Raja Shehadeh is finding it hard to keep faith in the futureby Matt Rowland Hill / September 3, 2019 / Leave a comment
Raja Shehadeh is troubled by a recurring dream in which he is searching for, but cannot find, his home: “For someone who has lived the majority of his life in the same small city, who owns a property in it, to feel in my subconscious that I’m bereft of a home is a strange affliction.” Or maybe not so strange: after all, nowhere on earth is “home” a more contested notion than in Shehadeh’s native Palestine. Going Home, like his eight previous works of literary non-fiction, is a luminously clear-sighted account of the agonies and consolations of belonging to a people who don’t possess their own homeland.
Recording a walk through Ramallah on the 50th anniversary of the Israeli occupation, Shehadeh blends autobiography and social commentary to produce an elegaic portrait of his “subservient, defeated and dominated” hometown. Where once the air was filled with the sound of taxi drivers calling out for passengers to Jerusalem, Amman and Beirut, now there is the overhead buzz of Israeli planes and loudspeakers broadcasting the call to prayer. Passing through streets pock-marked by tank shells, Shehadeh wonders “what it takes to remain human in a place so buffeted by aggression, dominated by the struggle for survival.”
By turns lyrical, witty and shrewd, Shehadeh is an excellent walking companion. But a note of melancholy sounds through his prose as he meditates on ageing and the failure of Palestinian resistance: “There were times when we hoped we were getting rid of the occupation and I worked and lived for that moment.” Now “it feels more like we are praying for our sins, acknowledging defeat and pleading for forgiveness.” In his late sixties, he increasingly craves privacy and solitude. But the occupation makes its presence felt in the most intimate ways. On a visit to his dentist during a period of heightened tension, Shehadeh is warned that he is wearing down his gums by grinding his teeth. In Palestine, the personal is inescapably political.
Going Home: A Walk Through 50 Years of Occupation by Raja Shehadeh (Profile, £14.99)