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Middle East Comment from a Traveling Journo

A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Territories

The story of the Palestinian living in Syria who hitchhiked across Israel to find his home is sure to have Hollywood buzzing. A romantic comedy maybe? The Palestinian could be in the image of Shirley ‘finding-herself-in-the-Mediterranean’ Valentine: buses trundling along panoramic coastline roads, sunsets over rolling hills, a plucky local discovering the world, talking with strangers and over-coming personal hardships, all to the theme of obscure indie folk music and local pan piped melodies. He could even make friends with a stray dog? Or it could be an action film. Part of the Bourne series, perhaps? It would certainly give a new meaning to The Bourne Identity. Or maybe a new one. Bourne: The Right to Return. I could go on….

But this incredible story of a man who made his way over 130km from his Syrian refugee camp to a Tel Aviv neighbourhood, is inspiring for many reasons.
And in the context of the recent uprisings, two distinct elements come to mind. Firstly on a practical level, it is indicative of the remarkable breakdown in security in Syria, as the regime focuses on clamping down on continuing dissent within its own parameters. The regime has long meddled in the affairs of its neighbours, seeking to destabilise and corrupt their domestic situations. Now the attention is on its own security, and it must now worry about its own leaky borders, as operatives seem now to be able to come and go with increasing frequency.
But more importantly, this man’s journey reflects a change in the state of mind of not just Palestinians, but Arabs all over the region. As the legitimacy of their leaders is questioned, so too is the legitimacy of the already contested borders that separate their countries. As questions of legitimacy and freedom abound, this man’s hike demonstrates how desperation, misery and dispossession have finally come to outweigh fear of reprisals from the authorities.
In one respect, with calls for freedom and democracy in his ears, this was one man’s own private protest. With no Tahrir to call his own, he made his way back ‘home’ as an act of defiance and self-determination, claiming his identity just as millions of Cairenes and Tunisians were able to do. Just as the Tunisian grocer’s self immolation was his own private, singular act of despair, what followed was a very public, mass display of emotion, communal solidarity and hope. This man’s trek will not trigger a mass infitada against Israel as some have indicated, but it should provoke a similar compassionate response by all those who recognize his cause.
This man’s journey demonstrates the real awakening going on in the Middle East. Maybe by the time Hollywood gets round to making this film, it might have a happy ending too.

Jordan: 2,004,795; Lebanon: 427,057; Syria: 477,700; West Bank: 788,108; Gaza Strip: 1,122,569. That’s 4,820,229 registered Palestinian refugees living in 58 refugee camps

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Middle East Comment from a Travelling Journo

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