Katharine von Schubert, 'Checkpoints and Chances: eyewitness accounts from an observer in Israel-Palestine'

IssueFebruary 2006
Review by Sarah Irving

Katharine von Schubert's book tells the story of a period of a year and half, when this young woman joined Quaker Peace and Social Witness's human rights observation programme in the West Bank. As such, I approached it with some trepidation. In the last few years, a number of volumes have emerged recounting the experiences of international activists in Palestine, from the International Solidarity Movement, Christian Peacemaker Teams and a range of other groups. Some have been very good, and offered genuine insights into the situation in Israel and Palestine, but others have been bogged down in activist ego, with the Palestinian people playing a distinctly secondary role.

This book, fortunately, is not one of the latter. Although it could have stood tighter proofreading, it is first and foremost a calm, concise, eminently fair account of life in various parts of the West Bank. Brief vignettes illustrate the variety within the “Palestinian experience”, showing how the Israeli military occupation manifests itself in such a range of ways for men and women, young and old, rural and urban, wealthy and working-class. They also describe how some people's desire for revenge leads them to suicide bombing, while others simply sink into depression and apathy. And the book is scrupulously - but not tokenistically or self-consciously - fair, with acts of humanity by Israeli soldiers acknowledged, and the importance of links between young Palestinians and left-wing Israeli students and refuseniks brought to light.

Von Schubert also combines information about the situation in Palestine with the tales of everyday life that make up much of the book. The frustration of a young Bethlehemite woman, who misses being able to go out socialising in Jerusalem, illustrates a discussion of checkpoints and closures, while the story of a female suicide bomber from Jenin is the opening to an explanation of the facts of the Separation Wall.

For those familiar with the West Bank, much in this book will be familiar, and the range of areas covered may mean that it offers little that is new. But to those less acquainted with the issues and nature of everyday life in Occupied Palestine, especially those planning to visit the region, this is an excellent snapshot of life there.

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