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Palestine Book Awards 2016: Awarding literary talent

Leading figures from the political, academic and literary communities joined in the celebration and unveiling of the winners of 2016 Palestine Book Awards

The fifth annual Palestine Book Awards took place on Friday in the presence of leading figures from the political, academic and literary communities.

Thousands also joined in via social media for the unveiling of the winners of 2016 Palestine Book Awards and to hear Professor Salim Vally give his keynote speech.

The awards ceremony is MEMO's flagship event and the culmination of months of hard work. Nominations start in January with submissions being made by national and international publishers. Seven books are then shortlisted from three categories: academic, memoir and creative, by an expert panel of judges.

Victoria Brittain, trustee of the Palestine Book Awards, began the evening by welcoming and commending the intellectual energy of all the writers. She congratulated the shortlisted authors for being selected from the 40 books that were considered by the five judges this year.

And the 2016 winners are:

MEMO staff writer Diane Alghoul introduced Professor Salim Vally of the University of Johannesburg to make his keynote address.

Vally acknowledged the contributions of everyone involved before sharing his reflections on the shortlisted books. Trying to depict a unifying theme in all the shortlisted books, he quoted W.E.D Du Bouis, an American historian and civil rights activist who said: "How curious a land is this, how full of untold story, of tragedy, laughter and the rich legacy of human life, shadowed with a tragic past and big with future promise."

Speaking about Yassir Suleiman's book he commented that "Palestine is a point of reference, it engages the eyes and ears in the same way as food engages our tastes.  In spite of the pain and suffering that are the integral part of being Palestinian, Palestine remains an object of love."

Having played an integral part in the anti-apartheid movement, Vally used most of his half hour address to speak about the parallels between Israel and South Africa. War Against the People, by Jeff Halper, was a cold reading of Israel, particularly in the unique role it has played in supporting repressive regimes in Africa and Latin America.

"Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state," he pointed out, quoting the South African Prime Minster under apartheid, Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd. Verwoerd, who many saw as the architect of apartheid South Africa, commented in 1961 that "Israel like South-Africa is an apartheid state". The warm relation between the two countries was deep and long, said Vally and today "Israel's expertise in collective punishment and pacification of people is deployed all over the world".

He made a number of stark comparisons between the two countries: "The demand for the campaign to isolate Israel is not that Israel should be better than other countries but that Israel should at least adhere to the minimum standards of human rights and international law."

"It is an attempt to end the impunity given to Israel in.. in fact Israel is singled out for privileges by western powers. Israel should be seen in all its nakedness as a pariah state like Israel's dear and unlamented former friend, apartheid South Africa."

The first creative work to be included in the shortlist was celebrated through reading from the poems in the selection of I Remember My Name. Jehan Bseiso poignantly read two of the poems, including Cemeteries are full:

"And so the cemeteries are full;

In Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Gaza,

We will soon bury Palestinians above ground.

Nowhere to live now!

No quiet place to die with dignity.

Raise high beams carpenters, architects,

soon the wall will reach the sky"

The unveiling of the winners brought the evening to a finale.

Guests at the event enjoyed a three course meal and were able to meet the winners and discuss the inspiration for their books.

The annual event was held the day after the Palestine Book Awards pre-launch event which was an open discussion with the authors and members of the public.

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