Sisyphus Ascending: The Remarkable Career of Raja Shehadeh.

Author:Normey, Rob

I have just read a wonderful narrative by the Palestinian human rights lawyer, activist, and now writer of the first rank, Raja Shehadeh. The author lives in Ramallah, in the West Bank, which has been under occupation by Israeli forces for 51 years and counting. The book, A Rift in Time: Travels With My Ottoman Uncle, is a moving excursion through lands that should by now belong to the Palestinian people but are instead under a harsh military occupation. Shehadeh is too gifted a writer to have offered up his tale in a strident and inflexible manner. Rather, he digs deep within himself to provide a double narrative, as he retraces the steps of his rather alluring yet enigmatic uncle, Najib Nassar. This is much harder than the casual reader might imagine, given the ridiculous, persistent constraints to which stateless Palestinians are subjected. Shehadeh intertwines his historical tale with observations from today's perspective on the drastically altered landscape he uncertainly advances across. While the mood is often melancholy, we are treated to a vivid and admiring descriptions of what remains of the open landscape that so enchants our author.

In reading the account of Najib Nassar, a journalist, novelist ("bad novelist" according to his great-nephew but revelatory nonetheless), and romantic dreamer of a future Palestine filled with equal, rights-bearing citizens, I was reminded of the tale of Sisyphus in contemplating the exertions of the author. You may remember that in Greek myth he was the wily and unflappable King of Corinth who got in Very Serious Trouble with the Gods over his failure to follow their rules. This led to a drastic punishment indeed. He was left to toil ceaselessly in rolling a boulder up a hill in Tartarus. Once Sisyphus had struggled to the summit, the God of Hades decreed that it would immediately begin a trajectory back down the hill. Shehadeh's work as lawyer and founder of the pioneering, nonpartisan human rights organization Al-Haq, an affiliate of the International Commission of Jurists, appears to have been every bit as frustrating as the labour's of poor Sisyphus. Shehadeh's efforts to challenge the illegal expropriations and takings of Palestinian lands, the demolitions of Palestinian homes and other abuses were met with failure time and again. The Israeli military courts were not interested in this indefatigable lawyer's conceptions of justice.

Having penned several legal texts on law in the Palestinian...

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