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The Palestine Literary Festival by Michael Palin on 11 June 2009 3:58pm
 
My first visit to what I grew up to know as the Holy Land was with the Palestine Literary Festival in May. What I found was a most un-holy land with much tension and anger in the air. My immediate reaction was to be encouraged by President Obama's professed intent to insist on a halt to the building of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian land, and I wrote a letter to that effect, which was published in The Independent Newspaper on
May 30th. The letter read as follows:

Having recently taken part in the Palestine Literary Festival and visited various parts of the West Bank, I can only applaud President Obama's attempt to press for a halt in the building of settlements. I'd read about the situation, but nothing had prepared me for what I saw on the ground. Though condemned under international law, the building has been going on since 1967 and is well-funded, deliberate and systematic. The settlers have their own network of roads (which Palestinians are not allowed to use), their own water and electricity resources and the right to carry arms in defence of their homes. In all aspects of their everyday life the Palestinians are made to feel inferior. Power is wielded by the gun, the watchtower, the arbitrary search, and ultimately by the separation wall which breaks up centuries old communities and cuts farmers off from their lands. This isn't security, it's conquest.

Most depressingly, the policy of West Bank settlements deliberately prevents the people of the area, whether Jewish or Palestinian, from coming together for any kind of mutual interest or to exchange or discuss their experiences. With human contact virtually forbidden, it's hard to imagine how political change can ever be effected.

The only shred of hope is that those who oppose the settlements, many of whom include Israeli citizens, writers and commentators, will take heart from President Obama's unequivocal stance and create a groundswell of opinion which even the Israeli government might not be able to ignore.

 



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