Pamela Olson gives talk on “Fast Times in Palestine”

By Josh Raposa

(Katherine Mayo/Collegian)
(Katherine Mayo/Collegian)

Author Pamela Olson gave a talk in the Commonwealth Honors College Events Hall on Tuesday night to discuss her book, “Fast Times in Palestine: A Love Affair with a Homeless Homeland”.

The event was hosted by Students for Justice in Palestine and coordinated by UMass’ Leila Aruri. It featured a narrative slideshow, a Q&A session, and book signing.

“I was out of college and I decided to visit the Middle East in 2003. The Iraq war was still going on and I was sitting in a café, in Jordan, with a bunch of other journalists. I was talking about maybe going to Baghdad in Iraq,” Olson explained.

At the advice of journalists, who had just returned from Iraq, Olson chose to travel to Palestine.

Following what she described as her “tantalizing interest in Palestine,” Olson decided to move to the Palestinian city of Ramallah, where she lived for the next two years.

During her time there, she served as the head writer of the newspaper “The Palestinian Monitor.”

She also served as the foreign press coordinator for Dr. Mustafa Barghouti during his bid for the Palestinian presidency in 2005.

Olson showed images in a slideshow of the lush Palestinian landscape, dotted with olive trees, apricots, almonds and water. She showed deep valleys of the Sinai into the heart of Palestinian landscape.

“I like to show the beauty and especially the people of Palestine. Oftentimes, because of the news, we forget that they are people.”

She then proceeded to display the urban life of Palestine, providing an insight into the culture of a place like Ramallah. The images displayed a hub of commerce and culture: streets lined with markets, multicolored dress and a vibrant artistic life.

“I always show these images before talking about, you know, the occupation.” Olson explained.

In the slides that followed, Olson described the grim reality of what she described as “the Israeli occupation of Palestine.”

“You have about 500 checkpoints and roadblocks that cut through the heart of Palestinian land. This land, continuously being built on by ‘legal’ Israeli settlements, is getting carved up,” Olson said.

According to Olson, many Israelis living in settlements drive directly past what she describes as “a prison wall” encircling Palestinians.

Olson traced the roots of this conflict and occupation back to the U.N. Partition Plan of 1947. Mandated by the U.N., this granted Israelis the right to own land that was previously considered Palestinian. The plan fell through in 1948 amidst Arab backlash.

In 2016, over half century a later, the conflict remains unresolved as many Palestinians still live under Israeli authority. However, according to Olson, “many, barely any, are granted the same rights as Israeli citizens.”

“I remember these three children. Iman al Hams, Raghda al-Assar and Ghadeer Jaber Mokheimer. They were all killed by Israeli snipers in broad daylight. Two of them in class. No one received any punishment. If they do, it’s minor.”

As a country, Olson elaborated, Palestine has no jurisdictional authority.

“You have a ‘nation’, if you could call it that, completely dependent on Israel. Imports. Exports. Water. Electricity. You name it. The entire economy is dependent, and the authority is lacking as well. They can’t do anything.”

Olson then spoke of the disproportionate conflict between the two sides as she showed pictures of rubble and brick that had once been homes, hospitals and schools.

“These neighborhoods, they are just becoming wastelands,” Olson said.

In discussing possible solutions to the ongoing conflict, familiar proposals were cited: the one-state, two-state and neo-apartheid solutions.

Olson then emphasized the role that the United States had in the region, not as an arbiter of peace, but of conflict: “We need to understand as Americans that Israel could not be allowed to be doing what it is doing without our help.”

Olson cited a number of failed U.N. resolutions that charged Israel with human rights violations. The one country on the U.N. Security Council that had used veto powers against almost every proposed resolution was the United States.

“I would imagine that it is in large part due to domestic politics. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is consistently cited as the largest campaign contributor. It would be very unpopular to talk about the true Palestine.”

In closing her discussion, Olson emphasized the role of student activism on campuses and stressed the need for people to be informed of the Palestinian truth.

“If the Palestinians have anything on their side now, its international law, morality and truth.”

Josh Raposa can be reached at [email protected]