2008 Book prize winner

   Book prize winner  

Palestinian Walks: Notes on a Vanishing Landscape

Raja Shehadeh

Published by: Palestinian Walks: Notes on a Vanishing Landscape

Palestine is a land of biblical beauty – of olive groves, grapevines, stone buildings, rolling hills, wadis and cliffs.  It is also a land of violence and war. Human rights lawyer and writer Raja Shehadeh has lived on the West Bank since his family fled Jaffa in 1948. A peace activist of independent temper, he has seen at first hand the horrors of occupation – including the siege of Ramallah.  For decades Raja has found comfort in walking, following what in Arab culture is called sarha – meaning to roam  freely, at will, without restraint: to go where the spirit  takes you.

In Palestinian Walks he invites the reader to come along for the unique experience of a sarha in Palestine. The six walks that comprise the book span a period of twenty six years evoking the land, its history and some of Palestinian’s political struggles, disappointments and hope. Palestinian Walks describes a vanishing landscape. Raja takes us to beautiful hills, past rivers and sacred springs, to famous landmarks from A’yn Qenya, the Shukba Caves, from Wadi Qelt to the Dead Sea (now receding by a metre every year thanks to Israel’s diversion of the river Jordan, an environmental catastrophe in the making).  We take a walk with Selma Hasan, a PLO functionary from Tunis, who returned after the Oslo Accords (a settlement that undermined decades of Raja’s legal work on land rights).  And we experience the everyday humiliations and harassment by Israeli soldiers – including a chance meeting with a settler who lives next to Raja’s hometown. But there are also moments of extraordinary beauty:

To my left at the perfectly still waters of the [Dead] Sea, transformed by the sun into a luminous platinum sheet, and to my right at the formidable wall of incandescent rock along which we were travelling, towering steeply, challengingly, seemingly an impenetrable line of defence, a mighty gateway into another world.

Palestinian Walks shows how Raja’s life, and the fate of the landscape are utterly intertwined.  It is an intensely personal account of life in one of the world’s most troubled regions, and a poignant story of how a pleasure so many of us take for granted – the freedom to roam through the countryside – is being destroyed.