Palestine: PalFest Literature Festival in Gaza for First Time

This year for the first time the Palestinian Festival of Literature, or PalFest, was held in Gaza. Since it was founded in 2008, the festival's aim has been to bring together Palestinian and international authors, and it organises public events in the evenings and creative writing workshops for Palestinian students during the day.

According to the festival's founder, Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif, having the festival in Gaza has been the ultimate goal of the event since it began, but it has always faced tremendous difficulties in getting permits for the participating authors to come through the Rafah Crossing. This year they were successful at last, and a group of about forty Egyptian, Tunisian, Sudanese and Palestinian authors, artists and activists were granted permission to visit Gaza and participate in PalFest 2012 from May 5 to 10.

Books donated to PalFest Gaza. Image by PalFest on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).


The first day of the event, May 6, was dedicated to workshops at three universities: Al Aqsa University, Al Azhar University and the Islamic Univeristy. As blogger Nader ElKhuzundar described:

The events kicked off by holding two workshops at both Al Azhar and the Islamic University of Gaza on writing and blogging in both Arabic and English. PalFest 2012 authors were astonished by the fact that many students attended the workshops. They were more astonished by the fact that most of the attendees were females.

Palestinian bloggers and tweeps attending PalFest. Image by @tamer_ps and posted by @olanan.

Music and poetry

The next day, May 7, was for a lot of the Palestinians the highlight of the PalFest activities. A four-hour concert took place at Rashad Al Shawa Cultural Theatre, with three Palestinian groups and the Egyptian group Eskenderella.

Palestinian Roba Salibi wrote:

@RobaSalibi: فرقة اسكندريلا اشي خيالي وفوق الوصف. كتير انبسطت باغانيهم وكل اشي فيهم في غزة اليوم . نفسي اروح احضنهم كلهم
Eskenderella is amazing and beyond description. I've enjoyed all of their songs and everything they've done in Gaza today. I just want to hug them all.

In the following video uploaded by PalFest, Egyptian poet Amin Haddad recites a poem, and Eskenderella performs “Ya Falisteeniya” (O Palestinian):

Egypt and Palestine together

Throughout PalFest there was a strong sense of solidarity between the Palestinians and Egyptians. Palestinian Tamer Hamam commented:

@tamer_ps: نفس الأشخاص .. نفس الحناجر .. نفس الأصوات .. نفس القوة .. نفس الإيمان .. هتفت غزة مبارح .. يسقط حكم العسكر .. يسقط الإحتلال
The same people, the same throats, the same voices, the same power, the same conviction. Gaza chanted yesterday, “Down with military rule, down with the occupation”

Nour Abed wrote:

@NourGaza: الحماس مش راضي يهدى! ومع الهتاف لمصر وفلسطين الواحد وكأنو احنا بميدان التحرير!
The enthusiasm is not calming down! And with us chanting for Egypt and Palestine, you feel as if you're in Tahrir Square!


A mass hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners was not forgotten by the participants. Egyptian Samia Jaheen tweeted:

@samjaheen: رحنا اعتصام أهالي الأسرى المضربين عن الطعام. واحدة منهم حكيتلنا انها متبنية أسير مصري في سجون الصهاينة. غزة رمز العزة فعلا
We visited the prisoners families’ sit-in. One of them told us that she is sponsoring an Egyptian prisoner in a Zionist [Israeli] jail. Gaza is truly the symbol of dignity.

Palestinian blogger Matar wrote:

“زار غزة قبل أيام وفد بالفست تحت عنوان “احتفالية فلسطين للأدب”، كنتُ مشغولاً ومنهمكاً بقضية الأسرى، وعندما قالت ليّ صديقتي أنهم آتون، قلتُ لها: ربما الوقت ليس مناسباً، قضية الأسرى هي أولويتنا. اليوم حين ودّعناهم أدركتُ كم كنتُ مخطئاً ، كيف كنتُ أفكر بهذه الطريقة؟”
A few days ago, the PalFest delegation visited Gaza for the Palestinian Festival of Literature. I was busy with the prisoners’ cause, and when a friend of mine told me about their visit, I said, “Maybe this is not an appropriate time; our priority now is the prisoners’ cause. Today, as we were exchanging goodbyes, I realized how mistaken I was. What was I thinking?

Palestinian Mahmoud Omar echoed the sentiment:

@_Mahmoud: NOTE: #PalfestGaza is totally consistent with #PalHunger , don't think otherwise.

Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif at the #PalHunger sit-in. Image by PalFest on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).


Despite having permission for its events, PalFest attracted the attention of members of the Hamas government. Nader ElKhuzundar described what happened:

In the last day of PalFest, a session was held in Qasr Al-Basha in the old part of Gaza City. The session included a goodbye performance by Eskenderella as well as speeches, presentations and readings by PalFest authors. The event drifted into [a discussion of] politics and suddenly, the electricity was cut. Everybody thought it was the electricity schedule under which Gaza has been living for years now so they continued the event. Five minutes later, a suspicious movement was noticed by the hall’s entrance then suddenly, the police stormed the hall, confiscated a woman’s camera as she was filming the event and called the event off claiming that there’s no official permit. […] Three hours later, the Chief of Police, his deputy and a colonel in the Interior Ministry visited the hotel. They officially apologized, stating it was an “individual error” and that they have opened an investigation into what happened. They stated that PalFest would always be welcome in Gaza.

However, a member of Hamas security admitted that the authorities had been reading the PalFest delegation's tweets and press statements, and were angered by the accusations that Hamas suppresses freedom of speech in Gaza.

Palestinian Saif Al Yazori wrote:

@SaifYazori: رغم اسفي من الي حصل في دار الباشا ولكني سعيد لان الوفد المصري ﻻمس الامر على حقيقته ولربما تكون بذرة تغيير ‎‪
Although I am sorry for what happened in Dar El Basha, I'm glad that the Egyptian delegation has experienced things as they really are. Maybe this will be a seed for change.

Blogger Nalan Sarraj wrote:

I want to apologize to the Palfest crew, but it's not my fault my government authority [Hamas] forgot how to love Palestine.

Dr Haidar Eid introducing the closing night of PalFest. Image by PalFest on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).


Palestinian Ebaa Rezeq was sad to see PalFest end:

@Gazanism: مش مستوعبة إني ودّعت الوفد من شوي!!! يا ريت في كلمة أحسن وأبلغ من كلمة شكراً تنحكى إلهم..شكراً من القلب.
I can't believe that I've just said goodbye to the delegation! I wish there were a better word than “thank you”… Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Egyptian Nariman wrote:

@nariology: بعد شهور من الاحساس بالعجز، يوم واحد في غزة أعاد لي ضرورة الإيمان بالمستحيل..
After months of feeling helpless, one day in Gaza has given me back the sense of needing to believe in the impossible.


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