Palestinian Walks: a meeting with Rajaa Shehadeh

Date: 4th of December 2008
Venue: Khalili Lecture Theatre, SOAS
Organised by: the SOAS Palestine Society

To sum up this meeting: lovely. It was lovely to be in the presence of an educated Palestinian, dedicated to the cause who has not sold his soul to the materialist devil. Rajaa is a lawyer who has dedicated his life to challenging the Israeli courts on matters of land ‘requisition’ and the author of “Palestinian Walks: Notes on a Vanishing Landscape”. Rajaa is a hiker and long time enthusiast of the Palestinian ‘sarha’, solitary, aimless walks around the country side. These ‘sarhas’ can last hours or months, and traditionally the hobby of the Palestinian man. I had personally never heard of this tradition until reading his book, but they hold great appeal for me. The effect of them being what he dubbed a ‘drug free high’ for they induce a sense of ‘letting go’ in the ‘sarhaan’. This sense of letting go was what he aimed for in his book, to induce a literary sarha in the reader, which in my opinion he succeeded beautifully. Personally a fan of the imaginary sarha, I am a chronic daydreamer, I really connected with his book, and dub it the best book written by a Palestinian, that I have read that is.

Stories of the beautiful Palestinian landscape abound as do the stories of his own family, avid sarhanians (my term), the wildlifepal_walks1 really make the place come alive, and opens a new window onto pre-occupation Palestinian life. He does not restrict himself to imagery and folk-tales though, his walks span several decades and hence the reader encounters the rapidly eroding face of Palestine in the grip of a most brutal, arrogant and grasping occupation.

In the past he would step out of his front door and go for a wander, mapless and happy. Now it is rare to find a path between the monolithic settlements that sprung up in Palestine post-Oslo, and is ‘reduced’ to consulting maps in order to avoid confrontations with often violent settlers. He mourns the loss of this pastime, and the fact that there is a whole generation of Palestinians who will miss out on the joys of sarhas and the experience of simply walking in the country side.

The Israeli attitude to Palestine has not changed from the original Palestinian Nakbe (catastrophe), he sums it up as ‘The Land belongs to Jews, they were away for 2,000 years and returned recently to find squatters”. This attitude is reflected strongly in the Oslo agreement. In his books he describes how the main Palestinian negotiator, the current President of Palestine Mahmoud Abbas, circumvented the ???? and held clandestine talks with his Israeli counterparts, never once seeking legal advice. As such, the Palestinians lost much, and were not even aware of this until they found themselves in the midst of another wave of colonisation and land loss. The result being that any land not deemed to be ‘used’ for 10 years by a Palestinian can be ‘reclaimed’ by the Jewish Land fund. The definition of ‘used’ is very narrow, if it is not lived on or cultivated it is not deemed to be in use. This is exploited by the settlers and the government, the wall and violence from the settlers prevents many farmers from reaching their lands, and after years of this the land is rendered ‘unused’ and the settlers apply for the land and are granted it by the government. The system is so blatantly unfair and unjust that even, get this, the Israeli ARMY has appealed against it!!!!

An issue of great importance that he mentioned was the lack of communication among Palestinians (read: the pig headiness of Palestinians that renders them incapable from listening to or learning from each other). The Palestinians of ’48 who remained in the state of Israel warned those in the West Bank of what was to come, the crippling taxes, the permits to travel within their own lands, the severe laws of land acquisition and keeping them, but the west bankers did not listen, neither did the Palestinian leadership, landing them with the horrors of the Oslo accords.

I don’t wish to write a fat long post like I usually do, because I want readers to complete the entry! So I will summarise now by saying that Mary King, Ilan Pappe, Gideon Levy and Karma Nabulsi gave me direction in how to campaign against the occupation and for the right of return of refugees (me) Rajaa strengthened my resolve to do so.

Now go out and buy the book!!!!

One Response

  1. raja shehade`s “palestinian walks” is a sad but wonderfull book.
    the love and respect for nature and the terrible abuse of landscape are 2 opposites of the tragedy of palestine. as a israeli i say that only those who respect the land and do not uproot olive trees and ruin peoples lives , they deserve to live here.

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