where the writers are
Palestine: Existence and Fulfillment

 Before starting to speak of the Palestinian writer, I feel obliged to address Palestine, a word you will hear often in the media, for before calling yourself a writer you must come to terms with your identity and characteristics in order to transcend into universality. In a Palestinian’s case, this is always more challenging than usual because of the many levels on which Palestine exists; geographically, mentally, historically and imagined. On each level it is fragmented and controversial for religious, political and military reasons.Geographical Palestine is directly linked to its historical aspect. There are the Palestinians living within Israel (also called Arabs of ’48), Palestinians of Gaza and the West Bank (also known as Arabs of ’67) and those who were expelled and live in refugee camps in other Arab countries (e.g. Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq), as well as those exiled, imprisoned and missing; all, endless categorizations of Palestinian identity, trying to be unified under a consensus. Before the 90’s, Palestinians were prohibited from all activities related to the production of Palestinian culture. At schools, the national anthem was banned as well as the reading of Palestinian literature. Everything had to be approved by the military entity, especially books, which were denied distribution and publishing internally. But since forbidden fruits taste better, there was a secret trend of producing and supplying this kind of national culture. There emerged a generation of Palestinian writers amongst the Arabs of 48 who could speak out, albeit in a regulated manner, because of the ‘democracy’ present, noting that most of them were later, like Mahmoud Darweesh, imprisoned or exiled. This created in people a desire for the nationalistic aspect of things; an adoration of the novels of Ghassan Kanafani and the revolutionary poems of Mahmoud Darweesh. Writing became somewhat limited to this genre. In a time where others were developing creatively and an organization of cultural activity was taking place (as in Europe and in some Arab countries like Egypt and Lebanon), nationalistic writing dominated Palestinian literature and other forms of cultural expression including music and painting. There seemed to be a frame that art was forced to respect and stay within, and this was actually a reflection of the isolation which we forced to of Palestinian culture and Arab culture in general, and the underdevelopment of the discussion of other universal themes that world literature immersed itself in, such as women’s rights, marginalized groups, poverty, democracy and equality, even imagination, creativity and thought. The Oslo process caused a kind of conceptual dissonance amongst people. What it meant to be a hero was no longer clear and things that people had believed for decades to be true were now questionable. The peace process started a trend of seeing Israel as a people rather than as an occupier, and there was talk of a state on the land occupied after ’67 rather than a Palestine stretching from sea to river. Palestine, physically, became fragments and cantons connected by roads approved of by Israel, controlling who enters and leaves through checkpoints. This shook the new Palestinian production of culture, not helped by the sudden abundance of world literature available, and the casting aside of the nationalistic patriotic approach to literature. Young writers were greatly influenced by this openness, especially those who had returned from the Diasporas with their families with the return of the PLO, and the generation which had matured after the first Palestinian uprising called often Intifada, who lived different conditions to those their parents had. A new type of struggle arose between the imagined Palestine and the real form it took, between the Palestinians who never left Palestine and those who roamed the world encountering culture in every corner. The image of the hero was greatly shaken and was one sign of the break between consciousness before and after Oslo. This created a significant transition in literature and influenced the Palestinian intelligentsia who started to recreate their image and attempt to create new models of the Palestinian hero. This was evident in Palestinian novels and in the form of modern poetry which could no longer rely on the classical straightforwardness previously used to move the crowds, but turned to focus on the fragility and weakness of being human, as well as newly accepted states such as love and longing for a sweetheart other than Palestine, and boredom and despair, and things and events of daily life. Before Oslo, the image of hero was based on the warrior or politician who did his secret or military work, achieves a spiritual victory at least then receives his fate in the form of martyrdom, imprisonment or exile. After Oslo, the hero became a skeptic, one unable to keep up with reality or the internally defeated lover (as a metaphor for political defeat). New archetypes of heroes began to emerge; the intellectual, the absentee disappointed by his return and the individual apathetic to all happenings of real life, to name a few. Palestinian literature was never based on imagination and writing for themselves and for entertainment. This may be demonstrated through children’s literature for example. One rarely finds a Palestinian writer able to write creatively for children as imagination is linked in Arab culture to dishonesty and a denial of reality which is traditionally preferable not to expose children to. This caused a great many clashes when globalization, internet, space channels and other tools of communication invaded everyone’s life, causing multiple clashes between Arab culture and the modernization of forms and units, and that trend of the creative ego disconnected from the community, trying to find itself in the wider universal space. Here, comes in the current of assessing the Palestinian intellectual in comparison with his/her Arab and global counterparts. A huge number of young writers, freed from the burden of the vertical view of life, emerged and began to shape a more balanced, horizontal point of view, looking at daily life issues and the simple lives of people and existence itself but not metaphysics. Topics were getting complicated but with no solid cultural entity and no direction to rely on.Palestine has three types of cultural institutions: governmental (Ministry of Culture and House of Poetry), Non Governmental Organizations (which usually adopt the donor’s agenda) and private institutes which usually strive to profit. There are books of every kind. There are the good books, the pretentious and the badly written, just as anywhere else in the world, with one small difference which is the absolute necessity of stories to the Palestinians to console them and to lighten the burden of their daily realities. i 

