Put aside Jerusalem and its contested status for a moment. Divert your eyes from AIPAC conferences and White House meetings. Consider, like Robert Wright in the New York Times, that knee jerk "pro-Israel" support can actually be anti-Israel.
And take a hike with Raja Shehadeh, prize-winning author of Palestinian Walks: Notes On a Vanishing Landscape (Profile Books, 2007).
The danger with the current focus on East Jerusalem and Israel's obstinate construction of housing on this "annexed" territory is that it clouds our view of what is happening elsewhere in the occupied territories. Shehadeh, a human rights lawyer who hikes in his spare time, has provided us with a beautifully written walk through time. Some of his early walks are simply no longer possible today; paths walled off, territory declared off limits to Palestinians, or hills simply razed to make way for settlements. Listen as he narrates excerpts from his book:
I hiked some of the same paths that Shehadeh was still able to follow in the early Seventies. Around Ramallah, I hiked with Palestinian friends and fellow international volunteers, there for a Boy Scout/Quaker project. Stopping at a grapevine shaded roadside cafe overlooking the olive groves, where a fried egg never tasted better. Who would ever have thought that such simple freedoms could end?
With my pack rat tendency to keep every map I've ever bought (and I've picked up many), I still have an Israeli ordnance survey map from 1971. It's a beautifully colored topographical map, whose accompanying "list of settlements" does not refer to Israel's then rare outposts on the West Bank, but is an index to any "settled" place, from Ashdod to Tel Aviv. Shehadeh's trails are there too.
A return trip in the mid-Eighties, and I pick up a Survey of Israel map of Jerusalem, printed in 1982. There's a long arm of Jerusalem reaching up toward Ramallah, enveloping "Jerusalem Airport." The construction of high rise apartment blocks on the high ground around the city belies Israeli intentions. But it's still rather tame, compared to what happens next.
The Geopolitical Atlas of Israel (Autrement, 2008) shows it in detail: an irregular carbuncle jutting east from what was already annexed East Jerusalem, with the "Separation Wall" enclosing what are clearly Israeli settlements that cut up and loom over Arab neighborhoods. Elsewhere the Atlas shows what Shehadeh and other Palestinians are up against: a West Bank patchwork of "Areas," nature reserves, and military zones that relegate Palestinians to what's left over, with contiguity a quaint notion for the history books.
For Shehadeh, the omnipresent blockage of his beloved trails is a metaphor for the everyday frustration that faces Palestinians in their own back yards. For him, "Oslo" is indeed a four-letter word, where negotiators who never hiked the hills were ready to trade them away for the chance to rule over Ramallah and a few other towns.
Raja Shehadeh dedicates his book to his nephew and niece, "with the hope that they will be able to walk in the hills of Palestine." I certainly hope they will. But not if Israel's response to everyone, from President Obama to Gordon Brown to Palestinians, is a dismissive "take a hike."