“Most Americans have a framework in their head that doesn’t include anything about Arabs or Muslims other than stereotypes,” said Pamela Olson, author of the book Fast Times in Palestine: A Love Affair With a Homeless Homeland. “If you say something counter to those frameworks they have in their minds, it tends to bounce off because it doesn't fit within the narratives they construct about what’s going on. So, in order to really build up this world that’s been so badly misrepresented, you really have to start from the ground up.”
Ms. Olson’s travel memoir, published earlier this year, covers her time working as a journalist for more than two years in Palestine, which she described as "a place that most people have a very skewed and undeveloped understanding of.” She decided to write the book to share her experiences and show Americans a different point of view.
“People don’t really know anything about the geography, they don’t know anything about the culture, they don’t understand the sense of humor, they don’t know about the occupation, they don’t know about the political situation,” she explained. She said she knew that building “this very complex and complete and fascinating world” for an American audience would be a big challenge.
Ms. Olson was surprised about how good the reception has been on her book and how relatively little push back she received, noting a big shift in US public opinion on the conflict.
“It’s clear that between 2003 when I started this and 2013, things have changed an enormous amount…There’s many books being written, articles are getting better, a little bit, little by little in the American press. Things are changing. I don’t know when it’s going to reach a tipping point or what’s going to happen when it does, but we keep chipping away at it,” she said.
The interview also covered Ms. Olson's view of the current peace process between Israel and Palestine, in which she sees a number of issues. For her, it seems the Palestinians are divided between two political parties: Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza. She said that Hamas—which gave up terrorism and moderated its political positions when its representatives ran for office—became marginalized and returned to extremism because the US and Israel refused to recognize the democratic results.
“The leadership in the Palestinian territories is fractured. They haven’t been able to [have] elections because the two territories are estranged from each other. There’s really no Palestinian leadership now that actually represents Palestinians,” she said.
She said that the difficulties with the two sides conflicting views of the two-state solution and the questionable brokering of the United States also pose problems for the peace process.
The interview was conducted by Nadia Mughal, Research Assistant at the International Peace Institute.
Listen to interview (or download mp3):
Nadia Mughal: We’re pleased to welcome Pamela Olson, author of the book Fast Times in Palestine, a travel memoir of her two year stay in Ramallah, Palestine during which she served as head writer and editor for the Palestine Monitor and foreign press coordinator for the Palestinian presidential candidate Dr. Mustafa Barghouti. The book offers an inside look into the realities of life in Palestine while addressing the political and historical challenges of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Pamela, thank you for joining us at the Global Observatory today.
I want to begin by asking you, how did you find yourself in Palestine, and what made you write the book?
Pamela Olson: Well, I found myself in Palestine by accident. After I graduated from college with a degree in physics, I decided to go traveling for a while, and I found myself in the Middle East for a number of reasons, one of which was the Iraq War [that] was just getting ramped up at that time in my life. And this was the fall of 2003, and I was dating a Lebanese guy, who talked about the Middle East as if it was Club Med. He said the women were gorgeous, the beaches were amazing, the food was the best in the world, and I am thinking, okay I am hearing this from him, and then on the news, I am hearing it’s a vast desert full of Kalashnikov-wielding maniacs who want to kill you for your freedom. So, there’s kind of a cognitive dissonance going on. So, I kind of wanted to check it out. And by then I learned to speak a little bit of Arabic and learned the Arabic alphabet. And a friend from France emailed me unexpectedly and said hey, why we don’t travel in Egypt together. So we did, and we were just kind of tourists for a few weeks, and I wandered up to Amman, Jordan.