When I am invited to a conference outside the Arab world addressing literature or poetry away from politics and woman affairs, I try to use this rare opportunity that does not come very often in our part of the world, to study and examine other cultures and other peoples’ literature. Meeting with participants in these conferences Poetryfrom other parts of the world certainly introduces me to the new cultural and literary world.
When I accepted the invitation last summer to Stavenger in Norway, I was eager to encounter the world’s literature and poetry. I was waiting to listen to world poets and to exchange our experiences. This was at a yearly conference called “A Conference of Literature and Freedom of Speech”, and which was attended by writers from all over the world. I planned to do my best to learn from this rich atmosphere of literature and philosophy.
Walking around in the main hall that hosted the conference, I was surprised to read from a large poster the words: “Stavenger and Nablus”. In one corner I saw pictures of Nablus, its arches and buildings showing the latest demolish resulting from Israeli army incursions into this old city. I later found out that Stavenger is the Twin City of Nablus. I also got to know that there is a committee in Stavenger that supervises this twin-ship and prepares activities in parallel with events that take place in Nablus. When I met the committee coordinator Turid Oygand, I sensed that she became emotional and moved once she found out that I was from Nablus, (despite the fact that I currently reside in Ramallah). I even sensed that she was on the verge of tears when I told her that I had brought with me eyewitnesses’ stories from women in Nablus, who narrated to me their suffering during the large invasion of the Palestinian towns and cities last April. Moreover, I was pleasantly surprised when she asked me to present in English these eyewitness narration during one of the conference sessions. I tried to question this possibility since the conference was clearly addressed to issues of literature and philosophy. However, she managed to get approval from the conference’s organising committee and which due to the value it saw in these accounts, shifted around the schedule to allow me to read the eyewitness stories.
I found myself in the middle of a literature and philosophy conference speaking on behalf of Palestinian women, carrying their burden and our country’s burden under my skin. A short time after I started, I felt that the Norwegian lady was right as I sensed how the audience of writers and poets were moved by the words of the Palestinian women who expressed their pain and demanded their rights from the international community. I saw writers’ eyes filling with tears while listening to these stories.
Later on, I recalled this incidence when I was conversing with Swedish writers during my stay in Sweden as part of the delegation of the Palestinian Writers Union, which had been invited by the Swedish Writer’s Union.
The Swedish writers were bombarding me with questions about our status in Palestine, the Separation Wall, the Israeli Army blockades, imposed curfews, destruction, etc. They were keen to find out and understand all details of our living conditions, suffering and the secrets of our perseverance and survival. I on the other hand made use of all the material that I had: from documents to stories in order to clarify our complicated political situation. This made me feel that my colleagues from the Palestinian delegation and I were being introduced to the Swedish writers and other writers from all over the world, such as Germany, Greece, Estonia, etc., from a political aspect rather than that of literature.
One Swedish writer Agneta Klingspor was so touched that she included in her unique cultural program broadcasted on 19/06/2003 a Palestinian song about the martyrs of the Intifada, (called “Qaus Quzah” or Rainbow, from a collection of songs entitled “Janain Alguna” or the Gardens of Songs, by Tamer Abu Ghazaleh). She had a variety of songs by Iranian, Moroccan, Palestinian musicians and she presented them all in a beautiful mixture that presented in harmony our case as part of the world’s issues. The writer asked her listeners to imagine their life in Norway with blockades being placed all over Stockholm’s streets to prevent Norwegians from moving from one place to the other and from visiting friends and families. She also asked people to imagine a situation in which they could not reach the hospital in Skanstull, or drive to the Central Station to go to Stockholm or visit a relative’s house in Gothenburg as a result of the imposed military blockades in each corner. Israel is building a wall she said, a Ghetto! I could not stop thinking of the ethnic segregation and apartheid system that is being enforced there.
When another reporter asked me what topics I would chose to write about in the struggle to liberate my homeland, I answered, “It is life with all its vastness and riches. We need to free our country, and after that we will be able to choose our topics, to choose to write or not to write.”
I wanted to go shouting in the streets of Visby/Gotland where the feeling of beauty and freedom strikes you “come freedom, let all those who adore beauty and life raise their voices loud to surround and suppress the occupation in our country and all other forms of occupation. We want to breathe as all other free nations do; to have the freedom to accept or reject talking to the media, to be free to produce our art and to add something to world culture.”