The winners of the Palestine Book Awards (PBA) were unveiled on Friday during a prestigious event in London attended by prominent figures from the world of academia, literature and politics.
The PBA ceremony is MEMO’s flagship event and the culmination of months of hard work. Nominations start in January with submissions from national and international publishers. Nine books were shortlisted from dozens of entries into three categories – academic, memoir and creative -after painstaking efforts by a panel of expert judges. This year the judges also decided to include a lifetime achievement award.
Thousands also joined via social media for the unveiling of the winners of PBA 2017 and to hear Professor Ilan Pappe give his keynote address.
Victoria Brittain, trustee of the Palestine Book Awards, opened the ceremony with a welcome speech. Brittain, who is an author and former editor of the Guardian newspaper, applauded the writers, judges, publishers and MEMO staff for their tremendous efforts. Commenting on the more than 40 entries submitted for consideration for this year’s awards, she expressed delight at the fact that the event had surpassed all expectations.
The evening, which included a three course meal, took off with a keynote address by Professor Ilan Pappe. The lecturer from Exeter University began his talk with the observation that “the dispossessed negotiate things they shouldn’t have to negotiate”, while explaining that Palestinian rights had been compromised for Israeli demands.
Pappe traced his own intellectual journey to becoming one of the most respected scholars in the world on the Israel-Palestine conflict. As one of the Israeli “new historians” he questioned many of the founding myths about Israeli’s birth. He described the contributions of the likes of the late Edward Said and Walid Khalidi – two prominent Palestinian intellectuals – in “creating protected spaces and enter mainstream production of knowledge”, which prior to their ground breaking efforts had been supressed in the world of academia.
Pappe explained “the difficulty of publishing a book that was suspected of being pro-Palestinian”. Intellectuals like Said needed to “use their fame to write books on Palestine”. Said, explained Pappe, fused “activism with scholarship”.
“In the case of the Zionist occupation, facts do not speak for themselves,” said Pappe, “they require a narrative.” He spoke about his own effort in 2007 to create his “own safe space” to develop scholarship of Palestine, citing the bravery of the publishers of his book “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine” as an example of the pendulum swinging towards historical truth and honesty.
“These new scholars,” Pappe pointed out, were given the “permission to narrate”, they “used their trade” for a just cause and “deconstructed Zionism and classified Israel as an apartheid state.”
After guests dined on a sumptuous main course, the winners were unveiled. Professor at Oxford University Karma Nabulsi awarded the prize for the best academic book. This year saw two winners for this prestigious award: “Gaza Under Hamas: From Islamic Democracy to Islamist Governance” by Bjorn Brenner and “and Laila Parsons for “The Commander: Fawzi Al-Qawuqji and the Fight for Arab Independence 1914-1948”.
During his acceptance speech, Brenner mentioned that it had taken him “six difficult years” living in Gaza with the Palestinians to produce a book that gave a voice to the people in Gaza.
“The Commander” was described by Nabulsi as an “extraordinary work of creative scholarship” during her introduction. In her acceptance speech, Parsons explained that her work tried to frame the Palestinian history as part of a wider “history of anti-colonial struggle”. She said that this history continues to this day as Palestine continues to be “colonised by the Israeli state”.
PBA Judge Alan Waddams announced the winner of the Creative Award which went to Samia Halaby for “Drawing the Kafr Qasem Massacre”. The book which is described by the author as “documentary drawing”, portrays the 1956 massacre that took place in Kafr Qasem at the hands of Israeli forces.
Halaby, while receiving the award, joked that that “imperialism has serious heart trouble”. “The enemy,” observed Halaby, “is imperialism and the heart attack may come in five years or in 25years, but it will come.”
Our enemy is not just Israel its imperialism
Haifa Zangana announced the winner of the Memoir Award. Speaking after landing the prize for her work: “On the Arab-Jew, Palestine, and other Displacements”, Ella Shohat described her incredible “experience and voyage of understanding” she had undergone in discovering her “own history of dispossession and in reclaiming my Iraqiness”.
The evening reached a climax during the announcement of the Lifetime Achievement Award which was presented by Palestine Ambassador to the UK Manuel Hassassian to Professor Ilan Pappe.
Pappe spoke of the importance of recognising scholarship and commented that the award, in his eyes, was “the reaffirmation of his work”, as he reflected on the points he made during his keynote address about creating safe space to discuss Israel’s countless human rights abuses against the Palestinians.