Palestinian Walks: Forays into a Vanishing Landscape by Raja Shehadeh offers a personal account of what it is like to have the place you love taken away piece by piece and be helpless to stop the loss. It is a sad book, yet also lovely, giving one view of the historical Palestinian countryside and of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Shehadeh, a Palestinian lawyer and writer, describes some of his favorite walks, which he takes setting out from his home in Ramallah and hiking up into the surrounding dry hills scattered with groves of olive trees and seasonal streams. As he walks, a few stories from local history and from his own life come to mind, so that his hikes also give a brief sketch of recent Palestinian history. This is a landscape he loves, and one that he witnesses being steadily destroyed as he retraces the same trails from 1978 to 2006.
The places he can go walking become increasingly limited as the Israelis take over more and more land, building Jewish settlements, erecting fences and barricades, establishing checkpoints, and imposing curfews. Repeating familiar walks, Shehadeh never knows when he will be confronted by new fences, soldiers with guns, or children throwing rocks
On the last walk in the book, he meets a young Israeli man who has also lived his whole life in the area and who also loves walking the land. The two engage in a remarkably frank exchange about why each believes his claim to the land is legitimate. Their conversation illustrates how sincere individuals from opposing sides of any conflict can each be so convinced he is right and makes the reader wonder how, indeed, two so opposing points of view can ever be reconciled.
Despite the sense that they cannot find common ground between their deeply held views, the two sit together at last to share a smoke. There is no answer to their challenges of each other, just a moment of peace in this place they both love.
Nancy E. Dollahite is the author of Field Notes from Sichuan: Learning to Be a Foreigner, to be published by Blue Ear Books.