She’s been travelling and writing for decades now, a constant source of amazement. I refer of course to Ireland’s Dervla Murphy, who first set out, on her bike, way back in the 60s.
Most recently she’s been in Jerusalem. And as part of that project she spent time on the West Bank and, eventually A Month by the Sea.
The Book on Israel is yet to appear and was originally intended to include two chapters on her time on the Gaza Strip. She had spent three months in Israel, and a further five in a refugee camp on the West Bank, gathering material for a planned work on life for the Palestinians under Israeli occupation.
But one month in Gaza changed those plans, and A Month by the Sea is her account solely of that time spent with 1.6 millions in one of the most battered places on earth. Dervla, at the age of 80, brings to us what our news bulletins fail to achieve. I thought I had a reasonable understanding of the area, but clearly had barely scratched the surface, despite reading the views of, among others, Jonathan Garfinkel and Nicholas Woodsworth.
It is an eye-opener, embroiled in politics and warfare, twisted in international spin. We hear of families decimated by bombings and scraping a living in shanty towns. We pay for those bombs, and for the efforts of the Middle East Peace Envoy, of whom Dervla has some scathing words as he gets ever richer as the Palestinians suffer. You and I have paid for three cars for use by him and his team. The vehicles alone cost nearly half a million dollars, and in the Strip there is poverty beyond belief.
It is a book that is not for the faint-hearted, but I consider myself to be fairly open minded, untainted by prejudices, by hatreds or loathings. But I think I might just look closer at the attempts to get the next Freedom Flotilla underway, and to listen to the efforts of those championing the cause of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions) campaign and a quest for a solution.
And those hundreds of thousands of trees I listed earlier? Those were the losses on 5,000 acres of fertile farmland put out of bounds by the IDF, along with 305 wells – poisoned with dead dogs – during the three weeks of Cast Lead, which saw 1,400 Palestinian deaths in that short period in response to 22 Israeli deaths over a decade. And the West, well we just continue to supply the weapons and bombs it seems. Hmm.
Granny’s got her dander up, and Dervla in her 80s is, like some of us, more inclined to air her views than the younger self. I like the political and feminist side coming out, but I cringe at the source of her angst, and man’s inhumanity, still going on. Even if you only get as far as sharing her tortured journey through the gates and checkpoints you will be staggered. But stick with it, and spend a few days behind the barriers.
I’m looking forward to the rest of her Israeli travels coming into print. Many of Dervla’s back catalogue are available again, through a new publishing arrangement with Eland, and I’ll be watching for news of the next instalment. Meanwhile check out Eland’s List – marvellous.