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Gaza Writes Back*

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Gaza Writes Back: a collection of 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.

Review 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 is available at the Just World Books website.

Refaat Alareer, editor of and contributor to Gaza Writes Back, is an academic living in Gaza. He received his M.A. in Comparative Literature from the University College of London (U.K.) and is currently completing his Ph.D. in English Literature at the Universiti Putra Malaysia. He has also been teaching world literature, comparative literature, and both fiction and non-fiction creative writing at the Islamic University of Gaza since 2007.

Samah Sabawi (Arabic: سماح السبعاوي‎; 1967) is a playwright, poet, political analyst and human rights advocate. She has written and produced the critically acclaimed plays Cries from the Land and Three Wishes as well as having co-authored the book Journey to Peace in Palestine.

*This introduction and the book review were originally posted at http://gazawritesback.wordpress.com/

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This entry was posted on January 7, 2014 by in Comment.
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