Legalese is a notoriously ungainly offshoot of the English language, and it is to his great credit that Shehadeh writes prose that is clear, readable and full of powerful imagery. There is no right when it comes to the story of Ramallah and Palestine, but there are many wrongs. It is fitting that it should be a lawyer who writes this book, given that the overwhelming impression for the reader is one of powerlessness and injustice. Shehadeh speaks of the idealism of both Palestinian and Israeli negotiators in the early days post-Oslo, and how this has curdled into bitterness and frustration. “By forcing them [the Israelis] to justify the unjustifiable, that which is patently illegal, we have helped them destroy their legal system… We have certainly not won, but neither have they.”
Going Home is about searching for the meaning of ‘home’ when living in a city under occupation, where more than half the population are refugees... Ramallah is forever changed by the paths Shehadeh has taken in life: the homes he has made in houses, buildings he has transformed into offices as a lawyer and activist, and the clients’ houses he has prevented from being illegally destroyed. In this book, the bonds that bind Palestinians to the land are exposed. Personal and political, human and geographical histories are beautifully intertwined and preserved. Shehadeh does eventually seem to find a resting place. He suggests that a sort of peace, and therefore a home, can be constructed in the mind and carried around, safe and protected in the self.
Going Home cements the author’s reputation as the best-known Palestinian writing in English. Interestingly, there is only one mention in it of a word (a concept really) that was the centrepiece of his previous books – sumoud – steadfastness in Arabic, less pompously translated as “hanging in there”. Retracing his steps he now finds little that is heroic, including the grim period of the second intifada and the return of all-out occupation. “It’s more a chronicle of repeated failures. Both we and the Israelis who were against the settlement project have failed to find a way of living together and that’s the biggest tragedy. Now time is running out.”