in jonathan cook’s brilliant book disappearing palestine, he documents a number of ways in which zionists ethnically cleanse palestinians from their land historically and currently. but in one section of the book he talks about other forms of genocide:
“Genocide” is widely, and mistakenly, assumed to refer only to an act of mass extermination of a racial or ethnic group akin to the industrialized murder of Europe’s Jews committed by the Nazis. In fact, the word’s legal definition is far broader. The lawyer who coined the term, Raphael Lemkin, was a Polish Jew who fled to the United States during the Second World War. Lemkin’s determination to alert the world to the horrors of genocide was prompted not just by the Holocaust but by earlier massacres: of the Armenians by the Turks during the First World War, and of the Assyrians in Iraq in 1933. In 1943 Lemkin offered this definition of genocide:
Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily meant he immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be the disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups.
i wrote about this happening from afar when the al quds capital of arab culture festival took place and the israeli terrorist forces kept trying to shut it down. tonight i witnessed cultural genocide up close. i smuggled friends in from beit lahem to al quds to attend the palestinian literature festival. we got there early and ate lunch and wandered around the old city. we ran into shadia mansour and dam in the street. we discovered there was a hip hop concert tonight too, which we went to later. but first we went to the palestinian literature festival, which was kicking off a week of events tonight at al hakawati also known as the the palestinian national theatre.
as we walked down salah el din street towards the theatre we started seeing lots of israeli terrorist forces vehicles. and then we discovered that these cars were blocking the back entrance of the theatre. we could not go down that street because that would mean that we would risk my friends going to jail for being illegally inside their own country. so we walked down another block to enter on the other side. i walked a bit ahead to make sure there were no soldiers and it seemed okay so we walked in. but all of a sudden we saw people carrying food trays (for the reception that was supposed to be starting just then). everyone was walking out. i ran into my friends basem and sami and they told us that special forces were inside and that they shut down the festival. everyone was heading out to the french cultural center about four blocks down the street where we were going to be allowed to continue. supposedly. the photographs above are shots i took of what we saw when we first approached the theatre and of people leaving en masse.
the festival organizers regrouped quite well at the french cultural center, but the israeli terrorist forces followed us and as the picture above shows, lined salah el din street for quite some time after the program got started in the new location. all of my friends were very upset that they agreed to move. they wanted to see the festival organizers resist this attempt at cultural genocide and let them attack this group of literati because they believe that it would have really kickstarted a third intifada. on the one hand, this would have been good for the foreigners here to really see what zionists do to palestinians on a daily basis. on the other hand, they still witnessed it, but a much milder form of it. it would have been better if they started with the tear gas. in any case, the venue was moved and the program proceeded. however, because all of the translation equipment was in al hakawati, it was problematic because all the readings were in english and there were a number of people, including my friends, who wanted to hear the readings in arabic. there were two groups of readings today. the first moderated by ahdaf soueif included carmen callil, henning mankell, and claire messud; the second was moderated by victoria brittain and included abdulrazak gurnah, deborah moggach, and m.g. vassanji.
the sound system at the french cultural center was really difficult to hear and because we were outside in this location there were so many street sounds that made it difficult to pay attention. and i found it disturbing that the program just began and people did their readings of their literature and went on as usual. of course this is one way of resisting and asserting that palestinian culture will continue in al quds, in palestine. but at the same time there are ways to connect the literature and the situation a bit more concretely. a couple of writers remarked about the attempt at cultural genocide, but from my perspective it was not enough.
at least on the walk over and during the readings i got to see and talk a bit to two of my favorite writers who are here for the festival: poets nathalie handal and suheir hammad (suheir above with ahmed). and i cannot wait to hear them read their poetry because this is the real reason i’m so excited about the festival. tomorrow the festival will begin its travels across palestine to ramallah, jenin, beit lahem, khalil for the rest of the week because palestinians cannot travel freely culture must travel to them.
after the literature festival my friends and i went down to borderline, a palestinian restaurant in sheikh jarrah, to see the hip hop concert. it featured local groups like g town and dam (photo above) and shadia mansour and others from europe and the united states. what is striking is that if we’re talking about cultural resistance the writers who read tonight were not palestinian nor was their literature that they read from particularly political or connected to palestine. and yet the concert went on without any israeli terrorist forces anywhere in the vicinity of the restaurant. here is an older video of shadia mansour and dam at a ramallah concert singing a duet of “bidi salam”:
and here is the ma’an news report on today’s events:
Israeli police and armed border officials shut down the Palestinian National Theater in East Jerusalem on Saturday, in an effort to quash the Palestine Festival of Literature and prevent international writer and poets from addressing Palestinians.
The weeklong festival, sponsored in part by the British Council and UNESCO, was scheduled to begin at 6:30 with two panel discussions by authors from Canada, Britain, South Africa and Australia. The second annual festival will travel around Palestine and decided to begin and end events in Jerusalem in honor of Al-Quds Capital of Culture 2009.
In a last minute effort to let the show go on, organizers moved the event to the French Cultural Center also in East Jerusalem. Audience members crowded on the lawn outside the building as book readings and discussions on the theme of displacement in world literature were interrupted by power cuts and police sirens.
The spectators and litterateurs were greeted at the new event by five Israeli police vehicles stationed outside the garden wall.
According to some reports the initial decision to close down the performance at the National Theater was made at the request of the Israeli Interior Ministry. The move mirrors efforts to quash celebrations of Jerusalem culture for the 2009 Capital of Culture events.
The French consul, as well as Head of the Palestinian President’s office Rafiq Al-Husseini, attended the event. Al-Husseini, as well as the six authors who spoke in an abbreviated format, condemned the Israeli actions.
Al-Husseini also praised France for stepping up to host the event, viewing it as empowering Palestinian demands for reopening closed offices in the capital.