In his novel, Oz Shelach excavates underneath the forests to pick up remnants of the Palestinian history buried under a geography, which was forcibly reshaped. Shelach excavates the dark aspects of the institutionalised Israeli discourse, uncovering with an excessively sarcastic sense the untold story, and the techniques of concealing it in a language that unrelentingly whitewashes the product of displacement and occupation and unfolds concomitant behaviours.
Picnic Grounds: A Novel in Fragments is a collection of brief paintings joined by a strong moral line. As soon as it hides, that moral line resurfaces in the form of an artistic surprise. It incites to track down details haunted by deep sadness, whose bearer does not lose concern with the hideous suffering of the uprooted and occupied Palestinian people.
As a highlight of the implications and spirit of the novel, a fragment titled “Surprise” is quoted below:
In the Valley of Israel, known earlier as Marj Ibn Amer, where almost two thirds of the indigenous residents of villages were allowed to stay at their homes, but not on their land, our friend, whose family were also allowed to stay at their home, told us how he used to go out when he was a boy and look for the Christ’s shoe, which it was said he dropped halfway between Nazareth and the Mount of Beatitude. Then, our friend took us to the neighbouring Bedouin Heritage Museum, where a tent of black goat hair, a wooden plough and items that dated back to the 1960s and 1970s were exhibited. As we predicted, these made clear how our ancient shepherd forefathers had lived. We thought it was strange that a camel was not there in the exhibition. He was surprised to see his old classmate in the regional secondary school sitting inside the tent, grinding coffee beans in the pestle. “What are you doing here?” he asked. “I’m the sheik on duty.” His friend answered.
Below is a quote from Abdul Rahim al-Sheikh’s comment on “The Language of the Army, Army of the Language: Where do Poets Go”:
In Shelach’s novel, on the other hand, there is a reference that the poet is a significant part of the Israeli army’s machine. “In his young age, at an early stage of the colonisation, the poet affiliated with the Pioneers Militia, which built its glory on violent attacks against the British just like the fierce fighting it waged against the local population.” He contributed to translating military terms. “When his friends in the militia asked him to translate the bulletin of an English rifle, the poet realised a gap in the military vocabulary in Hebrew the language which preceded the emergence of rifles, if not violence. He had to invent words for the trigger, barrel spring, range, and the like. His talent in these inventions terms that are now familiar in the army, the press and the judicial system still exist today.” Even the name of that poet’s daughter, Cavinet, literally means the sniper scope. It is now a common name of girls in Israel. Ironically, however, at the end of the fragment, he denies that he is the “poet”. Here, there is something that reminds of the unique eulogy stated by Yossi Sarid on the death of the greatest Hebrew poet Yehuda Amichai in 2000: “The chief of staff of the Hebrew language has gone.”