Thursday, July 02, 2009

Claire Messud

"You might well ask how a bunch of novelists and nonfiction writers could be so dangerous as to require a military-ordained ban in a democratic country. I can’t tell you; except that our literary festival had the word “Palestine’’ in its title, and the use of this word in Jerusalem apparently constitutes a security threat. The city has been declared the Capital of Arab Culture for 2009, and according to Palestinians we met, the Jerusalem police have shut down more cultural events than they have permitted–including the timed release, by schoolchildren, of colored balloons in celebration of Al-Quds. Balloons are also a security risk. During the week of the Palestine Festival of Literature (Palfest for short), we gave readings in Ramallah and Bethlehem as well as in Jerusalem, and taught workshops at universities in Ramallah, Jenin, and Hebron. We lumbered about in a great tour bus, repeatedly grateful for our foreign passports (nowhere have I been more conscious of the liberating power of my US citizenship); but still, privileged as we were, we waited interminably at borders and checkpoints, in the shadow of the vast, ugly hopelessness that is the Wall, under the panopticon scrutiny of the watchtowers. We answered questions barked by teenagers at the point of their guns. We got a very small taste of what it’s like to be Palestinian. Members of our group likened it to living under apartheid; to Orwell’s “1984’’; to Kafka. But none of these allusions fully conveys the disturbing psychological experiment currently perpetrated on Palestinians in the West Bank." (thanks Nikki)