Writing about Palestine is hard. To talk about it at all, one has to issue a litany of disclaimers and clarifications before broaching the subject. The discussion finally begins after the audience is already exhausted from listening to all the reasons why support for Palestine doesn’t automatically equal dislike for Israel or disrespect for Jewish history.
Pamela Olson’s story in Fast Times in Palestine: A Love Affair with a Homeless Homeland (Seal Press, March 2013) seeks an honest, human way around polite prerequisites. She does so through her own transformative journey while living, and later working, in Palestine. The beauty of Olson’s story is that it doesn’t begin with politics. She arrives in Israel at the bequest of an Israeli friend she met while backpacking in Sinai. Olson shows up as a tourist during her transitional, post-college void.
Olson, who comes from Oklahoma, was like most Americans: she knew nothing about the conflict and had no real information about Islam and Arabs (or the fact that many Palestinians are Christian). After a day harvesting olives with Palestinians near Jayyous, she witnessed the travesty of confiscated land, aggressive Israeli soldiers, and The Wall – an in-progress physical barrier between Palestine and Israel.
“Suddenly, the conflict in this part of the world was no longer a blank horror,” she writes. “It was merely an extremely difficult series of challenges whose basic units were human beings.” Her own personal story is the focus, but her story is comprised of Palestinian and Israeli threads that give human face to both perspectives.
My fiancé Ahmed came to the US from his native Turkey in part to escape from the societal pressures of his culture. This resonated with me, because I left small-town Oklahoma for a similar reason. We both wanted to make our way in the world unfettered by other people’s expectations.
But, when it came time for him to propose, he ran it by his family. Naturally, they asked if I was a Muslim. When he said no, they gave him the skeptical eye, which annoyed him to no end. But he loved them and wanted to explain his decision in a language they could appreciate.
“One Surah of the Quran,” he told them, “says that sometimes what seems good is actually bad, and what seems bad is actually good. Maybe you hate a thing and it is good for you, and perhaps you love a thing but it is bad for you. Only Allah knows.”