Pamela Olson grew up in small-town Oklahoma and studied physics and political science at Stanford University. She lived in Ramallah, Palestine for two years, during which she served as head writer and editor for the Palestine Monitor and foreign press coordinator for Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi’s 2005 presidential campaign. Her writing has appeared in the International Herald Tribune, CounterPunch, Israel’s Occupation Magazine, Mondoweiss, and The Stanford Magazine among other publications. Fast Times in Palestine is her first book.
Pamela Olson grew up in small town Oklahoma and studied physics and political science at Stanford University. After graduating, she realized to her surprise that she didn't want to be a scientist after all and instead began bartending, saved money to travel, and landed unexpectedly in Palestine, where she became a journalist and foreign press coordinator for a Palestinian presidential candidate.
Her website is pamolson.org.
After returning to the US, she worked at a think tank in Washington, DC, trying to bring what she had learned to the halls of power. Eventually she became disillusioned, dropped out of the Beltway crowd, and began writing a book called Fast Times in Palestine, a chronicle of her searing education in the Holy Land and the incredible adventures she had along the way. It was published by Seal Press in March 2013.
She's currently working on a sequel called Palestine, DC, about the "special relationship" between the US and Israel, the rift between Hamas and Fatah, the assault on Lebanon in 2006, the situation in Gaza, and several other topics for folks who read Fast Times and wish to dig a little deeper.
Her writing has also been featured in the International Herald Tribune, CounterPunch, Israel's Occupation Magazine, Mondoweiss, and The Stanford Magazine among other publications.
I mentioned this book to a friend of mine, and their response was they would give it a read, "to see how balanced it was." I don't know about balanced; the author was living in Palestine. Fair, however, it is. It is what she experienced, the good, the bad, the ugly. She walked in with the same ideas most Westerners have, but was willing to learn and realize that much of what gets reported is at best an exaggeration and at worst blatantly false. This book simply reports the truth as she experienced it, with reports and articles and citations from sources in Israel and from around the world to back up her claims.
She doesn't hate Israel or Jews or Palestine or Muslims, but she sure didn't like being hit in the leg with a grenade at a peaceful protest or almost getting shot by a 19-year-old with a machine gun because she was in a car at night with Arabs. Nor did she like being afraid of suicide bombers at cafes in Israel or how the corrupt Palestinian government cared about nothing besides cronyism and lining their own pockets or how the political fragmentation creates problem upon problem for the peace process.
It's not about talking points or winning points for either side. It's about the people she met and the experiences she had, the good in all people and what it all means. The Palestinians get painted as religious nut jobs in the media over here, nothing but Hamas blowing people up with suicide bombers and home-made rockets, but that's like the rest of the world only seeing Americans as belonging to the Westborough Baptist Church.
I've been hearing stories about Palestine for years, and this book still touched a deep nerve. I thought I had grown a little numb, blase, sure, sure, there's an occupation. People are dying all over the world, that sucks.Read more ›
Before I read this book, I didn't have a stance on the conflict because I didn't know enough. My family is Jewish and very pro-Israel, but I am agnostic and I try not to form opinions without facts, so I have always taken everything they say with a grain of salt. "The Palestinians don't want a state. They don't want peace. They won't be happy until every Jew on the face of the Earth is dead." This is what I grew up with.
But this book opened my eyes to a world I never knew existed: the world of occupied Palestine. I consider myself very aware politically, so it's hard to believe the truth has eluded me for so many years. Never underestimate the power of the media, I guess. I get my information from a decent variety of sources, but when all those sources are deliberately hiding so much information, how is a person supposed to know any better? The media portrays Palestine as the aggressor in the conflict, and speaks of the government as if it represents the feelings of the general population.
What I really appreciate about this book is not just that the author tells the other side of the story, but that she makes a point of separating the government and the people. It is too easy to generalize, and I could see a person reading this book and turning their hatred toward Israel as a whole if the author had not taken such extreme care to depict every person she encountered as a human being. Yes, Israel is the oppressor and Palestine is the oppressed, but to leave it at that is black-and-white thinking. Citizens of Israel aren't anymore aware of the treatment of Palestinians than American citizens are of the treatment of Iraqis. I especially appreciated this author's reference to Dr. Philip Zimbardo's prison experiment, and the "power of the situation.Read more ›
This is a deeply personal story about a decent and intelligent, if initially uninformed and sheltered, American who gets swept off her feet by the beauty and wonder of Palestine and the people who live there. Her love for the people and the place shine on every page. And when you love someone, it hurts to see them bullied, humiliated and marginalized. It hurts to see a land you love carved into unnatural pieces by a concrete wall or lives you treasure ripped apart by machine gun fire or a suicide bomber. This book isn't about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; it's an intense, first person narrative about the beauty and danger of life in Palestine.
But what I think most readers will come away with is the belief that underneath the ugliness of the occupation and the intifada there is something that is beautiful and absolutely worth protecting. And in the small acts where Israelis and Palestinians work together, the author shows you a future that we must insist upon: where Palestinians and Israelis have equal measures of peace, freedom, political power, and access to resources. If the world fails to make this a reality, this book shows you just how very much we all have to lose.
As one who was raised deep in the cult of Jewish Zionism in America, and having evolved to where I am today, as a Jewish anti-Zionist and activist for Palestine, the subject matter is extremely important to me. I own a large library on the subject, and have read extensively, all aspects of the situation, and from both sides.
From that perspective I can say that what this author has done is unique and very significant. As a young American woman doing some traveling after finishing school, she is someone that we can all relate to. And as she enters into Palestinian society, she presents the people she encounters in such a way that we can relate to them as well. In doing so, she makes lives that are affected by occupation and conflict real to the reader, and personal. In this book she has made the Zionist/Palestine conflict ACCESSIBLE in a way that, at least for me, nobody else has done before.
This is a very important book. Highly recommended. A must-read!