The lived realities of Palestine

On what blots the beauty of an ancient land

Published - May 21, 2018 12:15 am IST

On his way home from walks in the hills around Ramallah in Palestine in the late 1970s, twilight would descend and the stones along the way would look magical for Palestinian lawyer and writer Raja Shehadeh. He gathered and discarded most of those stones but kept one which resembled a face with a large slit for a mouth, open in a wail of horror. It seemed to mirror the culture of “fear and blood, crime and punishment” all around.

Decades since, there appears to be no end to the violence. Last Monday, Israeli troops shot dead dozens of Palestinian protesters amassed on the Gaza border amid the controversial opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. Revisiting Shehadeh’s Palestinian Walks: Forays into a Vanishing Landscape (2007) gives us the picture of a different Palestine than what we are familiar with now: the “peaceful, precious hills”, the wadis in the Jerusalem wilderness and the “exquisite ravines” by the Dead Sea. Shehadeh’s walks end when he meets a Jewish settler who had also grown up in the hills: He asks: “Despite the myths that make up his world view, how could I claim that my love of these hills cancels out his?”

Many Palestinians who had to flee after Israel’s capture of Jerusalem in 1967 and occupation of the West Bank and Gaza strip have “to adore an unknown beloved: distant, difficult, surrounded by guards, by walls, by nuclear missiles, by sheer terror.” Exiled poet and writer Mourid Barghouti’s touching memoir, I Saw Ramallah (1997), talks about the “lived circumstances of Palestinian life” encumbered by restrictions. In the chilling first chapter, ‘The Bridge’, Barghouti writes about crossing the Jordan river into Ramallah: “Behind me, the world. Ahead of me my world.”

Can the divide between Israel and Palestine ever be bridged? Israeli writer Amos Oz presents a way out in his essay ‘Between Right and Right’ ( How to Cure a Fanatic , 2004). The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he says, “is a clash between one very powerful, deep and convincing claim, and another very different but no less convincing, no less powerful, no less humane claim.” Palestinians are in Palestine because it is their homeland, he says, and the Israeli Jews are in Israel because there is no other country they can call home. What we need is a “painful compromise”. Till two intransigent sides try to find a way out, Palestine will play out as grim images on television, its beauty blotted by perpetual strife.

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