Book review: The Way to the Spring: Life and Death in Palestine

Reviewed by Jim Miles,
The Palestine Chronicle.

The Way to the Spring: Life and Death in Palestine. Ben Ehrenreich. Granta Books, London, 2016.

A small town in Palestinian West Bank, north of Jerusalem, Nabi Saleh, essentially the home-town of the Tamimi clan, has like all other Palestinian towns suffered under the occupation of Israeli military forces and settler villages. Ben Ehrenreich’s book “The Way to the Spring: Life and Death in Palestine” documents his many months in the town and in surrounding areas. The title derives from a spring, ‘Ein al Qoos (the Bow Spring), that was the main water supply for the farmers/herders of the village. The nearby settlers blocked access to the spring and subsequently, on Fridays, the people of the village accompanied by international witnesses marched in protest towards the spring, always to be met by Israeli military forces protecting the settlers access.

Within that, “The Way to the Spring” highlights the tactics and politics of subjugating the indigenous people of an area under military and settler occupation. It is a book that speaks at times poetically, at other times in the simple basic descriptions given by the villagers/Palestinians of the West Bank; that speaks also of the political scenarios – within an historical context – at the time of the author’s visits and the ramifications throughout the region; that speaks with empathy of the pain and suffering endured under occupation.

It is a hard book to read, not for language or context, but for the overall tenor of the stories rising from this encounter between militarized occupiers and the indigenous people. The anger, humiliation, anguish, and physical and emotional pain create a somber sad atmosphere from which little hope rises, leaving only existence and steadfastness: the knowledge that there is no where else to go and that conditions have deteriorated over the span of Israeli settlement building.

Apart from the expected tales of violence, torture, imprisonment, intimidation, and humiliation, there are other points that are strongly represented in the work.


Most directly is the Palestinians attitude towards their own ‘leaders’, the Palestinian Authority (PA) under Mahmoud Abbas. In the summer of 2014, from where Abbas was ensconced in Saudi Arabia, “he defended the PA’s continuing security coordination with the Israeli military as “in our interest and for our protection.” In a demonstration against a security crackdown in Ramallah:

“The crows descended on the police station, attacking it with rocks and chunks of concrete, yelling “Traitors?” and chanting “The PA is a whore!”

The Israelis were shooting form on direction and the PA from another, the two security forces acting in concert against the same opponent.”

Two messages were left in the wake of the riots, “First to the PA: you are ours and everyone knows it….And second to the Palestinian people…your leaders take their orders from us.”

Funding has never been cut to the PA. A U.S. official cited in Haaretz said,

“Israeli security forces remained in constant cooperation with their Palestinian counterparts…It is against our interests – and Israel’s interests to cut ties with and funding to such a PA government.” There was probably no single policy so hated by his own people as the PA’s ongoing collaboration with the occupying army.”

The war in Gaza that followed, not directly, but within the same violent continuum, demonstrated the state of hatred fostered by the Israeli government towards the Palestinians. It was fostered by the Israeli bureaucracy but “whatever force was pushing those bureaucratic processes forward was not rational at all. It was merely murderous, rooted in fear and a rage that flowed beneath the ground in hidden channels, secret and unmentionable conduits that had been there all along and were only now erupting.”

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