Saturday, 11 July 2009

raja shehadeh

A few days ago I blogged about the book Palestinian Walks by Raja Shehadeh. The Guardian has just published Echoing Lands an article by Raja in which he writes about his annual holiday in the Highlands of Scotland. Raja draws parallels between his beloved Palestinian homeland and the Highlands in a powerful manner:

A year later we came back to Glen Orchy for another walking holiday. This time the weather was kinder to us. We started on the Old Military Road. Walking by the cultivated forest, the river Kinglass ran to our left. It was wider here and flowed slowly. Its shallow bed was full of shiny round stones. I stopped to take in the view. What superb country this is. The river flowed in an open expansive glen with hills to the right, and along our path as far as the eye could see lay more lochs with a track that would take days to walk.

I thought of Palestine's main river, the Jordan, and how it was impossible to take such a walk along its banks, for the river is caged in barbed wire from the point where it leaves Lake Tiberius until it flows into the Dead Sea. The smooth contours of the green hills here reminded me of the Galilee hills in spring. Not long ago I walked in them searching for the villages that a great-great-uncle of mine used as hiding places when he was on the run to escape arrest by Ottoman forces during the first world war. Those villages were all destroyed in 1948 when Israel was established. Cleared of its former inhabitants, the land is now used to plant barley and wheat. I had tried to imagine what it must have been like over 60 years ago when it was alive with the labour of simple farmers, their lowing animals and active village life. Now the land lay silent except for the whisper of the wind among the wheat stalks. A silence not unlike the quiet pervading these Highlands which, as I now know, had been inhabited until the early 19th century when greedy landlords decided it was more profitable to raise sheep and forced the tenants out of the land.

The Hills are Alive is another interview given to The Guardian by Raja in 2007, including an extract from Palestinian Walks. Raja's latest book Strangers in the House is published this week and is reviewed in The Independent.

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