Teju Cole on travelling from Amman to Ramallah for the Palestine Festival of Literature.


How does one write about this place? Every sentence is open to dispute. Every place name objected to by someone. Every barely stated fact seems familiar already, at once tiresome and necessary. Whatever is written is examined not only for what it includes but for what it leaves out: have we acknowledged the horror of the Holocaust? The perfidy of the Palestinian Authority? The callousness of Hamas? Under these conditions, the dispossessed – I will leave aside all caveats and plainly state that the Palestinians are the dispossessed – have to spend their entire lives negotiating what should not be matters for negotiation at all: freedom of movement, the right to self-determination, equal protection under the law.

The Augusta Victoria Hospital, on Mount Scopus, is one of the better hospitals available to Palestinians. It is easy for those in East Jerusalem to get to. For those living in the West Bank, a permit is needed, and usually one isn’t issued unless there’s urgent need: for radiation therapy, for instance, or dialysis. Dr Tawfiq Nasser, who runs the hospital, tells us about a man from Gaza who had the wrong ID and thus for eight years couldn’t see his son, whose ID was similarly restrictive. The man was diagnosed with cancer and finally got a permit to enter Jerusalem. He went to see his son in the West Bank, spent three weeks with him, came back to the hospital for one week of chemotherapy, and returned to Gaza and died.”