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!


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


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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“Gaza Writes Back”, paperback

GWB cover tweak #1

Gaza Writes Back: Short Stories from Young Writers in Gaza, Palestine, edited by Refaat Alareer is a compelling collection of short stories from fifteen young writers in Gaza, members of a generation that has suffered immensely under Israel’s siege and blockade. Their experiences, especially during and following Israel’s 2008-2009 offensive known as “Operation Cast Lead”, have fundamentally impacted their lives and their writing. Indeed, many of these writers saw the war as a catalyst for their writing, as they sought an outlet and a voice in its aftermath. They view the book as a means of preserving Palestinian memories and presenting their own narratives to the world without filters. Their words take us into the homes and hearts of moms, dads, students, children, and elders striving to live lives of dignity, compassion, and meaning in one of the world’s most embattled communities. (Some of the stories also take us with courage and empathy into the imagined world of Israelis living just on the other side of the great barriers Israel has built in and around Gaza and the West Bank to wall the Palestinians in.)

These stories are acts of resistance and defiance, proclaiming the endurance of Palestinians and the continuing resilience and creativity of their culture in the face of ongoing obstacles and attempts to silence them.

Whether tackling the tragedy that surrounds missile strikes and home raids, or the everyday indignities encountered by Palestinian refugees, Gaza Writes Back brings to life the real issues that the people of Gaza face. One prominent theme in many of the stories is the value placed on the wisdom of parents and grandparents. A sense of longing pervades the book, as the characters in the stories reveal desires ranging from the mundane to the complex—including, in several of the stories, a strong yearning to return to the characters’ long-cherished family homes and properties after many decades in exile from them. Social differences within Gaza are also sensitively explored. A few stories are especially difficult—but critical—to digest , for the vividness with which they depict the experiences of victims of Israeli military strikes and confront the legacy of violence and occupation, particularly on young people.

Readers will be moved by the struggles big and small that emerge from the well-crafted writing by these young people, and by the hope and courage that radiates from the authors’ biographies. The contributors are university students and recent graduates, Palestinians who have chosen to speak out in their second language, which is an “expressive way to be more creative in a world where words are significantly mighty,” according to Tasnim Hamouda. Another contributor, Nour El Borno, believes “that if a person can write effectively, it is his or her duty to get up, write, and help change this world to something better.”

Five years after Operation Cast Lead, these stories remind us that the pain lingers on and the people of Gaza will be forever scarred by the attack. Yet, the call for justice remains forceful and persistent, and these young Gazan writers refuse to let the world forget about them—their land, their people, and their story.