A Rift in Time by Raja Shehadeh
OR Books, NY, 2011
Borrowed from my public library.
Raja Shehadeh was awarded the Orwell Prize for his book Palestinian Walks, which I read a couple of years ago. I have to thank Stu at Winstonsdad’s Blog for introducing me to A Rift in Time. Stu posted a wonderful interview with Shehadeh here.
When Raja Shehadeh, a human rights lawyer and author living in Ramallah, started digging into his family history he discovered a great uncle who was also an author. Najib Nassar, who lived in Palestine, under the control of the Ottoman Empire, during the beginning of the 20th was a supporter of that empire and let it be known that he opposed the participation in World War One. A death sentence was issued and he was forced to leave his home and family and live on the run, relying on strangers, for three years.
Raja traces Najib’s footsteps, running up against political boundaries that didn’t exist during his Uncle’s journey.
The land is now the outcome of a planned vision that has been in the making since the start of the twentieth century, an ideological dream that has been forcibly realised, transforming the land, redividing it, changing farming methods an exploiting every plot available, redistributing it all on an entirely new basis…Najib was one of the first people to pay attention to what was going on, to try to describe it, to warn about its consequences for the arab community and to document it. From page 38.
Following the Great Rift from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea, along the Bekka and the Jordan Valley, Raja discovers that it is nearly impossible to travel from the walled in state that Palestine has become. Most of the country’s history, and the people’s lives and memories, are buried in the ground, destroyed by the ever spreading state of Israel.
Gone is the mix of people that existed in Najib’s time. In their place a large variety of Jews from Arab countries, Eastern Europe and from the west, along with those Palestinian Arabs who managed to stay, now share the land unequally. But gone are most of the Bedouin tribes, Palestinian Arabs and Arabs from various parts of north Africa and the marsh Arabs who lived in the Huleh region with their water buffalos that are now extinct here. From page 44.
Following Najib’s route is impossible so Raja makes do as best he can. Along the way he visits lost villages, places erased from maps, and talks to people who retain memories and carry stories of the past. Raja follows Najib’s trail and travels into Lebanon to learn more about his Mother’s family. He find’s that Najib
One beautiful thing I took away from this heartfelt book is the fact that the Great Valley runs unimpeded from Lebanon, down through the Arabian Peninsula, across the Red Sea and into Africa, to the place were our earliest ancestors began to walk upright. It is a wonder to read of those who still believe we can tear down the boundaries that separate us and live in peace.
The best antidote to the claustrophobia we Palestinians feel while attempting to cross the many borders Israel has created is to focus our attention on the physical expanse of the land. Israel is attempting to define the terrain, to claim and fragment it with wire fences, signposts, gates and roadblocks staffed by armed soldiers backed up by tanks. I am but one of the millions of travellers who have passed through over the ages. I lifted my eyes and beheld the wonderful valley created eons ago as it stretches far and long, north into Lebanon and south to the Red Sea and Africa, utterly oblivious of the man-made borders that come and go. From page 55.