Book Review: “The Other Side of the Wall” by Richard Hardigan
By Paul Larudee, April 2018
Live from Palestine, the newsletter of the International Solidarity Movement support group in Northern California, has been publishing reports from ISM volunteers for fifteen years now, but only twice before to our knowledge has the ISM experience been expanded into a book. This one is very special indeed.
Richard Hardigan joined ISM at a very critical time in 2014, which is part of what makes his book so compelling. While he was there, three teenage Jewish settlers were kidnapped and killed. Israeli forces arrested hundreds of Palestinians and imposed debilitating restrictions on all of the West Bank. Then they attacked Gaza, killing more than 2,000 Palestinians.
But The Other Side of the Wall is compelling for other reasons, as well. Richard is an excellent and thoughtful writer, who provides vivid descriptions, personal thoughts, background information and analysis, as well. He did much more than recount his experience; he did background research to make sense of it.
The result is that this book is effective on many levels. From the point of view of the ISM, it should be required reading for any prospective or actual ISM volunteer, and form part of the training and preparation. But we should hope that the readership will be much wider, because it is capable of dispelling both lingering and deeply entrenched illusions that readers may have about Israeli attitudes, intentions, policies and practices. The author witnesses the brutality of the Occupation and the countless forms of humiliations the Palestinians face on a daily basis, such as violence meted out by both soldiers and settlers, long waits at checkpoints, home demolitions, travel restrictions, unfair economic practices, arbitrary detention and arrest, and long prison sentences. It will be a wakeup call to many if not most readers.
Richard was also more prepared than most ISM volunteers. He had lived and taught in Egypt and his Arabic was good enough to understand and communicate a lot of what he saw and heard. This is not expected of volunteers, but it is a big advantage. He also took elaborate preparations to protect himself from being blocked from entry to Palestine. ISM volunteers are advised to do this, but few are as cautious as Richard, which is a pen name. In some ways, his preparations can be considered a handbook for volunteers.
I found it hard to put the book down. Richard’s experiences and reactions reminded me a lot of my own a decade earlier with the ISM, and I found myself reliving the places and sensations from that time, which were often the same as Richard’s. I thank him for that. But you don’t have to have been to Palestine in order to appreciate this book. The only cautionary note for those who have not yet been, however, is that it may impel you to go. In that case, the ISM will be ready and waiting.
“A brave, poignant, and invaluable exposure to the daily suffering and dangers endured by the Palestinian people living under a cruel occupation that has lasted for 50 years with no end in sight. Richard Hardigan is no spectator of this ordeal, writing as one who has for some months stood shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with the Palestinians, inspired by their extraordinary resolve, resilience, and above all by their loving hospitality. Every American should be forced to read this illuminating book!” – Professor Richard Falk, former UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territories occupied since 1967.
“Richard Hardigan … has written what we have been waiting for for years: a measured, you-are-there account, …, a vivid journal that takes us past slogans and ideologies.” – Philip Weiss, co-founder and editor of Mondoweiss.
Richard Hardigan is the pen name of a professor based in California. He has spent several years teaching and lecturing at various universities in the Middle East. In 2011 he was caught up in the Tahrir Square uprising in Cairo. He has worked with human rights organizations in the West Bank and in the Palestinian refugee camp of Shatila in Lebanon.
The Other Side of the Wall: An Eyewitness Account of the Occupation in Palestine
May 15, 2018