WHERE HAS ALL THE EXCITEMENT gone for statehood in the West Bank? A year ago in September there were festivities and public displays of hope on the streets of Ramallah; one year later, little attention was paid to Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas's United Nations speech reiterating the need for an independent Palestinian state. Lackluster support for the PA should come as no surprise. In the past 12 months alone, the United States blocked the PA’s bid to declare statehood; Israel has intensified settlement growth while Israeli settlers have rampaged, destroying property and desecrating holy sites with impunity; the international community, focused on Iran and the threat of regional war, has stood idly by. An equitable two state solution between Israel and the Palestinians is all but dead.
Last month's surprise economic protests are a stark reminder of the genuine discontent simmering in the West Bank, as well as the dire economic straits many Palestinians experience. Fed up with rising prices for goods and services, Palestinians rose up in sweeping protests throughout the major cities dotting the rugged landscape of the West Bank. Demonstrators stormed the municipality of Hebron while thousands threw shoes at a poster of former IMF official and current Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Riding a wave of media hysteria that the Arab Spring might have arrived in Palestine, the Associated Press referred to these protests as the largest against the Palestinian Authority in its 18-year history.
Yet seemingly as soon as these protests began, they were gone. Some in Ramallah believed they were a show to scare the international community into providing emergency aid to the Palestinian Authority, another way of perpetuating the status quo of dependent Palestinians. From this melancholy perspective, the protests were successful. Israel released 250 million shekels in tax revenue, while the European Union authorized 100 million euros for the fledging Palestinian Authority. While this round of protests might have been carefully scripted, there can be no doubt that they tapped into a large reservoir of deep Palestinian anger.
While the media pays far too little attention to everyday developments on the ground and the international community stands idly by, the Palestinian voice has become divided and confused, its body politic fractured without recourse to action. This abject condition of stalemate and division is the subject Raja Shehadeh’s important personal diary of the past two years in Ramallah, Occupation Diaries. Shehadeh, a writer and prominent lawyer who helped found the Palestinian legal organization Al Haq in the late 1970s, is following up on the critically acclaimed 2007 collection of musings, Palestinian Walks. His carefully scripted prose has become an important source of insight into life on the West Bank amidst stagnation and the continued entrenchment of occupation. Occupation Diaries is a collection of sensitive meditations on the violent status quo between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as his own position in the changing Palestinian national struggle for liberation.
Palestinian Walks, which won the Orwell Prize in 2007, chronicles the changing physical landscape of the rugged hills surrounding Ramallah. Through various treks, Shehadeh encounters terrain destroyed through Israeli colonial adventure, but with small pockets of hope. Occupation Diaries picks up where...read more