I just finished reading Raja Shehadeh’s Palestinian Walks: Notes on a Vanishing Landscape. It does an especially good job narrating how walking the land conveys the realities of occupation while nevertheless raising questions about how attachment to land could signify otherwise. He begins his narrative by quoting from travel narratives by nineteenth-century writers like Thackeray and Twain, juxtaposing their stories of a land devoid of people with his narrative that centers his perspective as a Palestinian. He is especially critical of the Oslo Accords.
One thing that was incredibly clear throughout his story is how the idea of the public and public needs is fundamental to Israel’s settler colonial project. He talks, of course, about the roads that destroy Palestinian villages in the name of “public need” (Palestinians can’t drive on these roads). He also talks about how the idea of “public land” is a way of taking Palestinian land. At the same time, however, the “public” records of the Land Registration Department are no longer open to the public:
“they have been out of reach, secret. The Israeli official responsible for the Palestinian Land Authority, with the help of his Palestinian employees, was conducting a survey of the types of land to determine what percentage was registered and what sort of registration documentation existed. This information was vital for the success of the settlement project and it was carefully guarded. Since that day the Palestinian public have been denied access to the land records” (42).
It is not at all surprising, but striking. The vision of the public–“public needs,” “public land,” “public records”–is a vision of a land without people.