We Could Have Been Friends, My Father and I by Raja Shehadeh review – truth and memory in Palestine

A human rights lawyer charts the history of his country through his late father’s papers

For those not forced to live them day to day, the realities of Israel’s occupation of Palestine can be conveniently repackaged with whatever euphemism fits the prevailing political mood, from “peace initiative” to “rising tensions”. For the past couple of years, the buzzword has been “normalisation” – the aim of the US-brokered Abraham accords of 2020 by which a number of Arab states, led by the UAE, discarded their red line of independence for Palestine and established official relations with Israel. The Palestinians themselves were not invited to the talks, and the star US negotiator, Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, described their 70-plus-year history of violent dispossession as “nothing more than a real-estate dispute”. The new tactic for dealing with the injustice at the heart of the region’s modern history was simply to act as if it didn’t exist.

The backdrop to this sudden reversal is a changing Middle East in which faith in the US is shrinking, hostility to Iran is growing and repressive Arab regimes now find they have more in common with the occupiers than the occupied. Normalisation has not only opened up Dubai’s luxury hotels to Israeli influencers, but given Gulf autocrats access to preferential weapons deals, intelligence training from the Mossad and Shin Bet and Israel’s world-leading surveillance technology. Earlier this year, a New York Times investigation concluded that sales of the notorious Pegasus spyware – which a major media and NGO project revealed has been unlawfully used by states to target rights activists, journalists and political opponents – played an “unseen but critical role” in securing the 2020 deal. In the new regional status quo created by normalisation, Joe Biden could last month fly the previously forbidden direct route from Israel to Saudi Arabia, after the most cursory and noncommittal of calls on the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank.

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