Gaza writers’ US tour: The first 10 days!

GWB at UPennThe first ten days of the Gaza writers’ US-wide, Spring 2014 tour has been busy in the extreme! The writers– seen sitting above, l. to r., Yousef Ajamal, Rawan Yaghi, and Refaat Alareer— all did an amazing job participating in public and private events in Philadelphia, New York, Maryland, and Washington, DC. Now, they’re in Atlanta, Georgia.

Tomorrow they head off to continue the tour in the following metropolitan areas:

  • Chicago
  • Seattle & Bellingham, WA, and
  • the San Francisco Bay Area.

If you or your friends live in any of these areas, be sure to check out the tour calendar to see where you can hear and interact with these amazing Palestinian voices from Gaza!

We haven’t had nearly as much time to blog about the tour as we had hoped. Luckily, our friend Lora Lucero flew across from New Mexico to be with the writers; and she did a great job documenting some of the early stages of the tour on her blog. Be sure to check out these posts there:

In addition, the writers have already gotten some notice from the media– and we know there’ll be more coming along.

Alex Kane of WBAI’s ‘Beyond the Pale’ conducted this fabulous audio interview with Refaat and Yousef, on March 30.

Refaat on HuffPostLiveDid you catch this great show on HuffPost Live that Refaat and Rawan appeared on last Friday? (They come on at 20:10… If someone out there can cut out that last segment and repost it on Youtube or someplace, please send us the link!)

Also, we really appreciated the great essay about the book and the writers that Alan Goodman posted on, after he hosted a wonderfully rich author event for them at Revolution Books in Manhattan, last Saturday.

Here’s a key excerpt from Goodman’s essay:


Rawan Yaghi talks with two audience members after the Revolution Books event

I asked Rawan Yaghi about what went into drawing on her life experiences in writing about the horror of being subjected to an Israeli bombing attack. She spoke about how every time she recounts the story she contributed, she re-lives the pain of what she writes about. But that these stories are not “hers,” they belong to the people they describe. And she talked about how not keeping this all to herself is part of resisting. The courage of all these authors is inspiring…

We’ve made one first photo album on Facebook— of the writers’ time in Philadelphia– and we hope to make more, when we can.

We’ve been trying to keep up with all the great responses the authors’ appearances have garnered so far… But we’ve definitely missed a bunch of them. If you have any more links we should add, please put them into the comments here. Thanks!

Gaza Writers’ U.S. tour gets off to great start!

AFSC's Mike Merryman-Lotze introduces the speakers at the friends Center event

AFSC’s Mike Merryman-Lotze introduces the speakers at the friends Center event

Three contributors to Gaza Writes Back held an American audience spellbound at the launch event for their U.S.-wide tour in central Philadelphia, April 1st! The three were Refaat Alareer, Yousef Aljamal, and Rawan Yaghi. They were speaking at Friends Center, the home of the American Friends Service Committee, co-sponsors of the tour along with Just World Books.

The chair and sign representing Sarah Ali

The chair and sign representing Sarah Ali

The Gaza Writers’ group actually also includes a fourth participant, Sarah Ali. However, even though Sarah has a U.S. visa (and was allowed by Israelis to exit Gaza in order to apply for it in Jeruslame), now that she has it, they won’t let her out of Gaza in order to use it.

Sarah’s participation in the tour events will be represented in many ways, including by the placement of the sign shown at left (and just visible, above.)

Yesterday’s event was opened by Mike Merryman-Lotze, director of AFSC’s Israel-Palestine Program. Refaat Alarrer spoke first, describing how the project of the Gaza Writes Back came about and explaining how he and the book’s contributors felt it was important that Palestinians speak for themselves with the kind of world audience that an English-language publication allows. He also said he thought that well-written fiction could have a wider reach and a more lasting impact than most non-fiction writing.

Next up was Yousef Aljamal. He described for a rapt audience how his eldest brother Omar had been killed during an Israeli military incursion into their home refugee camp; and his sister had later died from a gall bladder condition after being denied access to continuing treatment by the Israeli occupation authorities. Yousef explained how, after writing non-fiction essays about those painful matters, he decided to write a fictionalized account of his brother’s death. Then, he read some excerpts from the story that resulted, “Omar X”, which is included in the book.

