Palfest 09: a Participant’s First Response

At the Qalandia checkpoint separating Ramallah from Jerusalem. Leila Khaled's head peeks out between the I and O of Hip Hop.
At the Qalandia checkpoint separating Ramallah from Jerusalem. Leila Khaled's head peeks out between the I and O of Hip Hop.

I have just returned from a physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting week in Palestine. I was a participant in Palfest 09, the second Palestine Festival of Literature. It was a great honour to be in the company of writers like Michael Palin and Debborah Moggach, and Claire Messud, MJ Vassanji, Abdulrazak Gurnah, Ahdaf Soueif and Jamal Mahjoub, the lawyer for Guantanamo Bay prisoners Ahmad Ghappour, Palestinian poets Suheir Hammad and Nathalie Handal, and all the others. I’ll do a post at some point on everybody there. It was an even greater honour to meet Palestinian academics, students, and people on the streets and in the camps, to witness their incredible resilience and creative intelligence. Something fearless in them slipped into me, and gave me optimism. A people like this can not be kept down indefinitely.

They will stand up, even if I can’t tell how they possibly can. What I saw in Palestine confirmed me in my belief that a two-state solution is impossible, but also made me very pessimistic about the only real solution, the one-state solution – such is the level of Zionist hatred and arrogance, so deeply entrenched is Zionist settlement on the landscape and Zionist assumptions in the minds of Israeli Jews.

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The Book of Gaza’s Destruction

A destroyed building in the Jabal Al-rayas neighbourhood of Gaza City
A destroyed building in Gaza City. (Antonio Olmos)

Death and devastation in Gaza neatly filed and documented. ‘Like exhibits in a museum, every house, school and hospital that has been turned to rubble is noted in a book of destruction,’ writes Peter Beaumont.

We have a way of codifying the consequences of conflict. We collect the dead into lists and tidy ruins into databases. We map gravesites and calculate the cost. It is a process that produces sums and totals, graphs and tables, which in the end are far less meaningful than the reality of what occurred. It numbs and dehumanises even as the gathering is done.

In Gaza the shells of buildings have been labelled and collated, exhibits from a violent event already passing into history after only half a year. G1086-01 designates the parliament building, a collapsed grey ribcage of concrete. The site of the ruined ministries in the Tal al-Hawa district of Gaza City is recorded as G10177-01, green and grey towers gutted by the bombs dropped from Israeli F-16s.

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Humanitarian Crisis Deepens in West Bank

Israeli soldiers in the occupied West Bank. (Mamoun Wazwaz/MaanImages)

The weekly UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports really ought to be obligatory reading for anyone wishing to grasp the comprehensive brutality of the Israeli occupation. According to its latest report, the dispossession of Palestinian land and resources, house demolitions, arbitrary IDF raids and detentions, and settler violence are sharply on the rise. “During April four Palestinians, including two boys, were killed by [the Israeli army] and another 145 were injured by Israeli soldiers and settlers. The number of Palestinians injured rose by 40 percent compared with the 2008 monthly average,” the report says. A further 391 children (including 6 girls) have been incarcerated by the occupation forces, a 20 percent increase between December 2008 and February 2009.

Commenting on the humanitarian situation in Gaza, the report states that “April saw the lowest number of truckloads entering per month into Gaza (2,656) since the beginning of 2009. This number represents an 18% decrease compared to the monthly average during the first quarter of the year (3,228) and only one-quarter the amount of truckloads that entered Gaza in May 2007 (10,921), one month before the Hamas take-over and the beginning of the blockade.”

Here’s Mel Frykberg‘s (IPS) summary of the findings:

RAMALLAH, May 28 (IPS) – “I heard voices, I turned around to look, and saw a group of Israeli settlers assaulting my brother Hammad,” says Abdallah Wahadin, 82, a Palestinian farmer from Beit Ummar near the southern West Bank city of Hebron.

“Three of them surrounded me, while a fourth threw a rock at the back of my head. Lots of blood ran down onto my clothes. Other settlers then joined them,” Wahadin told the Israeli rights group B’Tselem.

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