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Fast Times in Palestine. Pamela J. Olson. Mason Hill Press, New York, 2011.
What can I say about such a well written book that has not already been said: well crafted, thought provoking, illuminating, enlightening, informative…. Most importantly, Fast Times in Palestine highlights the essential humanity of Palestinians and their struggle with the constant oppression of Israeli society that surrounds all facets of their lives. In the face of overwhelming power, the message that underlies this story is the very idea of Palestinian existence.
Not just base existence, but existence of a culture, a distinct society, that dares to live and breathe within the confines of walls, and razor wire, bombs and bullets, and any and all daily harassments that few in the western world face. That culture is alive and well in spite of it all, and perhaps healthier than many would expect. Olson’s writing brings out the daily mix of pathos and joy, humor and reflection, love and disappointment, gracious music and raucous laughter that reflects the human spirit. It is more than human spirit surviving, it is in some undefined way human spirit thriving against forces opposing it. As indicated in this and other anecdotal comments on Palestine, it is the very existence of the people and their continued living that confronts and defies those that want to destroy their existence in their homeland.
Pam Olson’s journey is a combination of the physical face of Palestine and the discovery of its people and their culture. For truly, the land is the culture: the olive trees that survive for hundreds of years, passed on from generation to generation; the flow of clear spring water, bringing life to an abundant land; and now, the land is constrained, warped, distorted by a wall and checkpoints and razor wire and overhead presence of drones and Apache helicopters loaded with Hellfire missiles. It is also a modern land, with urban areas—although suffering under the constraints of siege and occupation—displaying the modern aspects a more westernized urban lifestyle.
It is a culture of sumoud, steadfastness, as there is no recourse to do anything but continue living as best as one can under the circumstances. There is a resoluteness that most of us probably could never understand, never fully come to grips with, unless we were born and raised under similar circumstances. Olson experiences the weight and tragedy of the situation, her writing describing how it affects her own strength and ability to manage all the carnage and sufferance that the Palestinians live with always, with no escape possible. And yet, as highlighted by her experiences, life continues, almost normally at times, with a great satisfaction taken in time with families and friends, meals shared, distances travelled that are greater than simple mileage, but bearing witness to the truncated and apartheid nature of the current landscape.
For all that she witnesses, for all that her own understanding emotionally and intellectually develop and grow from her experiences in Palestine, Pam Olson recognizes “how easily we can be manipulated to justify immoral actions.” Under the circumstances of existence in Palestine, the range of emotions, the rage of emotions, provides a potent lesson, “No matter how deep my anger or grief, the main thing that kept me from feeling or doing anything too extreme was the shame I would feel when so many Palestinians were maintaining their humanity, their ability to love and not to hate, under such unimaginable circumstance.”
The Palestinian cause is universal, covering all of humanity. Pam Olson’s personal journey through Palestine is a vibrant testimony to the strength and endurance of a people suffering under the confines of an occupying force. Creatively written, with short clear character descriptions, clear evocative language that highlights the full range of pathos and love, the ability to express in plain language the Palestinians ties to their land and their culture, and the openness with which she expresses her own feelings, make a narrative giving witness to the most significant clash of empire over indigenous people in today’s unbalanced world.
For those seeking knowledge of the land and it current status, this narrative is as much if not more important than the dryness and legalities of standard history and political science. Both are needed, but Pam Olson brings alive the people, the land, her own responses, a testament to the struggles of the Palestinian people in their everyday lives.