher purpose (God) that justifies their actions.

For over 100 years, European Christians promoted a concept of this biblical land that ignored the reality of Palestine. That concept stills permeates much of the European and North American support of Israel no matter how violent and lawless its wars and occupation are.

Palestine is disappearing like the waters of the Dead Sea; Israel´s diversion of the Jordan River for its own purposes has reduced the river to a trickle and the Dead Sea has decreased by 20%.

Shehadeh sees all this on his seven often repeated walks, with their constrictions, losses and confrontations with Israeli soldiers and settlers. His eighth walk is the story of his own troubled life as he reflects that his legal career did not work. But his life in Ramallah is “a narrative linked to liberation…to freedom from occupation” in a land where Palestinians live in ´reservations´ like those invented for indigenous peoples by the British.

A peasant friend, Sabri, says that not to fight for his land is sacrilege. The author, like many, lives a life of anger under the occupation but cautions against loosing one´s principles.

He quotes the poet, Robinson Jeffers, where the image of history and life remains in grain of granite. Nature creates a concept of time in which beauty prevails. An image of strength and hope,

But the struggle against colonization continues; there can be no trust until the occupation ends. For the author, his new direction is that of working in organized civil society in resistance. Acting, speaking and writing honestly and bravely — to win the cause and to overcome the trauma of defeat.

Nature and justice can and shall prevail. The story has not ended; Palestine shall not remain as “a victim of a map” as the poet Darwish wrote.

Filed under Book Reviews, Raja Shehadeh