The book “Walls, Tears and Z’atar” is now available in Arabic language. The book was presented in Alexandria, Egypt, on the 20th of June with the participation of the famous international writer Alaa Al-Aswani.
“Palestine doesn’t exist,” said a young, freckle-faced soldier at Kalandia checkpoint as he checked my papers on the road to Ramallah. “What are you going to do there? There’s nothing to see!” And so it was that, in September 2004, my journey through time and space began –a journey that would take up two years of my life travelling back and forth in that borderless region of the world that some call Samaria, Judea and Gaza; others call it the occupied Palestinian territories and others still simply call it Israel, or what remains of Palestine, the Promised Land, the Holy Land, or the Islamic Waqf.
When I decided to leave the European Parliament for Palestine after a lengthy period spent working as a Green Party political advisor, I just wanted to study Arabic. However, what was supposed to be a quiet period of language training at Birzeit University turned into an unexpected trip inside myself as I met, day after day, two peoples gripped by a conflict with apparently “no way out”. I was a free, self-confident European citizen, but when I waited in line at checkpoints I felt useless, ignorant and powerless. All my political background as a progressive European Christian faded away as I drank weak coffee with the refugees in Jenin and counted the metres by which, day after day, the wall enclosing Jerusalem from the east advanced, or whenever I was questioned for hours at the border because I was reading in Arabic.
Walls, tears and za’tar is the journey of a pilgrim who shunned organised tours and, choosing the shared taxi over the limousine, discovered the people and places of the Holy Land; day after day, often by accident, but sometimes guided by political intuition and sometimes by the voice of faith; because what started in those early weeks as an uncertain, curious meander through the Occupied Territories and Israel gradually became a critical journey through the city, among its protagonists. To the anger, emotions, spirituality and humanity that I encountered, I have tried to bring the rigour of the painstaking reporter in recording facts and dates: for behind the major events that often go over our heads, there are always individual names and personal stories. I came to Jerusalem almost by chance, but after a few weeks I felt I was a prisoner of a land which, in exchange for my freedom, was asking me to give its people a voice.
And I had no choice. So I gave them a voice. Was this something to do with my Sephardic roots? Or maybe Christ’s Speech of the Beatitudes? Or even the smells and the perfumes of the Holy Land which manage to circumvent the ghettos and the checkpoints?
Through my contacts at Birzeit University, the European Parliament and NGOs, and in my meetings with refugees and professors who need to tell the story of their life, every day I added a fragment of information to my “journal”; such as when the Dove Operation activists who protect Palestinian children from settler aggression gave me the details of a radical settler in Qiryat Arba; or when a rabbi who grew up in California brought me to meet the black Bedouins who squat behind the new Israeli settlements around East Jerusalem. There are always cracks in the walls and those who are desperately trying to live their lives in dignity know how to find them and get through them. I met all kinds of people during those months, but I decided to give a voice in particular to those who are trying to live an “ordinary” life, rebuilding confidence and justice, and to those who represent specific groups who are playing a significant role in the conflict, whether as victims or victimizers.
At a time when the geographical integrity of Palestine is under threat, to the extent that it has become extremely difficult even to know where it actually ends or begins, I recorded signs and words and I documented both the Palestinians’ pain and the social and human consequences of the military occupation for the Israeli people, trying to get beyond the “usual information” churned out by Western sources about the so-called Middle East. How many people know that the Palestinians also had their diaspora and are threatened by an ethnic discrimination plan? Or that the Israelis are paying a high social price for the continued occupation? That Palestinians can also be Christians? That the Holy Land is not a museum of religious relics, but a human community fighting for justice and peace against political and religious fundamentalism?
1 “Inheritance” in Arabic.