It is often the smallest details of daily life that tell us the most. And so it is under occupation in Palestine. What most of us take for granted has to be carefully thought about and planned for: When will the post be allowed to get through? Will there be enough water for the bath tonight? How shall I get rid of the rubbish collecting outside? How much time should I allow for the journey to visit my cousin, going through checkpoints? And big questions too: Is working with left-wing Israelis collaborating or not? What affect will the Arab Spring have on the future of Palestine? What can anyone do to bring about change? Are any of life's pleasures untouched by politics?
Raja Shehadeh is a passionate hill walker. He enjoys nothing more than heading out into the countryside that surrounds his home. But in recent years, his hikes have become less than bucolic and sometimes downright dangerous. That is because his home is Ramallah, on the Palestinian West Bank, and the landscape he traverses is now the site of a tense standoff between his fellow Palestinians and settlers newly arrived from Israel. In this original and evocative book, we accompany Raja on six walks taken between 1978 and 2006. The earlier forays are peaceful affairs, allowing our guide to meditate at length on the character of his native land, a terrain of olive trees on terraced hillsides, luxuriant valleys carved by sacred springs, carpets of wild iris and hyacinth and ancient monasteries built more than a thousand years ago. Shehadeh's love for this magical place saturates his renderings of its history and topography. But latterly, as seemingly endless concrete is poured to build settlements and their surrounding walls, he finds the old trails are now impassable and the countryside he once traversed freely has become contested ground. He is harassed by Israeli border patrols, watches in terror as a young hiking companion picks up an unexploded missile and even, on one occasion when accompanied by his wife, comes under prolonged gunfire. Amid the many and varied tragedies of the Middle East, the loss of a simple pleasure such as the ability to roam the countryside at will may seem a minor matter. But inPalestinian Walks,Raja Shehadeh's elegy for his lost footpaths becomes a heartbreaking metaphor for the deprivations of an entire people estranged from their land.
The quest for his great-uncle Najib Nassar, an Ottoman journalist - the details of his life, and the route of his great escape from occupied Palestine - consumed award-winning writer Raja Shehadeh for two years. As he traces Najib's footsteps, he discovers that today it would be impossible to flee the cage that Palestine has become. "A Rift in Time" is a family memoir written in luminescent prose, but it is also a reflection on how Palestine - in particular the disputed Jordan Rift Valley - has been transformed. Most of Palestine's history and that of its people is buried deep in the ground: whole villages have disappeared and names have been erased from the map. Yet by seeing the bigger picture of the landscape and the unending struggle for freedom as Shehadeh does, it is still possible to look towards a better future, free from Israeli or Ottoman oppression.
How do Palestinians live, imagine and reflect on home and exile in this period of a stateless and transitory Palestine, a deeply contested and crisis-ridden national project, and a sharp escalation in Israeli state violence and accompanying Palestinian oppression? How can exile and home be written?<P><P>In this volume of new writing, fifteen innovative and outstanding Palestinian writers-essayists, poets, novelists, critics, artists and memoirists-respond with their reflections, experiences, memories and polemics. What is it like, in the words of Lila Abu-Lughod, to be "drafted into being Palestinian?" What happens when you take your American children-as Sharif Elmusa does-to the refugee camp where you were raised? And how can you convince, as Suad Amiry attempts to do, a weary airport official to continue searching for a code for a country that isn't recognized?Contributors probe the past through unconventional memories, reflecting on 1948 when it all began. But they are also deeply interested in beginnings, imagining, in the words of Mischa Hiller, "a Palestine that reflects who we are now and who we hope to become." Their contributions-poignant, humorous, intimate, reflective, intensely political-make for an offering that is remarkable for the candor and grace with which it explores the many individual and collective experiences of waiting, living for, and seeking Palestine.Contributors include: Lila Abu-Lughod, Susan Abulhawa, Suad Amiry, Rana Barakat, Mourid Barghouti, Beshara Doumani, Sharif S. Elmusa, Rema Hammami, Mischa Hiller, Emily Jacir, Penny Johnson, Fady Joudah, Jean Said Makdisi, Karma Nabulsi, Raeda Sa'adeh, Raja Shehadeh, Adania Shibli.
This "is not a political book," Anthony Lewis writes in his foreword. "Yet in a hundred different ways it is political.... Shehadeh shatters the stereotype many Americans have of Palestinians. Hath not a Palestinian senses, affections, passions?" This revealing memoir of a father-son relationship, the first o its kind by a Palestinian living in the occupied territories, is set against the backdrop of Middle East hostilities and more than thirty years of life under military occupation.Three years after his family was driven from the coastal city of Jaffa in 1948, Raja Shehadeh was born in the provincial town of Ramallah, in the rural hills of the West Bank. His early childhood was marked by his family's sense of loss and impermanence, vividly evoked by the glittering lights "on the other side of the hill."Growing up "in the shadow of home," he was introduced early to political conflict. He witnessed the numerous arrests of his father, Aziz Shehadeh, who, in 1967, was the first Palestinian to advocate a peaceful, two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He predicted that if peace were not acheived, what remained of the Palestinian homeland would be taken away, bit by bit, through Israeli settlement. Ostracized by his fellow Arabs and disillusioned by the failure of either side to recognize his prophetic vision, Aziz retreated from politics. He was murdered in 1985.Strangers in the House offers a moving description of the daily lives of those who have chosen to remain on their land. It is also the family drama of a difficult relationship between an idealistic son and his politically active father complicated by the arbitrary humiliation of the "occupier's law."
The Israeli army invaded Ramallah in March 2002. A tank stood at the end of Raja Shehadeh's road; Israeli soldiers patrolled from the roof toops. Four soldiers took over his brother's apartment and then used him as a human shield as they went through the building, while his wife tried to keep her composure for the sake of their frightened childred, ages four and six.This is an account of what it is like to be under seige: the terror, the frustrations, the humiliations, and the rage. How do you pass your time when you are imprisoned in your own home? What do you do when you cannot cross the neighborhood to help your sick mother?Shehadeh's recent memoir, Strangers in the House: Coming of Age in Occupied Palestine, was the first book by a Palestinian writer to chronicle a life of displacement on the West Bank from 1967 to the present. It received international acclaim and was a finalist for the 2002 Lionel Gelber Prize. When the Birds Stopped Singing is a book of the moment, a chronicle of life today as lived by ordinary Palestinians throughout the West Bank and Gaza in the grip of the most stringent Israeli security measures in years. And yet it is also an enduring document, at once literary and of great political import, that should serve as a cautionary tale for today's and future generations.
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