Raja Shehadeh is a passionate hill walker. He enjoys nothing more than heading out into the countryside that surrounds his home. But in recent years, his hikes have become less than bucolic and sometimes downright dangerous. That is because his home is Ramallah, on the Palestinian West Bank, and the landscape he traverses is now the site of a tense standoff between his fellow Palestinians and settlers newly arrived from Israel.
In this original and evocative book, we accompany Raja on six walks taken between 1978 and 2006. The earlier forays are peaceful affairs, allowing our guide to meditate at length on the character of his native land, a terrain of olive trees on terraced hillsides, luxuriant valleys carved by sacred springs, carpets of wild iris and hyacinth and ancient monasteries built more than a thousand years ago. Shehadeh's love for this magical place saturates his renderings of its history and topography. But latterly, as seemingly endless concrete is poured to build settlements and their surrounding walls, he finds the old trails are now impassable and the countryside he once traversed freely has become contested ground. He is harassed by Israeli border patrols, watches in terror as a young hiking companion picks up an unexploded missile and even, on one occasion when accompanied by his wife, comes under prolonged gunfire.
Amid the many and varied tragedies of the Middle East, the loss of a simple pleasure such as the ability to roam the countryside at will may seem a minor matter. But in Palestinian Walks, Raja Shehadeh's elegy for his lost footpaths becomes a heartbreaking metaphor for the deprivations of an entire people estranged from their land.
Raja Shehadeh is the author of the highly praised Strangers in the House and When the Birds Stopped Singing. A Palestinian lawyer and writer who lives in Ramallah, he is a founder of the pioneering human rights organization Al-Haq, an affiliate of the International Commission of Jurists.
"Raja Shehadeh's Palestinian Walks provides a rare historical insight into the tragic changes taking place in Palestine."
-- Jimmy Carter
"Towards any proper understanding of history there are many small paths. This constantly surprising book modestly describes walking along certain paths which have touched the lived lives of two millennia. Its walking guide is an elderly man who confesses; his confessions often encounter a perennial wisdom, and what he is talking about and walking across is one of the nodal points of the world's present crisis. I strongly suggest you walk with him."
-- John Berger, author of Here is Where We Meet: a Fiction
"This exquisitely written book records a sensitive Palestinian writer's love for the landscape of his country, over which he has hiked for many years. It reflects not only the intense beauty of that landscape, but also some of the terrible dangers that threaten it and its occupants. This is a book that is hard to put down because of the profound natural beauty that Shehadeh describes, and his manifest passion for his homeland."
-- Rashid Khalidi, author of The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood and Resurrecting Empire
"This is a beautiful book and a sad one. It describes the unique Palestinian landscape, one that looked like a scene from the Bible -- and describes what has been done to it by aggressive Israeli settlement and American failure." -- Anthony Lewis
"A thoughtful meditation on Palestine, the land and the peoples who claim it." -- Mahmood Mamdani