Palestinian Walks (Shehadeh; 2008) was the winner of the Orwell Prize for political writing in 2008.
Shehadeh takes us the the tumultuous political landscape in Palestine and Israel by discussing a series of walks that he took with his wife or friends over a 30 year period. The book is beautiful, poetic and tragic at the same time. Initially the walks are full of beauty, but as the Israeli government increasingly makes life hard for Palestinian Arabs by expropriating Palestinian land and building internationally defined illegal settlements, the landscape gets ripped apart.
The walks become more difficult as the Israeli government annexes land for Israelis only and Palestinians are not allowed to enter these areas. Property and land is expropriated for Israeli use, with little or no compensation for the Palestinians. The Israeli government often claimd that the land was not occupied by the Palestinian owner because it wasn’t on a land registry and no one was in the accommodation at the time of survey. From the Palestinian perspective land ownership and property boundaries were often never formalised, they didn’t need to be, neighbours knew where property boundaries were, and these were respected.
The walks are so descriptive of the land that I felt that I was seeing the picturesque landscape in my mind as Shehadeh walked, I could see the terraced walls and the cultivated lands, discover the primitive but loved architecture, and feel the tension between two proud nations who are trying to exist alongside each other.
However, what becomes apparent is that one nation becomes aggressive and dominant, controlling the movement, and restricting the movement and freedoms of the other. Settlements get built inside the boundaries of the 1967 Greenline Borders, making a two state solution impossible. The settlements become a blight on the land and roads, which Palestinians cannot use, scar the landscape and become defactor borders that prevent some walks from being undertaken without breaking Israeli law.
Shehadeh also explores the Oslo Accord of 1993 and 1995 between the PLO and Israel. He is scathing of both the PLO and Israeli negotiators and how both sides made it possible for Israel to further erode Palestinian rights and freedoms. Britain and its role in the Palestinian story and oppression is also discussed, as is the failure of the West to intervene to prevent the ongoing and continuous human rights abuses which Palestinians have suffered.
Overall the book kept up my interest and I enjoyed the balance between the walks and the politics, and it was nice to hear about the troubles between Israel and Palestine from a Palestinian perspective, which is often lacking in Western media.
Raja Shehadeh is the founder of Al Haq, a Palestinian Human Rights Organisation, and he is also a land and property lawyer.
Shehadeh, R; 2008; Palestinian Walks: Notes On A Vanishing Landscape; London; Profile Books Ltd