Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Bidisha on Palestine

Beyond the Wall – Writing a Path Through Palestine is a short, haunting account of a trip Bidisha made there last year. I read it in an afternoon, unable to put it down.

From the rigours of even getting into the occupied territory, to the settlements that literally overlook the old market and rain sewage down on to it, to the starkness of the $3.5 billion wall enclosing the land, “the majority of it paid for by international donors” (p. 65), the glimpses are evocative and linger in the mind. The world and worldviews described are so rich and strange and eerie it feels almost like supremely crafted sci-fi.

Having read her newspaper columns (and worked with her on a documentary about black actors in Doctor Who), I'd expected Bidisha to be a bit more, well, vociferous. Yet the overall sense is of careful negotiation through a complex tangle of competing interests.
“[Ghada Karmi] explains the occupation's corruption of both its victims and its perpetrators, its generation of obsessive behaviours the acts of violence and destruction which can never be taken back and the ceaseless toxic back-and-forth of attrition. What should be feared are not just the actions of one authority and its weapons but the wider poison of these cycles, endlessly regurgitated, of grievance, frustration, claustrophobia, desperate uprising and vicious suppression, abuse and perpetual inter-reaction. I would add, too, that the saddest thing in all this is the life that Palestinian children must live, one of fear, pain, limitation and, as they get older, cynicism, despair, anger and (potentially) vengefulness.” 
Bidisha, Beyond the Wall – Writing a Path Through Palestine, pp. 110-111. 
That link offers another good quotation on the strategy of occupation. True, she's forthright in citing a breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention and has no time for the settlers, but she takes pains to critique both sides of the divide. You can feel her frustration at the position of women in Palestine. A trip to a school is telling, with large numbers of women taking classes but few willing to speak, and no women in the school management. There's fury, too, at the blatant sexism and misogyny, and horror when it comes from the British men in her own tour group.

But this momentary anger serves to highlight her general restraint, the plain style of reporting all the more effective without comment. Not easy or offering answers, but a compelling read. 

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