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.
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On a stage about a mile away, inside the same city limits, a writer named Eli Amir also took stock of the dilemmas of the day. "We were thrown into a historic situation that we have not managed to get out of. We are a torn nation," says Mr. Amir, an Israeli writer who was born and bred in Baghdad, using words that could just as easily have been said by a Palestinian. Amir's recent book, "Yasmin," was translated into Arabic in Cairo, where audiences reacted with praise for its humor and censure over the publisher's controversial move toward "normalization" with Israel.Skip to next paragraph
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That anything but the most compulsory level of cooperation with Israel is still viewed as a no-go zone for many in the Arab world is a key reason that the two festivals carried on as if the other didn't exist. The organizers of the Palestinian festival say that theirs wasn't designed to compete with Israel's festival or to exclude it.
"That it coincided with this time is good," Soueif says. "We're interested in helping Palestinians maintain a normal life, and to do it at a top level and show that it's possible. It shows this place is vibrant. It has nothing to do with Israel."
Across town, Ms. Nahari stands near the stage that had just been shared by Amos Oz and Nicole Krauss, author of "The History of Love," and expressed a different viewpoint. She'd had no idea of the existence of the other festival, and wished it were otherwise.
"I'm very sad about it, because we could have done something jointly, even one event," she says. "It's a pity. It's a mistake not do it together," she says.
That it is hard to simply celebrate the joy of literature when the area's political situation remains so tenuous was equally clear at the events tent at Miskhenot, where Israeli novelist Mr. Oz spent much of his hour-long, on-stage conversation with Nobel Laureate Nadine Gordimer discussing their positions on the conflict, each speaking forcefully against Israel's occupation of the West Bank. South Africa's Ms. Gordimer, known for her anti-apartheid novels, came under intense pressure to pull out of the festival. She came anyway.
"I came in solidarity with fellow writers," Gordimer told one of her audiences. "I believe so strongly in the need for enemies to talk to one another, and that's why I decided to come here."
American wunderkind Jonathan Safran Foer, Ms. Krauss's husband and best known for his 2002 novel "Everything is Illuminated," says he would have loved to have seen the festivals overlap, but imagines that might only have served to further push political issues to the fore.
"There are so few occasions to celebrate books," he says after a late dinner with the other writers who attended the Israeli festival. "My impression of this festival is that it's apolitical. In other countries, these wouldn't be questions. People make the mistake of thinking that because you're in a country, you support everything that country's doing. But if you were going to a literature festival in the US, would you not go because you don't agree with certain policies in Washington?"