States of Cynicism

Literature and Human Rights in Israel/Palestine

Authored by: Anna Bernard

The Routledge Companion to Literature and Human Rights

Print publication date:  August  2015
Online publication date:  July  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415736411
eBook ISBN: 9781315778372
Adobe ISBN: 9781317696285


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In a key scene in Raja Shehadeh’s acclaimed English-language memoir Palestinian Walks (2007), the Palestinian writer and human rights lawyer finds himself stranded on a trail high above a valley. The path in front of him skirts around a rock, bringing him close to the edge of the cliff. Shehadeh feels unable to continue:

There was no other way forward. … I slowly approached the narrow turning and considered what would happen if I fell. I was sure I would not survive. What if my legs failed me? What if they refused to move? I would be stuck in the middle, holding on to the protruding rock for dear life.

(Shehadeh 2007: 127–28) The scene, which is set in the mid-1990s, openly evokes the Palestinian predicament after the creation of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 1994, as part of the Oslo Accords. The PA was (and in the West Bank, remains) technically self-governing but far from sovereign: it is subject to the directives of the Israeli Civil Administration and the Israeli Defense Forces, as well as the demands of the Arab League, the European Union, and the United States, who provide the PA with much of its funding. This lack of autonomous governance under ongoing conditions of occupation and enclosure leaves Palestinians, as a group, “stuck in the middle” between popular resistance and statehood, and between the competing interests of various powerful institutions. It also leaves them dependent on the region’s many local and international human rights organizations, since their political representatives are in many ways unable to represent or defend their needs. These organizations, in this reading, are the rock on the edge of a precipice, providing salvation and obstruction in equal measure.

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