Pamela J. Olson is a native of Stigler, who graduated from the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics in Oklahoma City and later received an undergraduate degree from Stanford University. In her recently published “Fast Times in Palestine: A Love Affair with a Homeless Homeland,” she writes of how a sense of curiosity took her to Israeli-occupied Palestine in 2002 after she left Stanford.
She served as editor for a Palestinian newspaper and also as a campaign consultant to a candidate for the presidency of the Palestinian Authority. During that time Olson developed a love for Palestine and its people that is illuminated in her descriptions of the individuals she encountered there. Olson writes of the Palestinians “warmth and strength and their total belonging to the land” and “their incredible capacity to make strangers feel like they belong.” She details how their commitment to their Islamic faith reminds her of the devoutly Christian people with whom she grew up with in Stigler, and she was often told that Muslims feel a kinship with both Christians and Jews as fellow “people of the book.”
Olson describes in detail the spicy food that is part of the Palestinian culinary tradition. Those foods are now available to residents of the Oklahoma City-Edmond area in restaurants operated by Palestinian immigrants. In addition to flavorful foods patrons of those eateries also experience some of the hospitality that Olson encountered. The author describes how that warmth and hospitality is displayed despite a military occupation that restricts the daily life of the Palestinians.
This occupation has been in place since Israel seized the West Bank of the Jordan River during the Arab-Israeli War of 1967. Military checkpoints are in place in many locations there and often make travel for Palestinians difficult and time consuming. Olson writes of how some Palestinian women have had to give birth in cars while they waited in lines at checkpoints when they were trying to get to hospitals in neighboring towns. West Bank Palestinians also often have their travel plans disrupted when they encounter what are known as “flying checkpoints” that are occasionally set up by the Israeli Army without warning on thoroughfares. She also details how Israeli settlements on the West Bank have taken land and water from Palestinians to build their communities.
While Olson does write of the suicide bombers who killed themselves and Israelis, she makes it clear that the majority of Palestinians want to have an independent state that will be at peace with Israel. Since her book was written, there has been more violence between the Israelis and Palestinians, and many observers are doubtful if there ever will be peace in that region. But it should be recalled that similar pessimistic conclusions were reached regarding Northern Ireland and South Africa not all that many years ago, and both of those states are now at peace. It is possible that at some future date an adventurous young Oklahoman will be able to travel to an independent Palestine that is at peace with Israel.
WILLIAM F. O’BRIEN is an Oklahoma City attorney.