Pamela J. Olson’s recently-published book, Fast Times in Palestine, is an important and welcome addition to the books written from personal experience living in the occupied Palestinian territories. Part travelogue, part unflinching witness to the brutality of the Israeli occupation and colonization of the West Bank, and part “love affair with a homeless homeland” (the book’s subtitle), it was originally self-published in 2011 and has now been published by Seal Press. Olson began a U.S. book tour in March, and she hopes (according to the website for her book, www.pamolson.org) to eventually tour in Canada, Europe and the Middle East.
The purpose of her book, as Olson writes on her website, is to give the reader “a sophisticated understanding of the Israel/Palestine conflict in a way that is enjoyable and accessible to all.” She accomplishes this by combining the engaging story of her experiences living in the West Bank with a well-documented account of the grim reality of life under occupation. While acknowledging that terrorism from both sides has caused unimaginable suffering, Olson does what relatively few in the West have been willing to do, and that is to also acknowledge the conflict’s staggering imbalance of power. Israel’s armed forces, used to dominate, impede and assault Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, are among the strongest in the world. Backed by enormous U.S. financial support, to the tune of billions of dollars year after year, and the protective shield of the U.S. veto of any U.N. resolution critical of Israel, the illegal colonization in the West Bank as well as Israel’s flagrant human rights violations are essentially given a seal of approval.
The arc of Olson’s experiences in the West Bank ranges from harvesting olives to working as writer and editor for the Palestine Monitor, from socializing with new friends to volunteering as foreign press coordinator for Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi’s presidential campaign, from the absurd and often cruel reality of checkpoints to learning that a close Palestinian friend has been taken away by Israeli soldiers, from the beginning of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement to being hit by a stun grenade during a peaceful protest against the land grab of Israel’s invasive separation barrier, the Wall. For two years, Olson lived with and processed an overload of sensory and emotional input. What she has distilled into her book is her love and admiration for a people who have not only endured, but who have preserved their warmth and generosity in spite of the decades of oppressive occupation.
Read Fast Times in Palestine for the pleasure of sharing the company of Olson and the many people who welcome her into their lives, and for the sense the book gives of what has been, what is, and what could be.