Palestinian Walks: Forays into a Vanishing Landscape
“A rare historical insight into the tragic changes taking place in Palestine.” —Jimmy Carter
From Palestine’s leading writer, a lyrical, elegiac account of one man’s wanderings through the landscape he loves, once pristine, now forever changed by settlements and walls—now with a new afterword by the author.
“I often come to walk in these hills,” I said to the man who was doing all the talking and seemed to be the commander. “In fact I was once here with my wife, it was 1999, and some of your soldiers shot at us.”
“It was over on that side,” the soldier pointed out. “I was there,” he said, smiling.
When Raja Shehadeh first started hill walking in Palestine, in the late 1970s, he was not aware that he was traveling through a vanishing landscape. 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.
Praise for Palestinian Walks: Forays into a Vanishing Landscape
Winner of the Orwell Prize for Political Writing 2008
“A new geography has come into being. This beautiful book is not just a guide to the Palestinian present; it is an Israeli album of what is taking place in a faraway land: Palestine.” —Haaretz
“This book may be non-fiction, but it carries all the associated pleasure and visual addictiveness of a great novel.” —The Morning Star
“Intensely political while avoiding the excesses of pure polemic...Shehadeh is always engaging.” —The Independent on Sunday
“Raja Shehadeh's Palestinian Walks provides a rare historical insight into the tragic changes taking place in Palestine.” —Jimmy Carter
“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 Hundred Years' War on Palestine
“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 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
“Palestinian Walks is a stoic account of a particular place, but one which has universal resonance. The judges felt it made landscape into the essence of politics, and political writing into an art.” —John Seaton, chair of the 2008 Orwell Prize committee
“Shehadeh's memoir is profoundly pained, his anguish over Israeli occupation policies palpable, as he lovingly sketches a landscape that is rapidly disappearing.” —Publishers Weekly
Praise for Raja Shehadeh:
“Palestine’s greatest prose writer.” —The Observer
“Unusually honest . . . Few Palestinians have opened their minds and hearts with such frankness.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Brings an eloquent, understated voice to an often contentious chorus and should help in opening dialogue between Christians, Jews, and Muslims about the future of our holy lands.” —Booklist
“Shehadeh’s voice is a rare one in the turmoil of Palestine: angry yet dispassionate, committed yet free.” —Michael Ignatieff
“Explains better than a hundred political treatises why there is still no peace in the Middle East.” —Amos Elon
“Shehadeh is a great inquiring spirit with a tone that is vivid, ironic, melancholy, and wise.” —Colm Tóibín
“Raja Shehadeh is a buoy in a sea of bleakness.” —Rachel Kushner