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real creeps: an unkempt slob of a man who tries to molest her; a woman whose main interest is the gold plating on her interpreter’s necklace. It is striking how all the classic tropes — child-eating, lecherous, greedy — creep in.
And it is amazing too just how far she is prepared to go in pressing her case politically. She claims that Israeli Jews treat the Palestinians “exactly” as they had been treated in the second world war. Exactly? Wow. It is left to one of her Palestinian gardener interlocutors to suggest that not all of Gaza’s problems are of Israel’s making. Speaking of Hamas, he says: “They are worse than Israel. All they want to do is strangle us.”
Having said all of this, I don’t think Snow is anti-Semitic. She shows herself capable of setting aside her personal views of the politics of the Middle East in order to listen to and faithfully record Israeli Jews expressing their perspective, which is often a mix of sympathy for and abiding suspicion towards the inhabitants of Gaza. And she is prepared to confess at one point: “I am ill equipped to understand this conflict. It is beyond me.”
In the end, what emerges from Snow’s book is a picture of gardeners, wherever they are to be found, on whatever side of the dividing lines that criss-cross the globe, as weary idealists, stubborn pragmatists, inveterate co-operators; resolute in their humanity as they try to see past the conflicts of the day to a better time. Gardens are “solid worlds of hope and life” and gardeners work “at a cognitive distance from violence”.
Zleika, an Arab living a besieged, enclosed life in Hebron, says her garden “is good for the heart, the soul and the spirit. If you want to see art, look at flowers; in them is manifested the beauty of the universe and the glory of God.” Time and again, children — nieces, nephews, grandchildren — flit in and out of the gardens, harbingers (one can only hope) of happier days.
My favourite gardens? There is a Kabul garden, patrolled by three