What we are accustomed to reading as structured news items or analysis about Palestine quickly dissipate in Richard Hardigan’s book “The Other Side of the Wall: an eyewitness account of the occupation in Palestine” (Cune Press, 2018). Volunteering with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in 2014, Hardigan imparts his testimony to readers in a narrative that captures the Israeli violence against the Palestinian right to resist.
Sensationalism over visible violations has restricted the awareness of international support for Palestine. As observers from afar, the main impediment to supporting Palestinians is the relative lack of exposure to narratives which depict the disastrous social impact of Israel’s colonial violence. As a result, Israel has been able to normalise its atrocities. In his foreword to the book, Israeli historian Ilan Pappé insists that the normalisation “can be easily disrupted by the activist’s work both inside and outside Palestine.” This book is one example of how the existing information gap can be narrowed and, as a result, Israel’s crimes can be exposed. Hardigan ruminates about this possibility on several occasions, yet the hurdles remain, despite denouncing neutrality in narrating his testimony of the Palestinian cause.
Hardigan’s visit coincided with the events unfolding prior to Operation Protective Edge in 2014. Hence, this book offers readers a glimpse into the lives and experiences of Palestinians who were living their own struggle away from media scrutiny. It follows a narrative style, yet there are many themes to be gleaned from the author’s observations, some of which should prompt some thinking and rethinking about activism’s role in the Palestinian cause. As an ISM volunteer, Hardigan provides detailed descriptions of the demonstrations, bringing to the fore not only the resistance, but the human effort behind the visual material that has become accessible through social media.
One particular observation by Hardigan in relation to the protests in Ni’lin stands out: “The man’s words were angry, but his voice sounded resigned and tired, as if he had lost all hope. But here he was leading his village in the protest against the armed forces occupying the land of his people.” The author describes a connection that is missing when discussing Palestinian resistance; how repetition does not equate to resignation. Nevertheless, the psychological impact of colonial violence has had an impact on the people, resulting in differences between the narratives of resistance from within, and those of the observers whose news is static and misses the emotion of the moment.
Hardigan also differentiates between international activists and Palestinian activists. While not demeaning international activism, there is an insistence that the shared experiences are temporary, while for Palestinians, Israeli state and settler violence is the norm. “I could never identify with the suffering of Palestinians but what I could do is share it a little,” says Hardigan explicitly. “Just like many Palestinians, I had been teargassed and shot at by Israeli soldiers, but after all was said and done, I would leave.”
What would be left behind? Families waiting for their loved ones’ release from Israeli jails. Political incitement by Israeli leaders which cloaks settlers with impunity. Children who have to choose between violence and the safest form of violence, a contradiction in its own right but nonetheless valid for Palestinians who consider settler-free roads as less dangerous than those patrolled only by the Israel Defence Forces. Settler violence is prevalent throughout: one brutal story related by the author is about a Palestinian who was accosted by settlers, sprayed with gasoline and his legs hacked “with a hatchet”.
For Palestinians, the dynamics of state violence also reflect the Palestinian Authority’s collaboration through security coordination. Albeit spoken of as a concern of the ISM activists who feared the possibility of a raid on their premises, the statement is of significance in relation to the targeting of Palestinians, and the PA’s acquiescence: “Before the Israeli army enters a city, it lets the PA know, so that there are no clashes between the two forces. When you see that there is no PA, you know the Israelis are coming.”
The individual stories of people who the author encountered are a sliver of Palestinian reality that usually remains unaccounted for. It is in the daily routine of Palestinians, which is missing from mainstream coverage, that awareness can be raised about the abnormality of settler-colonial violence. Like other testimonies, Hardigan singles out Hebron as brimming with violations that impede Palestinians from living a normal life. “Several Palestinian children, celebrating Eid, were blowing bubbles in the street. This offended local settlers, a scuffle ensued, and once again the Palestinians were taken away.”
Book Review: Palestine in Black and White
Misplaced power is a recurring theme in the book; it illustrates the different forms of violence inflicted upon Palestinians. Hardigan describes the repercussions of price tag attacks, the damage to Palestinian land in attempts to displace Palestinians by force and the violent psychology behind the more notorious cases, such as the murder of Palestinian teen Mohamed Abu Khdeir in 2014.
During protests, Hardigan observes the same dynamics of misplaced power within the context of Palestinian resistance. “I knew the protest was not about inflicting damage on the army,” he says of a demonstration in Kufr Quddum. “It was about letting everybody know that the villagers were not going to go away.”
Hardigan’s book reads like a perpetual laceration. It is when one realises that there is a multitude of narratives within Palestine, many of which remain silenced, that other concerns surface. The activist perspective, which is juxtaposed skilfully against the cause, is, by the end of the book, dissected and analysed. It is a mark of the author’s candid reflections that he states, “A part of me felt dishonest for telling Palestinians that their search for fairness would be aided by my publicising their experiences.” The acknowledgement of such limitations, emphasised throughout the book, makes Hardigan’s contribution to the Palestinian cause of particular importance. It is an admission that requires some navigation of the fine line between hope and desolation, awareness and isolation. If such a sentiment were to be reciprocated, activism for Palestine would have the potential to ease itself into its rightful role, working alongside Palestinians without wilful or unintentional pretences.