RAMALLAH, now the capital of Palestine, was a pleasant resort town of gardens and restaurants. In the 1980s, I would go there from the bustle of Jerusalem for a long and leisurely lunch. It is now a huge urban sprawl. Since the ’80s, two intifadas, brutal Israeli occupation, and Palestinian politicians’ greed have done their worst.
In 2017, 50 years after Israel captured the West Bank, a Ramallah resident, Raja Shehadeh, walks the city. It has been transformed through many a trauma; some of the book sounds like any older person wandering round, asking what children miss by being driven on the school run, or how tragic the loss of old buildings is — except that this is the lawyer and writer Raja Shehadeh, and his political and historical analysis is sharp and unsentimental.
Besides reminding the reader of what urban Palestine was like under the unsympathetic Jordanians, or the British before them, he brings the Israeli occupation and the feeble Palestinian government under his forensic gaze.
So we get stories of gardens and of shopkeepers and tradesmen, as well as terrible stories of oppression, all viewed with great perception and in exquisite prose. The greatest insight is that Palestine has caused Israel to self-destruct. What was dreamt of as a secular, socialist nation of agricultural communes among the nations has become a breaker of international law built by cheap Palestinian labour.
Shehadeh opens himself to the reader: his complex relationships with his parents, the sense of the futility of all the human-rights work he did as a lawyer, the sense of no hope for his people.
Yet it is a really beautiful book to read, for all the grief, and a fine introduction to understanding how the vanquished still live and flourish.
The Revd Stephen Griffith is a retired Anglican priest. He specialises in Syria and the Syriac community in Turabdin.
Going Home: A walk through fifty years of occupation
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