Walking for Palestine

Author: John Salisbury

Review by: Mark Furlong

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Walking for Palestine is an account of three long walks the author undertook to publicize the Palestinian cause. Written with clarity and good humour, the reader is made a companion as Mr. Salisbury – a retired 60-or-so year-old man from Melbourne – walks twice from Sydney to Canberra (2014; 2015) and once from Melbourne to Adelaide (2016). The scenery and stop-overs are described but, more importantly, the reader is taken into the author’s thoughts and feelings before, during and after each trek.

Without skiting, Mr. Salisbury’s strength of purpose becomes clear. There is no melodrama, yet the reader witnesses the heat, rain and tiredness that was endured – as the joys and satisfactions are also made clear. The fine company that convened in and around these walks is particularly highlighted.

A key strength of the book is that the author does not shy away from engaging with what he finds troubling and discouraging. This openness invites an intimate connection as Mr. Salisbury opens-out his interiority as much or more as he chronicles the material detail of his journeys. In this way he does not neglect his personal concerns, particularly with respect to this partner’s health and, to a much lesser extent, his encounters with exhaustion.

The book’s key theme is that decades of advocacy have not resulted in a clear movement towards justice. Mr. Salisbury worries, at least from time to time, that his efforts, like those of the Palestinian people and their supporters, have not only not led to demonstrable change but, quite possibly, have coincided with a deterioration in the relevant political and material conditions. This is an unsettling concern and the book is the stronger for not avoiding it. Feelings of impotence and discouragement, frustration and rage, may present a less obvious reality than, say, the Wall of Apartheid but these emotions deserve a clear and enduring recognition in their own right. As James Baldwin said ‘Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed without being faced.’

In terms of form, the text is accompanied by a selection of colour ‘travel snaps.’ A good deal of historical and critical background is also included. Given the book is not an academic work, this material sometimes appears in a somewhat ad hoc manner even as these entries are often noteworthy. For example, Mr. Salisbury cites The Unspoken Alliance, a neglected study by Sacha Polakow-Suransky of the collaboration between apartheid South Africa and Israel. The author also notes that, unlike most world leaders, neither Israel’s President Peres nor Prime Minister Netanyahu attended Nelson Mandela’s funeral in 2013.

Not designed to be a page-turner, Walking for Palestine is a worthy book documenting effort and reflection. As the many testimonials on its cover affirm, the book thoughtfully articulates a cause and shows how ordinary folk – you and me – can be creative and persistent in how we make a contribution.