Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

"Raja Shedadeh Discusses the Vanishing Landscape of Palestine," American Task Force on Palestine, May 30, 2008.

Press Release

Washington, DC, May 30 – The transformation of the landscape of the occupied territories is inextricably linked to the erosion of Palestinian rights, living conditions and national prospects, according to prominent Palestinian attorney and activist Raja Shehadeh. He spoke at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington on Friday, May 30, at a briefing hosted by the Foundation for Middle East Peace and the American Task Force on Palestine. At the event, Shehadeh discussed the findings of his most recent book, “Palestinian Walks: Forays into a vanishing landscape” (Scribner, 2008), which recently won the Orwell Prize, Great Britain's top honor for political writing.

Shehadeh, who is a founder of the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq, said that his book is the story of 100 years of conflict in Palestine told through six walks through the occupied West Bank. The walks recalled the traditional “sarha” rambles, Shehadeh said, which were unrestricted walks he termed a “drug free high” for Palestinians. He underlined that such rambles are now scarcely possible as a result of settlement activity.

The first walk in the book tells the story of the transformation of the land into settlements in the service of “an ideological project to create, in the words of Ariel Sharon, a ‘new map’ of the West Bank.” Shehadeh said that the ideology is that Jews may settle and control the area, while non-Jews will only have functional autonomy. He said even the Israeli government is forced to conform with the agenda of the settlers, to the determent of the prospects for peace. The second walk tells the story of what happened in the 1980s, when, according to Shehadeh, the natural landscape was irrevocably transformed through illegal and quasi-legal mechanisms of settlement.

Shehadeh compared Israel’s occupation policies to apartheid in South Africa through his third walk, in the 1990s, which serves as a critique of the Oslo agreements. He walked through a rural area that offered natural formations that suggested illusions of relief from heat and other natural dangers, which he compares to illusory and flawed peace agreements.

His fourth walk took him to a spring in an Israeli settlement in the area in which Shehadeh was raised. He encountered a settler smoking hashish who helped Shehadeh retrieve his hat. The two had a tense discussion about the competing claims of both settlers and Palestinians living under occupation, and the settler’s deep illusions about and hostility towards the Palestinian people.

One of the final walks, which he undertook with a foreign journalist, began as an effort to avoid all settlements, but ended with another tense encounter with Israeli settlers. The settlers demanded their identification cards, which led to another exchange in which the Israeli claimed that Palestinians have no rights in the West Bank, as opposed to the settlers who “really live here.”

Shehadeh told the audience that the intention of his book was “to show the extent of the loss from the transformation of the landscape through Israeli settlement activity for all people in the land, not just the Palestinians.”

For more information
Contact: Hussein Ibish
Phone: 2028870177

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