Book Review

Palestinian Walks: Notes on a Vanishing Landscape

Raja Shehadeh, Profile Books (Publishers), 2008


Walking around the countryside, climbing the hills and wading on the streams are not only refreshing to the body, but also rejuvenating the soul. They open the eyes to the history of the land and open the mind to the caring actions of the people living on it as well as the destructive forces ruining it. These walks can be lessons in geography, history, human behaviour and current affairs. Raja Shehadeh combines all of the above in a captivating read of his walks around Palestine over a quarter of a century between 1978 and 2005.

“Palestinian Walks” is not meant to be a diary, but it makes a compelling record of how a simple human activity may become an event that is rich in stories, full of information and a lot of in-depth analysis.

As Raja walks around the wadies (valleys) and the hills he describes a journey, through history, of a land that had seen many invaders and witnessed battles that left ruins for the history to remember the suffering of those who lived there at one time. Raja ably takes the readers from the deep history of Christ to the modern life of military checkpoints, new rules of occupation restricting access to beauty spots, a new build of settlements on the hilltops that were once unspoilt and the wide and long roads that cross the land and paradoxically disconnecting Palestinian towns and villages as they connect the Israeli settlements.

Raja is able to take us swiftly and cleverly from talking about the wildlife in the countryside to the stories of family members and friends, which are all connected, to illustrate life in Palestine cities and also in rural communities. The stories give insight into people’s ambitions, frustrations and also their achievements.

In his walks, Raja gives us an insight into the day to day lives of the people of Palestine trying to live a “normal” life in Palestine and the lives of Palestinians who happened to be abroad during the war of 1967 that ended with Palestine falling under Israeli occupation. As a lawyer, Raja sheds a light on some Israeli laws in regards to ownership of properties and land in Palestine. “A Palestinian has only the right to the property he resides in. Once he leaves it for whatever reason, it ceases to be his. It reverts back to those whom the Israeli system considers the original rightful owners of Judea and Samaria, the Jewish People wherever they might be”.  He describes the agony of his relatives and acquaintances and also people he represented in courts who fell foul to this unusual law, just because they were abroad for study, for business or for whatever reason on the day of occupation.

The book tells a wide range of stories with a mixture of serious scary confrontations at military check points and a dry sense of humour trying to make cognisance and intellectual analysis of often the unexplainable.

Only reading this book can make you appreciate its richness and any review would not give it justice.

Ishaq Abu-Arafeh

Chair, Palcrafts and Hadeel