RAJA SHEHADEH’s public profile is plain to see: a Palestinian human-rights lawyer and activist, and successful author. In his latest book, Shehadeh reveals a troubling aspect of his private life: his awkward relationship with his late father, Aziz, which has been a cause of grief for the author.
Raja followed Aziz into the legal profession. The latter was a lawyer who was not afraid to take on challenging cases. He succeeded, after international court hearings, in unblocking the banked funds of Palestinians uprooted from their homes — as the Shehadehs had been — when Israel was created in 1948. Three years later, he defended the three men accused of assassinating King Abdullah I of Jordan.
All the while, decades before it became an accepted concept, he advocated the creation of a Palestinian state living peacefully alongside Israel, a point of view that was denounced by nearly all the parties involved, including the Palestinian political leadership. Jordan would not accept any threat to its control of the West Bank, and Aziz Shehadeh was imprisoned on two occasions by the Amman authorities.
In 1985, Raja Shehadeh’s father was murdered. By this time, what could have been a perfect father-and-son lawyer team had drifted apart. “My father didn’t show any interest in my human rights work,” he writes. “He tried to tell me that what was needed was political work to pressure Israel to negotiate. But I was fixed in the direction I had chosen and was not going to listen.”
Later, going through his father’s work files, he realised how little he had understood about his father’s motives and methods. “Why have I never looked up to him or appreciated what he endured?” he wonders. “I took my mother’s side and thought, like her, that he was too rash and foolish to get engaged in activities that led him into trouble.”
Raja Shehadeh believes that, if his father had not been murdered, they could have found common ground again and become friends.
Mr Shehadeh’s book is slim but powerful — rich in recent historical detail with a poignant personal trauma threading in and out of it. This is a Palestinian memoir that will endure.
Gerald Butt was a Middle East Correspondent of the BBC and of the Church Times, and Middle East Adviser to Oxford Analytica. This review is the last that he wrote for the Church Times before his death.
We Could Have Been Friends, My Father And I: A Palestinian memoir
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