In a lot of ways, Pamela Olson's Fast Times in Palestine is an eye-opener. No doubt about it. The stories she tells about the wonderful people she met and the beautiful experiences she had there are unarguably heartwarming - and heartbreaking. They are similar to what I experienced during my years in Algeria. Olson's memoir further proves to me that, given half a chance, people are capable of forming lasting friendships and bonds so long as they are willing to see each other as fellow human beings rather than as representatives of their respective governments.
As I learned on September 11, 2001, however, not everyone is capable of doing that. I saw Algerians crying because of my shock and pain and I saw Algerians openly laughing and celebrating the tragedy of that day. But I saw an even higher percentage of my French co-workers smiling and joking about the same thing. What does that prove? Only that people are people and that politics makes many of them incapable of seeing the bigger picture. But not all of them.
Pamela Olson saw things in Palestine I never suspected existed there: a thriving business community; nightlife that includes ready access to alcohol; weddings at which any inhibitions regarding dress and partying are abandoned at the door; and nice restaurants, among them. She also tells of many of the things I expected to read about: Palestinian families with members maimed or killed simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time; Palestinians whose homes have been purposely turned into rubble by the Israeli military; and families whose very livelihood is threatened because their centuries-old olive groves are now on the wrong side of a security fence erected by the Israelis (tragically, hundreds of the ancient trees have been destroyed in the name of security or settlement).
My only complaint about Fast Times in Palestine, and I consider it more to be pointing out what I see as a flaw rather than complaining, is that Olson's focus is overwhelmingly on Palestine's moderates and Israel's extremists - not to say that there are not plenty of each, because there certainly are. I will long remember some of the wonderful Palestinian families to whom she introduces the reader. I do believe that Israel is very heavy-handed at times in its approach to co-existing with Palestine, and Olson certainly puts a human face on those suffering the consequences. But I also believe that Israel is home to many moderates who are simply trying to raise their families and get on with their own lives. I would love to see the author spend some time with those people and tell their stories as well. What is happening in Palestine is a tragedy and, while Fast Times in Palestine adds to the dialogue, there is definitely room for another book here.