Rawan Yaghi spoke last. Before speaking on her own behalf she shared with the audience some excerpts from Sarah Ali’s story, “The Story of the Land”, a story about a Palestinian farmer who returns to his olive groves and orchards after the end of Israel’s devastating “Operation Cast Lead”, to see if there has been any damage– only to discover that the Israeli military bulldozers had uprooted every single tree with the exception of one bent-over tree. As Rawan explained, Sarah’s story eloquently demonstrates the close link between Palestinians and their land.

Rawan, who is the youngest of the tour participants, then spoke a little about her own writing, saying that in her fiction she likes to adopt the point-of-view of  small children. She read her deeply moving story “From Beneath”, written from the POV of a young girl trapped in the rubble of her own home during “Operation Cast Lead”.

Audience members engaging in the Q&A

Audience members engaging in the Q&A

Members of the audience followed every word of the writers’ presentations with close attention– and once the Q&A period opened up there was a long stream of questions. They sparked a series of excellent discussions– touching topics like the strong role played by young women activists in Gaza, the role that writing plays in these writers’ activism, the benefits of writing in English, the inspiration the writers have in their work, and so on.

Yousef Al-Jamal, JWB head Helena Cobban, Refaat Alareer, and Rawan Yaghi in Philadelphia

Yousef Al-Jamal, JWB head Helena Cobban, Refaat Alareer, and Rawan Yaghi in Philadelphia

Just on a final note: During their time in Philadelphia so far, the writers have had several good chances to interact with Americans, including at the Friends of Sabeel conference that was held here over the weekend. They also got the chance to see a few of the sights in the city. Yousef and Refaat were particularly taken by the design of the International Arrivals Hall at Philadelphia International Airport, which is decorated with some very meaningful language from the U.S. Declaration of Independence:

Yousef and Refaat at Philadelphia Airport

Yousef and Refaat at Philadelphia Airport

Five Years After the Cast Lead Operation: ‘Gaza Writes Back’

Arabic Literature (in English)

It was five years ago that Cast Lead began. Now a book of short stories, Gaza Writes Back, marks the anniversary. The book’s editor, Refaat Alareer, answers questions about the collection: 

gazaArabLit: How did the idea for this collection come about? How did you put out the call for submissions? Did you tell the writers it was to commemorate Cast Lead?

Refaat Alareer: I’ve been teaching World Literature and Creative Writing at the Islamic University-Gaza (IUG), and at other Gaza training centres, ever since I finished my MA in Comparative Literature from UCL, UK in 2007. And I always had the idea of collecting the best pieces written by my students in a book. Going global became a necessity after the hateful Israeli Offensive of 2008-09. I met Helena Cobban in Gaza and threw the idea of a book of young talents into her lap, and later, thanks…

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Book Review: Gaza Writes Back

By Samah Sabawi


I had the honor of receiving an advance copy of the book Gaza Writes Back: a collection of Short Stories from Young Writers in Gaza, Palestine, edited by Refaat Alareer.  I found it to be a confronting, bold and intriguing book that takes us up close and personal into the minds of a young articulate Palestinian generation born stateless, under occupation and growing into adulthood under siege in one of the world’s most oppressed and dangerous environments.

This is a generation that is physically confined within Israel’s walls and emotionally scarred by Israel’s relentless bombings and incursions.  Though the stories in the book are Palestinian, Israel’s presence is felt on every page.  In fact, a few writers have even tried to enter the minds of Israeli soldiers by creating Israeli characters and trying to imagine how they think and how deeply they may regret their actions. It is as if reducing the IDF to human size, imagining them capable of fear, lament and guilt can help the writers overcome their own fear of the ‘other’.

In this book, the writers expresses anger at the uncertainty of life while at the same time they continue to cling to faith and hope. But make no mistake about it, unlike other works that romanticize Palestinian steadfastness or ‘summod’, this book intimately reveals a simple truth; steadfastness is not a deliberate choice or a romantic defiant act of resistance, it is simply a human instinct to survive.

The overwhelming voices of young female writers and their refined eloquence and capacity to express dissent not only challenges our stereotypical perception of Palestinians and women in Gaza in particular, but it also challenges the norms within Palestinian society itself.  One can’t help but contrast this with the lack of young female presence in Palestinian official political circles.

Gaza Writes Back is a promise of a change in societal norms and a positive sign of what is to come.  Despite the horror, the frustration, the physical and emotional scars, the voices of Gaza Writes Back have not given up on their ambitions and have not resigned their dreams for a better future.

Please note the book won’t be ready for shipping to readers till early January, however interested readers worldwide can place a pre-order at the  Just World Books website and get free shipping for orders placed before Dec 31.