We Could Have Been Friends, My Father and I: A Palestinian Memoir by Raja Shehadeh – The Irish Times

Posted By on July 31, 2022

We Could Have Been Friends, My Father and I, A Palestinian Memoir

Author: Raja Shehadeh

ISBN-13: 978-1788169974

Publisher: Profile Books

Guideline Price: 14.99

The Palestinian lawyer, author and human rights activist Raja Shehadeh resembles his late father, Aziz. Both men believed in the power of the law to mitigate the enormous injustice done to their people, and both found a form of salvation, if not happiness, in work.

Each was naive in his way. Aziz initially believed in Arab solidarity. Raja confesses to having underestimated Israel. I, who lived through the settlement-building project, never imagined that Israel would get away with this systematic illegal scheme and end up taking most of the land in eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank, he writes in his new memoir.

Shehadeh feels remorse for not having recognised Azizs heroism until after his fathers death, mainly because he could not dissociate his fathers struggle from the hardships it imposed on the family.

This is a tragedy within a tragedy, of a father and son who, despite their similarities, failed to understand one another, against the backdrop of dispossession of the Palestinian people.

The Shehadeh family, affluent Christians from the port city of Jaffa, were among 750,000 Palestinians driven from their homes when the state of Israel was established in 1948. The family were so confident of returning rapidly to their comfortable apartment, to Azizs books and his wife Widads stylish dresses, that it did not even occur to them to take winter clothing.

Many years later, Aziz takes his family to a plot of land overlooking the Mediterranean, south of Jaffa, which he had purchased before the Nakba, as the Arabs call the loss of Palestine. He had planned to build his dream house on the promontory. His silence was heavy and seemed to weigh him down He didnt utter a single word or betray any emotion. No one spoke on the long drive back to Ramallah.

UN General Assembly resolution 194 dictated that Palestinians be allowed to return to their homes, or receive compensation. Aziz and other leaders planned a mass return to Jaffa. The Jordanians, who ruled the West Bank for 19 years, foiled the plan.

Israel froze the bank accounts of Palestinians, rendering many of the exiles destitute. Some of their money was given to the Custodian of Absentee Property which used it to irrigate orchards that had been taken from Palestinians.

Aziz Shehadeh sued for restoration of the frozen funds. He lost in a London court because Britains recognition of the state of Israel meant it complied with Israeli banking laws. Shehadeh then took the case to a Jordanian court, which ordered Barclays to restore the Palestinians assets, with interest.

Lieut Gen Sir John Bagot Glubb, known to Arabs as Glubb Pasha, was a British officer who virtually ran Jordan. Glubb is the minence grise of Shehadehs book. It was he who designed the harsh prison in the desert at Al Jafr, 256km south of Amman, where King Hussein sent political prisoners, including Aziz Shehadeh. When Glubbs Bedouin soldiers came to Ramallah to arrest Shehadeh, they shackled the lawyers right foot to his left wrist and his left foot to his right hand. In this painful position, he was thrown into a lorry and driven many hours through the desert.

After Israel seized the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 war, Aziz Shehadeh became one of the first to advocate a two-state solution along the lines of the 1947 UN peace plan. For this, he was attacked by Arabs and Palestinians, who considered Azizs willingness to settle for less than all British mandate Palestine to be a betrayal. One cannot help thinking of present-day Ukrainians who insist there can be no peace with Russia until they regain all Ukrainian territory.

When Raja finally has the courage to go through his fathers personal archives, years after Aziz was murdered by a Palestinian whom Raja suspects to have been an Israeli collaborator, he happens upon a striking coincidence. His father signed an undated lament about the perfidy of Britain, Jordan and Israel with the Arabic name Samed, meaning one who perseveres. Raja had unknowingly chosen the same pen name for himself.

The perseverance of the Shehadehs was admirable but sadly futile. Today, the Palestinians are all but forgotten. Since 1967, Israel has built 500 settlements in the West Bank for 750,000 Israelis. The continuing theft of Palestinian land by Israel is met with indifference.

Dont speak to me of justice, law, rights, an Israeli cabinet minister told Aziz Shehadeh at a UN-sponsored conference in Lausanne. These words have no place in our dictionary. It is power that determines the destiny of nations.


We Could Have Been Friends, My Father and I: A Palestinian Memoir by Raja Shehadeh - The Irish Times

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