Power of Culture

The second annual Palestine Festival of Literature is taking place this week, with stops in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Jenin, al-Khalil, and Bethlehem. But the festival had a rough start: armed Israeli police shut down the opening night event, which was due to take place at the Palestinian National Theater in Jerusalem. The novelist and essayist Ahdaf Soueif, who started the festival last year, is quoted in this article:

“We stood in the early evening light, by the tables laden with books and food and flowers, nibbled at kofta and borek and laughed and chatted and introduced new friends to old. . . . Then we started moving towards the auditorium and I heard someone say quietly, ‘They’ve come.’

“Who?

“Looking around – and there they were, the men in the dark blue fatigues, with pack-type things strapped to their backs and machine-guns cradled in their arms. I had a moment of unbelief. Surely, even if they were coming to note everything we said and to make a show of strength they still wouldn’t come with their weapons at the ready like this? But then there were more of them, and more.”

Undeterred, Soueif and the other writers walked over to the French Cultural Center, where the panel was able to proceed without incident. You can watch some video footage here. The festival features panels, readings, and workshops by many different writers and artists, including Abdulrazak Gurnah, Claire Messud, Jamal Mahjoub, Michael Palin, Suheir Hammad, Raja Shehadeh, and Henning Mankel. You can watch Suheir Hammad read one of her poems in Ramallah.

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