In literature, too, an Israeli-Palestinian split
Two first-time literary festivals – one Israeli, one Palestinian – coincided without a nod to the other, creating one more divide in a troubled land.
Two literature festivals that take place in the same moment, in the same land, have the same lofty goals: celebrating the written word.Skip to next paragraph
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But in this city that has drawn poets and produced prophets, this is the story of two literary festivals whose organizers never talk, a tale that reads like a new page in the Middle East book of missed opportunities, and a narrative that has the uncanny ability both to entertain and to sadden.
The story might begin here: Sunday night at the finale of the first Palestine Literature Festival, and a flock of local and international literati streamed into the Hakawati National Theatre in East Jerusalem. Or here: Sunday night at the opening of the first International Writers Festival in Jerusalem, and a flock of local and international literati streamed into Mishkenot Shaananim.
Or the story could start a few years back, with a few worldly and bookish women.
One of them is Yael Nahari. An Israeli who is Mishkenot's director of programs, she decided four years ago that she wanted audiences "to meet the people they love to read," and began inviting prominent authors who had been translated into Hebrew.
Another is Ahdaf Soueif, a renowned Egyptian novelist who lives in London, and who was commiserating with a British colleague about the situation here. "I said, half-jokingly, 'If they do a festival in Palestine, I'll go,' " says Ms. Soueif, author of "The Map of Love" and other novels, in a conversation with the Monitor as all the festival's writers and performers gathered in Azkadinya, an East Jerusalem restaurant, after the closing ceremonies.
But there isn't a definitive place to begin this story – not one that won't irk the intelligentsia who tend toward one side of the divide or the other.
Yet this much is indisputable: The two maiden festivals overlapped in the mild days of May, at a time when all knew the streets would be resonating with history – at a moment when the US president would be visiting with an eye toward promoting peace. Yet even with the gathering of so many open and creative minds, the festivals were mostly unaware of each other's existence.
Jerusalem is festooned in the evenings with lit-up signs of another milestone number: 40. Last June marked four decades since Israel annexed East Jerusalem, a "reunification" in the Israeli lexicon and an "occupation" in the Palestinian.
But with two literature festivals going on in the same town – a fact largely unknown to the organizers and the top-shelf authors they attracted – it seems that a glass barrier enforces the divide in places where the more visible walls and checkpoints do not.
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times," read Irish writer Roddy Doyle on the Hakawati stage, enunciating each clause with a Celtic lilt. Mr. Doyle, author of "Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha," said that, having been asked to read from another writer's work, he chose Charles Dickens's opening of "A Tale of Two Cities" because it seemed most apropos of the mood of the day. He continued, "It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair."