Fast Times in Palestine - Pamela J. Olson (2013)

From small-town Oklahoma, Pamela had a rude awakening when, passing through Palestine on a backpacking adventure, she realised that the people were actually - well, people, and rather nice. She'd travelled in other places and was no more naive than the rest of us, it just wasn't what her country - or the media - had led her to believe. She found herself drawn back to the country and lived in Ramallah for two years from 2004, becoming writer and editor for the Palestine Monitor. Interwoven with the journalistic and unrelentingly grim facts and figures about deaths on the West Bank are accessible and warm encounters with the people whose way of life she fell in love with - a condition of taking the job, for example, was that she had time off to help with the olive harvest. She gets to know people and brings to life the picture of ordinary Palestinians having to wait at border crossings just to go to school or look after their crops or get home from a wedding, and being shot for going to a hospital to give birth; no longer able to see the sunset because it's behind The Wall. This is a place where detention and torture is so commonplace it's seen as 'part of growing up'. Anger bubbles up as she watches people endure daily humiliation, but she realises the only useful thing she can do is 'keep learning and observing'. Things get complicated as she realises that enforced segregation makes the Israelis see the Palestinians and vice versa as 'a faceless evil force'. The footnotes can be distracting and there are lots of characters, with not much central story - but the details are superb. I loved the mouth-watering descriptions of food and scenes of balmy nights under grapevines. I won't easily forget one man's earliest childhood recollection: of walking home with his sister with new clothes, which the Israeli soldiers take from them and trample into the mud. (JB)

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