about the book
The quest for his great-uncle Najib Nassar, an Ottoman journalist – the details of his life, and the route of his great escape from occupied Palestine – consumed award-winning writer Raja Shehadeh for two years. As he traces Najib’s footsteps, he discovers that today it would be impossible to flee the cage that Palestine has become. A Rift in Time is a family memoir written in luminescent prose, but it is also a reflection on how Palestine – in particular the disputed Jordan Rift Valley – has been transformed. Most of Palestine’s history and that of its people is buried deep in the ground: whole villages have disappeared and names have been erased from the map. Yet by seeing the bigger picture of the landscape and the unending struggle for freedom as Shehadeh does, it is still possible to look towards a better future, free from Israeli or Ottoman oppression.
From the reviews of Palestinian Walks
“A work of passionate polemic, journeying, history, and autobiography, this highly original consideration of the Palestinian-Israeli issue is structured around a series of vigorous, attentive hikes through the occupied territories.”
—The New Yorker
“Raja Shehadeh’s Palestinian Walks provides a rare historical insight into the tragic changes taking place in Palestine.”
—President Jimmy Carter
“Towards any proper understanding of history there are many small paths. This constantly surprising book modestly describes walking along certain paths which have touched the lived lives of two millennia. Its walking guide is an elderly man who confesses; his confessions often encounter a perennial wisdom, and what he is talking about and walking across is one of the nodal points of the world’s present crisis. I strongly suggest you walk with him.”
—John Berger , author of Ways of Seeing
“This exquisitely written book records a sensitive Palestinian writer’s love for the landscape of his country, over which he has hiked for many years. It reflects not only the intense beauty of that landscape, but also some of the terrible dangers that threaten it and its occupants. This is a book that is hard to put down because of the profound natural beauty that Shehadeh describes, and his manifest passion for his homeland.”
—Rashid Khalidi, author of The Iron Cage
“Mr. Shehadeh mourns a land lost. For [T.E.] Lawrence, Palestine was ‘a collection of small irritating hills, crushed together pell-mell’ but for Mr. Shehadeh, as in his prize-winning Palestinian Walks (2008), the landscape is his inspiration and solace, a history book waiting to be read. Almond trees mark Palestinian villages long gone, their drifts of white blossom gliding to the ground ‘in utter, hushed silence’ … Mr. Shehadeh’s reverence for Palestine’s land and history renders it holy anew.”
About The Author / Editor
Raja Shehadeh is the author of When the Bulbul Stopped Singing, Strangers in the House, described by the Economist as “distinctive and truly impressive,” and Palestinian Walks, for which he won the 2008 Orwell Prize. Shehadeh trained as a barrister in London and is a founder of the human rights organization Al-Haq. He lives in Ramallah, on the West Bank.
Read An Excerpt
Chapter 1: Escaping Arrest
by Raja Shehadeh
‘They’re coming to arrest you,’ Hanan, my sister-in-law, called to warn me in her strong, matter-of-fact voice. ‘Samer is on his way.’
My mother had just called Hanan in a panic to dispatch my brother to my aid, convinced that the Palestinian security police would be at my door any minute. She was frantic. An anonymous official from the office of the Attorney General had rung her to ask about me because they did not have my phone number. Prudently, she refused to reveal it. ‘Don’t worry. We’ll find him,’ he had menacingly said before hanging up.
I wasted no time. I quickly put on thick underwear, tucked my toothbrush in a pocket and pulled on an extra sweater, prison survival tips learned from experienced security detainees I had represented in the past in Israeli military courts. Jericho, the site of the new Palestinian security prison and the old Israeli military government headquarters, can get very cold at night. On that evening of 18 September 1996 I sat huddled in the courtyard of our new house and waited for the knock on the door, trying to pretend I was neither worried nor angry.
Those first years of the transitional rule of the Palestinian Authority were strange times. It was the rude awakening at the end of a fascinating and hopeful period for me, during which I had devoted all my energies to bringing about change and a conclusion to the Israeli occupation. I had spent years challenging illegal Israeli land acquisitions in the occupied West Bank. Ironically, the unfounded claim that was now being made against my client was that he was selling land to the enemy by going into partnership with an Israeli corporation for the establishment of a gambling casino in Jericho, and I was accused of helping him with this venture. It was a false claim fabricated by some powerful members of the governing Authority who were hoping to intimidate my client into withdrawing from the project so that they could replace him in this lucrative enterprise.
Prompted perhaps by disappointment over the false peace heralded by the signing of the Oslo Accords, and despite all the fanfare on the White House lawn, my thoughts had been turning to the past, to the time when it all began. I had been reading about my great-great-uncle Najib Nassar, who like me was a writer, and like me a man whose hopes had been crushed when the Ottoman authority of his day sent troops to arrest him. But unlike me he did not wait for the knock on the door.