Saturday, October 24, 2020

Tenth Annual Palestine Festival of Literature Fights a ‘Cultural Siege’

By Ayesha Khan - May 20, 2017
Section: [Main News] [Culture] [Features]
Tags: [culture]

The tenth annual Palestine Festival of Literature (PalFest) took place this week, marking the 50th anniversary of the Occupation. The event featured well-known international and local Palestinian artists and writers, who presented in the programme titled, This is Not a Border. 

In a week long series of six events that took place in Ramallah, Jerusalem, Nablus, and Haifa, the audience was treated with music from Hawa Dafi, readings from Ali Mawasi, discussion with Haifa Zangana and Jamal Daher just to name a few.

The programme is curated to include presentations, music, readings, and discussions - all of which provide a narrative on the history of Palestine, life under Occupation, and what it means to belong to the diaspora. Through holding events throughout Israel-Palestine territory, the festival seeks to challenge borders, checkpoints, and settlements that prevent its audiences from attending all locations due to the traveling restrictions reinstated by Israel. 

The significance of PalFest in highlighting the lived realities under Occupation is best rendered in a line from the poem, Personal Effects, by one of the presenters, Solmaz Sharif: “According to most definitions, I have never been at war. According to mine, most of my life spent there.”

Reflections in Ramallah

The conclusionary event for the festival took place this past Thursday, which brought out a diverse international and local crowd, all gathered in a garden at the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Centre with the Ramallah sunset as the backdrop. 

The opening poetry reading was by Natalie Diaz, a member of the Gila River Indian Tribe attempting to restore the Mojave language, who graced the audience with her analysis on the autonomy of pleasure and existence for the natives whose bodies are politicized for violence. The crowd was visibly drawn to her proclamation in a poem, Manhattan is a Lenape Word, about the basic need of visibility of experiences in literature. She stated, ”[e]ven a watch must be wound. How can a century or a heart turn if nobody asks, where have all the Natives gone?”

The narratives presented at the festival serve as a testament that arts and literature transcend boundaries, because the political realities they seek to narrate are shared by all those around the world who resist the occupation of their land, language, and rich culture. Parallels can be drawn between the presenters’ work and the Palestinian reality under Occupation. 

The night came to an end with an open mic for upcoming artists. Among the crowd was the renowned photographer, Hamde Abu Rahma, who stated when asked about the festival, “it is crucial to speak about cultural boycott and educate people about it. The poets and authors here talked about their personal experiences about boycotting and exile, which is important for Palestinians to hear and learn from.”

Challenging the 'Cultural Siege’

The first Palestine Festival of Literature (PalFest) was held in 2008 at the National Theatre in Jerusalem, hoping to challenge the 'cultural siege’ forced onto Palestinians as a result of the Israeli occupation. The traveling festival has brought in about 200 artists and writers since its establishment. 

The founder of PalFest, Ahdaf Soueif, in an interview with Dawn in regards to the objective of the festival proclaimed, “everyone experiences the closures and blockades and sees the settlements. Everyone returns with a heightened consciousness of what is happening there. At the same time it helps Palestinians to carry on their engagement with the outside world which they are very keen to do.”

The patrons for this year’s PalFest include Chinua Achebe, John Berger, Mahmoud Darwish, Seamus Heaney (winner of Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995), Harold Pinter (dramatist, plays include The Birthday Party and the Betrayal), Philip Pullman, Emma Thompson.

By bringing in international artists and their Palestinian counterparts to share a stage breaks both, figurative and physical borders that limit current Palestinian arts and literature. Having presenters like, Dolores Dorantes, who is an exiled Mexican currently residing in the United States, insisting that “the truth is not information, it is an experience,” helps influence the way stories will be narrated by Palestinians in the audience. She shared that she sought mental safety in the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish, which goes to show how important it is for communities and artists to vocalize trauma, nostalgia, and pain in order to help each other move past it. 

In hopes to resist this 'cultural siege’ and counteract the pedagogy of erasing the Palestinian narrative in the media and literature, PalFest opening statement summarizes the psychological effects of occupation on the Palestinian society by noting, “[t]his is what is under siege today: the possibility of imagining.”


Photo: Rob Stothard for Palfest



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