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The high art of literary resistance

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We are happy to announce that the Palestine Festival of Literature rides again this May 23 to 28, 2009, with readings by authors including Raja Shehadeh, Ahdaf Soueif, MG Vassanji, and Claire Messud. And while certain eight-metre-high solid slabs of concrete might get in the way on your own trip to Jenin, Ramallah, Bethlehem, al-Khalil (Hebron) and Jerusalem next month, you can also follow the progress of the traveling festival -- its second coming, if you will.

To get us in the spirit of the festival here at rabble.ca, we've gathered samples of fiction, poetry, cookery and crafts for your delectation -- the bitter along with the sweet, to provide you with a memorable online journey through Palestinian arts and culture.


An Israeli army commander tips off the leader of a heavily armed Jewish settlement in the West Bank that at four o'clock in the afternoon, he'll be lifting the curfew he's imposed on the nearby Palestinian village for just two hours, to allow the market to open. The settlement leader and his neighbours grab their rifles and teenage children; they drive off in a convoy of cars. The villagers will make a desperate attempt to buy food within that narrow slice of time. The settlers intend to be there when they do.

Selma Dabbagh is a British-Palestinian writer. Her short story, "Down The Market," is told from the bewildered perspective of a young Jewish Londoner on his first trip to Israel. Published in NW15: The Anthology of New Writing (London: Granta, 2007), "Down the Market" can be read on the New Writing website.


"For many years Umm Hilmi used to knock on our door at six in the morning bringing with her enough fassoulia for my mother to blanch and freeze for months to come. The same haggling over the price was repeated every year..."

Christiane Dabdoub Nasser's Classic Palestinian Cuisine, published by Saqi Books in 2008,is a wonderful synthesis of the delicate and diverse threads of Palestinian culture woven with political history, warm personal memoir, and recipes spanning from the earthy simplicity of Salatet Bandore to the glorious feast called Djaj bel-furun (the first ingredient is "two fat chickens;" the last, "a generous amount of fried almonds and pine nuts").


Staying Close
by Naomi Shihab Nye

On your tree surprised lemons
wore small caps of snow.

The bowl of steaming lentils
opened its wide mouth as we sat and sat,
stitching the seam of talk,
till the man with the rug from Baghdad arrived
rolling out its long length inside your door.

It was orange. It looked happy.
He had just come overland with a bundle of rugs.

When you kissed him good-bye on both cheeks
I wanted to kiss him too,
not for our offhand greeting,
or his deep eyes like furry animals
curled into lairs for the winter,
but for each doorway in Baghdad
with a rug in front of it
and humans moving in and out.

From 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East by Naomi Shihab Nye, published in 2002 by Greenwillow Books.

Mahmoud Darwish, the poet laureate of Palestine and the author of twenty books, is honoured and mourned around the world since he died last August, in 2008.


Sunbula, Arabic for "spike of wheat," is a non-profit, Fair Trade organization in Jerusalem promoting traditional Palestinian handicrafts. This detailed, informative and user-friendly web site displays many beautiful and desirable goods made by craft producers striving to raise families and remain self-sufficient: wall hangings, soaps, cushion covers, table runners, place mats, coasters, dolls, scarves, shawls and highly unique handbags...

"Sunbula helps people provide themselves with the gift of a more dignified life," the website tells us; craft producers who sell their work through Sunbula live in difficult conditions throughout historic Palestine, and keep alive traditional forms of sewing, weaving, embroidery, soap-making, and carving in olive wood and mother-of-pearl. Two of the groups associated with Sunbula, the UNWRA Sulafa Embroidery Project and the Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children, the only institution in Gaza devoted to people with hearing disabilities, suffered damages and loss in the Israeli attacks on Gaza early in 2009, following months of stalled production due to the siege.

They remain closed as of this writing.

Rahat Kurd walks and writes in Vancouver, on Coast Salish land. Read her review of Raja Shehadeh's Palestinian Walks.

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