In a world that has become partly robotic, where the buzzing sounds of drones drown out the voices of people, the experiments of driver-less cars have proven to be safer than humans, with a robot successfully presenting one of the major radio shows in Britain, and with words spreading quickly on Facebook walls, posted by everyone, including smart robots, what drivers the organisers of the Palestine Book Awards to cling to books in an age where the words “none” and “post” have become the main characters?
The answer to this question lies in the name of the award and its content. First and foremost, it is about Palestine and celebrating every aspect of Palestine in writing. Writing is the act of documentation and is one means of resisting apartheid and ethnic cleansing targeting any nation, let alone the Palestinian nation. It is also a platform to present the truth about Palestine in the Zionist “post-truth” age that has permeated the US long before Trump.
Perhaps another important reason is the fact that books preserve their position as a tool for change and attract readers, at a time when the succession of events occurs most rapidly and the continued intimidation of despots, regardless of their various technologically advanced means of oppression.
Middle East Monitor took initiative and launched the Palestine Book Awards in 2012, under the supervision of British journalist Victoria Brittain. The idea is simple, and therein lies its power. The idea is to dedicate an annual award to honour the best new books, published in English, that address any aspect of Palestine. The award is a part of the efforts made to present Palestinian literature, research and art to an international audience, by provided a platform for authors to meet with the audience and discuss their work with other writers and academics. This also gives their books widespread exposure and appreciation.
Over the years, given the exceptional quality of the winning books and the seriousness of the panel of judges and Board of Trustees, the number of nominated books has increased, reaching about 50 books per year, ranging from academic to memoirs, artistic books and creative literature.
The 2017 judges’ panel was made up by academic and journalist, Dr Ibrahim Darwish, literary critic and political analyst Subhi Hadidi, author, Dr Faysal Mikdadi, and diplomat and Chairman of Medical Aid for Palestinians, Alan Waddams. Contrary to the norm, the panel nominated nine books instead of seven to be shortlisted for the award, which reflected the richness of books nominated by the publishers.
The night before the awards ceremony, an open evening to honour the short-listed nominees was held, during which they discussed their books in the presence of a large audience, along with Professor Eugene Rogan of Oxford University’s St. Antony’s College and Dr Dina Matar of the University of London.
Four distinguished books won the awards. For the academic category, two books won; “Gaza under Hamas: From Islamic Democracy to Islamist Governance” by Bjorn Brenner, which was a culmination of his research over six years, his interviews with Hamas leaders and officials, and living among the people of Gaza. The book gives English-language readers the chance to judge Hamas for themselves and judge its ability to govern, distanced from the accusations normally directed at the movement.
The second book is “The Commander: Fawzi Al-Qawuqji and the fight for Arab Independence 1914-1948” by Laila Parsons. This book is about the Arab options in light of the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the beginning of the colonial phase, and the re-mapping of the area. The author tells the story of the life of a soldier who continued to follow his dreams, take risks and defy death, and put the story in the context of his experience with the Ottomans, his participation in the Syrian and Palestinian revolutions, and finally leading the Arab Liberation Army, which impacted the image of the hero and made him one of those responsible for the disaster, according to Dr Ibrahim Darwish.
The book “Drawing the Kafr Qasem Massacre” by Palestinian artist Samia Halaby won the Creative Award. The publication contains Halaby’s drawings, as well as a detailed study documenting the events and victims of the massacre, one name at a time. The book is an in-depth historical-artistic documentation of one of the Zionist occupation’s massacres.
The Memoir Award went to Ella Shohat’s book “On the Arab-Jew, Palestine, and other displacements”. The book consists of a group of articles and studies, written over decades, through which Ella, born in Baghdad in 1959, combined her personal narrative and laborious academic research as an attempt to understand herself and prove her identity as an Arab Jew, in confrontation of the Zionist perspective of contempt for anything Arab, even if Jewish, despite the fact that Israel claims to represent all Jews from all across the world.
“I am an Iraqi Arab Jew,” is how Ella identifies herself in order to emphasise her identity, which has suffered fragmentation due to forced displacement from Iraq and apartheid in Israel. She chose to leave Israel and settle in New York and teach there. In her writing, Ella stresses that European Jews in Israel form “an elite of first-world individuals that not only control Palestinians, but also Jews from the east. As a Jewish nation from the third world, Mizrahi Jews form an semi-colonised nation within a nation.”
While Ilan Pappe’s book “The Biggest Prison on Earth: A History of the Occupied Territories”, did not win any awards, Pappe won the Lifetime Achievement Award for his many books and positions as a Jewish historian who aims to present the truth regarding Israel’s history, colonial policies and daily acts of ethnic cleansing against the Palestinian people, under the guise of a democratic state. Pappe believes that the main obstacle to co-existence in Palestine is the state’s “ideology that strips Palestinians of their humanity”.
The continuation and success of the Palestine Book Awards is a form of solidarity with the resistance of the Palestinian people, by encouraging the publication and reading of more books about Palestine.
According to British novelist and academic, C.S. Lewis, “We read to know we are not alone.”
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Quds Al-Araby on 28 November 2017
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.