Palestine: Existence and Fulfillment

Being of a place which is a spot of light and fire, I begin my words by mapping its existence.

A lost paradise for some

Fire burning the butterfly  for others

A place offering a hundred others and a hundred of you You, Palestinian on the west bank, you, Palestinian on the land of ’48, you, the exiled Palestinian, the immigrant, the Palestinian who awakes to curse the alarm to sleep another hour.   

You are sometimes I

A writer from a land that didn’t give birth to me

Born on a friend of a land

To a father from PalestineExpelled from the homeland

But carried it like back painNo cure for it

As he carried his mother’s photograph in the pocket of his khaki shirt

Taking it out every time he felt hunger

And so becoming satiated, or thus he imagined

He burdens me with his genes that adore the image of that land, the journey to exile, return, absence, pain, adaptation and contradiction In that place we dwelled was a palace.

I used to hear my father say, “suffice to return to a dump on that land for me to possess all happiness”

I didn’t believe…After the long journey of return, the Diaspora would add to me a dimension I’d later discover through writing

It will give me the courage to understand my father’s mental state while I watched him place a plastic chair at the beginning of the road to his old house in the alleys of the city of Nablus, and sit there for hours… 

For hours he sat, perhaps weeping secretly as he did every time he heard the national anthem playing at school when he took me there in the morning

Place That mythical word that captivates you for a lifetime without you knowing why it captivates us all, the exiled, immigrants, residents and dead

 Since you are also from this place, your writer’s bag will never be empty

Since everything around you offers you scenes only good for novels

And emotions which grow you poems during the night You, the receiver of all this, will try to be neutral, think about being,

about the wretched and about creation

Read Neruda, Edward Said and Jostein Gaarder

And feel the thrill of happiness at the idea  For you can enliven and kill who you please in a novel

You will triumph for the wretched, the orphans and Foucault’s marginalized folk

For you, there at the edge of your text are strong and creative

You will write an indifferent history which will enter homes and sleep on the foam mattresses in the camps

And tell a new truth not imposed by Markava tanks

And unfriendly planes  


Writing is the act of Fulfilling

Being a writer will not do for a Palestinian, for she must be lost amongst existence and fulfillment

She must define her Palestinianism and recreate it from nothingness.

She must prove it as it is an idea in her head which everyone fights

 A million ‘others’ you have because you are Palestinian,

 a million identities, an existence, a land and a poem

As if in a labyrinth of mirrors, each with a face, an opinion a shape it takes

The act of writing comes as the triumph of the end of the night

   You already know the guilt you will feel from the pleasure you will feel from the poem you wrote from feelings you felt on witnessing the killing on the screen

As if it were the last action, no beginning to it

Writing here, is not a luxury, not an expression of objection, acceptance or miseryWriting is the announcing of existing, an action fulfilled but never complete