Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Gaza Writes Back: From the Personal to the Universal

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Gaza Writes Back: From the Personal to the Universal

Article excerpt

After Israel's 22-day Cast Lead assault on Gaza, which ended Jan. 18, 2009, leaving nearly 1,500 Palestinians dead, 5,000 injured, 20,000 made homeless, infrastructure demolished, and whole families killed by the click of a mouse, Refaat Alareer, who teaches literature at the Islamic University of Gaza, had his students write about their experiences during the attack. The initial purpose was as a kind of therapy, to give some purpose to life after such destruction. Alareer then took it outside the university by establishing reading clubs, and those young people, too, wrote. Step by step, the writers upgraded from the personal to the universal through writing fictional short stories that are rooted in reality, but could happen to any oppressed people anywhere in the world. Alareer collected some of these stories in a volume entitled Gaza Writes Back: Short Stories from Young Writers in Gaza, Palestine (available from the AET?Bookstore), which was published on the fifth anniversary of Cast Lead.

As part of a nationwide book tour, Alareer and two of the writers spoke in New York City on April 4 and 5. A third writer was unable to accompany them. The Israeli government allowed Sarah Ali to go to Jerusalem to obtain a U.S. visa, but then denied her permission to travel to Jordan in order to come to America. The three who did come were all abroad at the time, so Israel couldn't stop them. Alareer and Youssef Aljamal are doing graduate work in Malaysia. It took them six weeks and five failed attempts to get out of Gaza. Rawan Yaghi had an easier time. She is studying in Oxford with a scholarship initiated after Cast Lead by the students of Jesus College and matched by the university. There was, she explained, much media coverage and the British Consulate helped her every step of the way. None plan to attempt the return home until they finish their studies.

Despite these difficulties, Alareer said the book is a dream come true: Israel is doing everything possible to silence Palestinians, but Gaza Writes Back will go to all corners of the world in defiance of Israel's embargo and siege. The stories put human faces and names to the numbers killed and uprooted, he continued, taking the reader into the kitchen of a newly widowed mother. Rawan wondered about children trapped under rubble. "Their stories have to be written," she insisted. "The media won't do it. Fiction should tell how a child feels." Youssef prefers to write about experiences in his own family-a cousin decapitated when Israel bombed cadets at Gaza's police academy, an older sister who died at 26 after she was denied a permit for medical care, his mother not allowed to attend the funerals of her parents in the West Bank, an older brother shot in an orchard who bled to death when medics were prevented from reaching him for four hours. It is painful to recount, he admitted, but it would be a betrayal if he did not.

Mitri Raheb Looks at Palestinian History Through a New Lens

Mitri Raheb, senior pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem, spoke at the Princeton Theological Seminary on March 27 about his latest book, Faith in the Face of Empire: the Bible through Palestinian Eyes (available from the AET?Bookstore). Raheb said he wrote the book because of his frustration with the "schizophrenic disconnect" between the different types of history written about his homeland: theological history generally ends with the 2nd-century Jewish revolt; church history focuses on Europe, with a brief return during the Crusades; and political history of the Arab-Israeli conflict starts toward the end of the 19th century with the beginning of the Zionist movement. He described Faith in the Face of Empire as looking at history through a new lens, which takes into account both theology and the geopolitics of the land.

Palestine is tiny, Raheb explained, on the periphery, and has often been a buffer zone between regional powers. Through much of its history, Palestine has been occupied by one empire after another: Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Crusaders, Ottomans, British and Israelis. …

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