It’s the abundance of Raja Shehadeh’s daily accounts, filled with frustration and despair, which makes you realise just how far the Israeli occupation reaches into every corner of Palestinians’ lives. As each day unfolds in Shehadeh’s diary it brings with it another story more unbelievable than the first; the evidence withheld by Israeli police in the suspicious circumstances of his father’s death; and the section of the Annexation Wall that loops around a car park, at extra cost, to make space for Israelis to park their cars, for example.
A talented storyteller, Raja Shehadeh is a Palestinian writer and lawyer. His recently published book, Occupation Diaries, is a collection of entries of daily life in the West Bank from the end of 2009 until September 2011, the time of the Palestinian bid for recognition at the UN of its statehood.
Shehadeh’s observations are not all bleak. He brings to life the Israeli musician who plays the violin for Palestinians crossing the Bethlehem-Jerusalem checkpoint for work. He describes the unusual orchid in his garden and the diversity of flowers growing in the Palestinian countryside.
Do these glimpses suggest a sliver of colour in a grey world; a glimmer of light?
Somehow, the sense of beauty always has a sinister element lurking behind it. The musician is actually playing to the Palestinians who have permits to cross the border and work for low wages, a ‘luxury’ many do not have. The flower in his garden has been forced to migrate because of construction work that has flattened much of the wildlife on the hills.
As a reader, it’s ironic to feel so much part of Raja’s life, to be taken with him as he walks along the separation wall, when he meets friends for dinner. Much of the book talks of the separation of Israelis and Palestinians, a life where such intimate knowledge of each other’s personal lives seems impossible. On the fourth of January 2010 he tells us:
“It’s much easier to impose your view of the people living behind the ghetto walls when you won’t allow your citizens to encounter them personally or see for themselves.”
Seventy years ago Jewish and Arab communities lived side-by-side; it is only in the last ten years that a law has banned Israeli citizens from Palestinian cities in the West Bank and that Gaza was placed under siege. There was a time when borders didn’t exist and everyone travelled freely. With so many measures preventing the Israelis and Palestinians from interacting, neighbourly understanding is not easy.
So is there hope for the future? Perhaps it comes in the form of the Popular Art Centre Dance show that Raja attends at the Ramallah Cultural Palace which draws on dance as an uplifting form of resistance and solidarity. Or is it Sabri who fills us with optimism; a farmer from Ijza who defends the ownership of his house at the Military Objection Committee, and who, despite receiving jail sentences, continues to farm his own land and topple fences built by settlers.
Raja Shehadeh’s diaries are an unnervingly personal insight into the horrors of day-to-day life in Palestine, yet one riddled with determination and hope for the future:
“Whatever policy Israel is following it cannot succeed, not only because of the resilience we have acquired over the many years of struggle, but because of the more simple fact that, like the farmers in the south, we have no intention of going anywhere.”