PAUL SIMON recommends a memoir on the Palestinians’ plight following their expulsion from their homeland by the zionist state
Where the Line is Drawn
by Raja Shehadeh
(Profile Books, £14.99)
RAJA SHEHADEH is one of the most diligent chroniclers of the ongoing Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe), from the creation of the zionist entity to the present day.
In Strangers in the House, he records the pain and yearning inflicted on his family — especially on his father’s generation — by their forced evacuation from the coastal town of Jaffa after 1948 and their relocation to the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Shehadeh has always applied his lawyer’s forensic mind to detailing the individual and familial consequences of politics, especially the growing authoritarianism and intolerance of zionism in practice.
That strength is particularly to the fore in his latest book as he examines how the tightening grip of Israel on Palestinian lands comes to distort and strain his longstanding relationship with Henry Abramovitch, an emigre from Canada who, because of his Jewish ancestry, has rights to remain that Shehadeh has comprehensively lost.
He records the seemingly idealistic and trouble-free times in the late 1960s and 1970s, when the two friends could roam across the Judean hills and freely talk about their aspirations for a reconciliation between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
In doing so, Shehadeh makes the point that borders became less important for a time after 1967, when Israel annexed East Jerusalem and the West Bank because the new political reality made it easier for him and his family to visit Jaffa.
Between 1948 and 1967, the West Bank had been under Jordanian control and such trips were far harder to make and frequently failed at the Allenby Bridge crossing between the two nations.
Shehadeh comments that Jordanian rule was oppressive and negligent of Palestinian needs, making him eye the seemingly liberal and more modern Israeli alternative as something superficially more attractive.
Across chapters largely chronologically ordered, but sometimes oscillating out of sequence the better to emphasise the decline of the Palestinians, Shehadeh’s own political radicalisation and the perceived disinterest in that fact by Abramovitch, now a family man and sporting a religious beard.
He records the shifts in Palestinian responses to Israeli aggression and the appropriation of their historic lands. At first, for those living in UN-recognised Israel, there was a focus on sumud (steadfastness), holding on to what they had and hence calling into question accusations that Palestinians have never tried passive resistance.
Later, in response to the military crackdown in the Occupied Territories, came the first intifada. It was followed by the false peace of the Oslo Accords, when Israeli settlement building picked up apace, and on to the second intifada and the present habeh (individual assaults) on Israeli interests.
But the story is also one of a people marginalised and neglected, not only by Israel but by most of the world as well. The very existence of Palestine as an entity is being erased, the better to deny its future validity.
As Shehadeh writes: “Memory is political in Israel and Palestine. What to remember? Who to remember?”
And for the author it is clear that his friendship with Abramovitch, for all of its frustrations and misunderstandings, is something worth remembering because, in spite of everything, it endures.
This is a remarkable book. Honest, reflective and at times angry, it is nevertheless always informative and hopeful.