Rich humanity amid slow-burning conflict

Israeli Nir Baram's Land Without Borders, takes us around the occupied territories in Palestine and in the city of Jerusalem. 

A LAND WITHOUT BORDERS
Nir Baram
Text Publishing

By DOUG ANDERSON

When the Middle East comes up in the news, it's generally focused on Syria or Iraq, where conflicts are slowly continuing. In Land Without Borders, Israeli Nir Baram takes us around the occupied territories in Palestine and in the city of Jerusalem, to show a conflict that has been on a slow-burn for decades and shows no sign of lessening.

Baram spent a year and a-half travelling around Israeli settlements, eastern Jerusalem, refugee camps and other areas where Israeli and Palestinian communities are in close proximity. These are areas where they must interact with each other, peacefully or otherwise.

His writing has a "you are there'' quality; people come alive in his vivid, emotional prose. Those he interviews are people dealing with near-constant conflict and uneasiness between two peoples. What stood out was how Palestinians and Israelis saw very little of each other, or knew even less, despite being so close to each other.

In the town of Ramallah, Baram encounters a Palestinian boy who has never seen or met a Jew; in the settlements, he meets people who may spend weeks, even months without meeting a Palestinian.

An air of uneasiness runs through the conversations Baram has; the possibility of war is mentioned from time to time. While the current situation may be stable, it is not going to last, according to the people he meets. People on both sides of the conflict concentrate on what they can change; families sacrifice so their sons and daughters can go to university, or a long-time activist works on improving his neighbourhood.

While Israelis speak of weariness or resignation in regards to the ongoing occupation, Palestinians speak of their own resignation in light of the struggling peace process and the conflict with settlements and other encroachments.

The people's lives are described in rich imagery: the beauty of the landscape and the humanity of the villagers, settlers and townspeople come through in descriptions of their diverse cultures.

A quote at the end of the book is troubling and sums up the state of affairs all too well. It comes from a sports editor for the Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds: "Now things are violent, and in a couple of months or a year they might be quiet again, and then there'll be violence again, and it'll quieten down again, and then a little noise and then more quiet, and then a big noise. One day there'll be a very big noise.''

Doug Anderson is a Dunedin volunteer.


 

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