Three Palestinian authors came to Eastern University on April 3, as part of a three-week book tour for the recent release of “Gaza Writes Back: Short Stories from Young Writers in Gaza, Palestine,” a collection of short fiction pieces by 15 young Palestinians. Yousef Aljamel and Rawan Yaghi, along with their former professor and now editor, Refaat Alareer, shared their stories with students and faculty about life in the midst of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and how creative writing became a form of resistance.
Peder Wiegner, who was the driving force behind bringing the Palestinian speakers and authors to Eastern, said it was coincidental that he even heard about the book: “My wife bought me ‘Gaza Writes Back’ for Christmas, and it was a complete surprise. I didn’t even know [the book] existed.” Wiegner then attended a conference about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and discovered the book tour was coming to Philadelphia in April, “and I said, ‘Hey! Let’s bring them to Eastern!’” Eastern’s Office of Faith and Practice, Multicultural Student Initiative (MCSI), Multicultural Awareness Advisory Committee (MAAC), and the English department then teamed up to bring the authors of “Gaza Writes Back” to campus.
The authors told the crowd on April 3rd that the Gaza Strip, bordered by Israel on the West and North, has been oppressed by the Israeli government throughout the 20th century. In 1967, Israel gained authority of the area, and has continued to impose militaristic control and systematic oppression of the Palestinians to the extent that the United Nations considers Israel an occupying power in Gaza. The most notable massacre by the Israeli military in Gaza, according to the authors, was Operation Cast Lead, a 22-day military offensive in Gaza between December 27, 2008, and January 18, 2009. It began when Palestinians in Gaza fired rockets into Israel in retaliation to the massacres being carried out by Israel’s military in Gaza. Israel retaliated with Operation Cast Lead, which resulted in the deaths of approximately 1,400 Palestinians and 5,000 injuries. “Gaza Writes Back” is the response of Palestinian young adults that lived through the events of Operation Cast Lead.
Refaat Alareer, a professor of creative writing and comparative literature at the Islamic University of Gaza, told Eastern students and faculty, “The main idea of the book started during these horrible days and nights [during Operation Cast Lead].” When Alareer’s 5-year-old daughter questioned whether the Israelis were really serving the God of peace and love, Alareer decided to speak out against the atrocities, but through nonviolent methods. He asked his students to write their experiences of the war. Alareer said this was “to show that we can still resist…[to] convey our message in a civilized way and to challenge the narrative.”
Aljamel read an excerpt of his fiction story, titled “Omar X,” that was inspired by the death of his brother. The story explores what his brother’s last thoughts must have been after being shot by Israeli soldiers. Aljamel said, “This story is to immortalize [Omar], remember him, pay him back. It is a story among thousands of untold stories.”
Yaghi read two stories to the crowd in Baird library: the first was written by Sarah Ali, who was supposed to travel with the book tour, but was denied clearance by the Israeli government to leave Gaza. Ali’s piece, titled, “The Story of the Land,” is about the Palestinians’ connection to their land, even after the military uprooted its trees. Ali writes, “By replanting their trees over and over again, Palestinians are rejecting Israel’s rules.” Yaghi then read her own piece, “Spared,” that takes a child’s perspective during an attack by Israeli soldiers.
Eastern freshman Soilymar Centeno said after attending the event, “It was such a blessing to just sit and listen to these stories and be able to ask questions about the things that are going on in Gaza. Sometimes we take for granted the freedoms that we have being Americans, but there is so much power [in] listening.”
To support the work of these young Palestinian authors and to purchase a copy of “Gaza Writes Back,” log on to justworldbooks.com/gaza-writes-back/.