here is the palestine literature festival video from yesterday. it is a short 4 minute video but definitely a must watch. they filmed in places that i am really shocked by, including the jordanian-palestinian border (under zionist control, of course). for those of you who have been reading my blog for a while and have read about my own journeys there you can get a little sense of it. and you can see suheir and ahmed–the last ones to get through, but al hamdulilah they got through! also, you can see footage of the israeli terrorist forces shutting the festival down last night:
UPDATE: in the video you’ll see egyptian writer ahdaf soueif speaking about what was going on yesterday. here is her blog entry on the festival website about the first day:
Oddly, our Jordanian guide on the bus from Amman kept assuring us that we would hand over all our passports in one go, together with our ‘manifest’ (that’s the list of travellers with their passport numbers, rather like a bill of lading) and ‘our neighbours’ as he kept calling the Israelis would let us through in 3 minutes! Well, we were 21 people in the group queuing up at 11 am. Sixteen got through inside an hour but the rest were held behind. This being Saturday the bridge was due to close at 4.00. At 4.00 they let the remaining 5 through.
In Jerusalem we had a 45 minute turnaround time to shower and get into our heels and make-up – well, some of us, anyway, and head for our Opening Night at the Palestinian National Theatre. We walked down Ibn Khaldun Street. The weather was brilliant, it was 6 o’clock and the stone houses glowed in the dipping sunlight. The National Theatre is like treasure; it’s hidden behind a very ordinary-looking row of houses, you walk through a café, turn a corner and – there it is. Its courtyard always looked hospitable; tonight it looked festive. Our Palestinian partners, Yabous Productions, and our advance party, had done us proud: there was a long table with canapés, and all sorts of delicious goodies, there were fresh fruit juices, and a sumptuous bouquet of blue iris and white roses. Munzer Fahmi, from the American Colony Bookshop had set up his trestle tables and was already selling the works of the PALFEST authors.
I saw 10 old friends in the first minute, all the Jerusalem cultural and academic set were there, a lot of Internationals, a lot of Press. 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.
Rania Elias and Khaled el-Ghoul from Yabous started calling us in. Everyone moved towards and into the foyer. Someone clapped for silence and Nazmi al-Ju’beh, Chair of the Board of Yabous gave a brief welcome speech. 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 … “They’re going to close us down.”
“Yes. They have. They’ve closed us down. Look!”
Some people were already in the auditorium. The Theatre manager was telling them they had to leave. People – our audience, our writers – were surging backwards and forwards:
“let’s go into the auditorium..”
“Let them carry us out each one ..”
“If they get you inside the auditorium they’ll close the doors and beat the hell out of you ..”
“Let’s go outside and start the event on the street ..
“What’s happening? What’s happening?
Throughout all this the 15 or so Israeli soldiers held their positions and their weapons – how they, or their leader, made their will known to the Palestinians I did not see.
As we stepped outside and I started wondering whether we should just kick off right there on the courtyard of the theatre or whether we might actually get beaten someone said ‘we’ll go to the French Cultural Centre.” The French Cultural Attaché was in the audience and he had offered to host the event.
We started walking down Salah el-Din street towards the French Cultural Centre. I looked behind me and there was the Festival: a brightly-dressed, ornamented procession of authors and audience strolling along Salah el-Din Street, chatting and laughing and cradling in their arms trays of baclaveh and kibbeh and salads and bouquets of flowers.
We sat on the raised patio of the French Cultural Centre and our audience sat and stood in the garden. Henning Mankell spoke of how his involvement with Africa makes him a better European. Some workmen engaged on the first floor of the house next door paused to listen. Birds swept through their goodnight flight around us. Deborah Moggach spoke about children and the changing shape of the family. A cat shared the stage with us for a brief moment. Audience and authors were engaged and the energy flowed from the patio to the garden. Carmen Callil spoke about her Lebanese grandfather in Australia. A wedding party passed honking its horns outside. Abdulrazak Gurnah, M G Vassanji and Claire Messud read from their work. When the sunset prayers were called the audience started asking and commenting and suggesting. We could have gone on for hours – but we stopped at half past eight. We dispersed; energised, happy, shaking hands, signing books, promising to all meet up again.
Today, my friends, we saw the clearest example of our mission: to confront the culture of power with the power of culture.
and here is rory mccarthy’s report on it in the guardian today:
Officers walk in to Palestinian National Theatre in east Jerusalem and order it to be closed on opening night of literary event
Armed Israeli police last night tried to halt the opening night of a prominent Palestinian literary festival in Jerusalem when they ordered a Palestinian theatre to close.
The week-long festival, supported by the British council and Unesco, has brought several high-profile international authors – among them Henning Mankell, Michael Palin and Ahdaf Soueif – on a speaking tour of Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Shortly before the opening event was due to begin, a squad of around a dozen Israeli border police walked into the Palestinian National Theatre, in east Jerusalem, and ordered it to be closed.
The police brought a letter from the Israeli interior ministry which said the event could not be held because it was a political activity connected to the Palestinian Authority.
Members of the audience and the eight speakers were ordered to leave, but the event was held several minutes later, on a smaller scale, in the garden of the nearby French Cultural Centre.
Israeli police were deployed on the street outside.
“We’re so taken aback. It’s is completely, completely independent,” Egyptian novelist Soueif, who is chairing the Palestine Festival of Literature, said.
“I think it’s very telling,” she told the crowd at the French centre. “Our motto, which is taken from the late Edward Said, is to pit the power of culture against the culture of power.”
Israel regularly prevents political Palestinian events in east Jerusalem, but has recently also started to clamp down on cultural events in an apparent attempt to extend control over the city.
The development comes at a time of growing international concern over the Israeli government’s demolition of Palestinian homes and the continued growth of Jewish settlements in east Jerusalem.
In March, the Israeli authorities banned a series of Palestinian cultural events in Jerusalem, including a children’s march, intended to mark the Arab League’s designation of Jerusalem as the capital of Arab culture for this year.
Israel said the events breached its ban on Palestinian political activity.
Earlier this month, Israeli police closed down a Palestinian press centre that had been established in east Jerusalem for the visit of Pope Benedict XVI.
Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 war and later annexed it – a move not recognised by the international community.
Mankell, a Swedish crime novelist, told the crowd at Saturday’s event: “Don’t lose hope.”
He compared the raid to life in South Africa under apartheid and added: “What really makes us human beings is our capacity for dialogue.
“The only way we can save ourselves finally in the end is the capacity for making dialogue with each other.”
The festival will stage events in the West Bank cities of Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron and Jenin this week before returning to the same Palestinian theatre in east Jerusalem on Thursday night for a final event, although that also appears at risk of being closed.
The mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, has frequently dismissed criticism of Israeli policies in the city.
Last week, on the day Israel celebrated the 42nd anniversary of its capture of east Jerusalem, his office issued a statement describing criticism as “distorted and erroneous and accompanied by much disinformation and irresponsible provocation”.
It said house demolition policies were implemented “without discrimination” in all parts of the city, and that Barkat was promoting construction and education in the east.
“Mayor Barkat sees great importance in raising the standard of living and the quality of life in the east of the city and this after many years of neglect,” the statement said.
However, Rafiq Husseini, the chief of staff to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, who was in last night’s audience, was dismissive of the Israeli actions.
“It shows how the Israelis are not thinking, he said. “This is a cultural event. There is no terrorism, there is nobody shooting. It’s just a cultural event.
“They are creating enemies for themselves.”