2016 Summer Intern Panel: “Overcoming Restrictions: Resistance through Publication & Expression”

 
Video and Edited Transcript 
Dr. William Youmans & Ms. Laila El-Haddad
Transcript No. 465 (July 26, 2016) 

Mirvat Salameh:

Hello. Welcome to the Palestine Center. Welcome to our 2016 Summer Intern Lecture Series entitled, “Mobility: Israel’s Structural Restrictions & Palestine’s Resistance.” Thank you for joining us today for the third and final installment of the series, “Overcoming Restrictions: Resistance through Publication & Expression” with Dr. William Youmans and Ms. Laila El-Haddad. Thanks also for bearing with us as we renovate our own conference room, but we’re pleased we can temporarily use this space. My name is Mirvat Salameh and I an intern here at the Palestine Center along with Sarah Dickshinski, Abby Massell, and Zoë Reinstein.  

We decided on the theme of mobility as it is at the core of Israel’s occupational strategy aimed at dehumanizing and subjugating Palestinians. When initially discussing possible themes, we talked about the main tools of the occupation and their commonalities, such as the separation wall, the blockade of Gaza, legal barriers such as visas and the denial of the right to return, and the obstruction of Palestinian voices in the international media. We realized that all these factors strategically restrain the physical mobility of Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, and diaspora as a whole, but also the movement of ideas through censorship and media blackouts. Mobility is integral in defining and claiming spaces of living to affirm a community’s identity, and therefore restrictions on Palestinian mobility are some of the most apparent and dehumanizing aspects of Israel’s military occupation.

That being said, Palestinians overcome this lack of mobility through publication, expression, and creation of their own media platforms. They use media as a powerful tool in the spread of ideas beyond the walls of the occupation, which is ultimately a form of resistance in itself.

We will end today’s lecture with a question and answer period, and our livestream audience can send tweets via Twitter to @palestinecenter. Please take a moment now to silence cell phones and all other electronic devices. Thank you.

Abby Massel:

Good afternoon. We are fortunate to welcome Dr. Youmans and Ms. El-Haddad for today’s lecture, “Overcoming Restrictions: Resistance Through Publication & Expression.”

Dr. William Youmans is an Assistant Professor at the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University. His primary research interests include global news media, journalism, media law, and social movements. He received his Ph.D. in Communications Studies from University of Michigan and wrote his dissertation on Al Jazeera English’s audience-building efforts in the United States before and after the “Arab Spring.” He is currently researching the development of Arab media law as well as the role of transnational media in U.S.-Arab relations. Dr. Youmans has presented at numerous conferences and his 2012 paper won an award for the best paper in the International Communication division at the 2013 International Studies Association conference.

Laila El-Haddad is an award-winning Palestinian writer and public speaker who frequently lectures on Gaza, the intersection of food and politics, and contemporary Islam. She is the author of Gaza Mom: Palestine, Politics, Parenting, and Everything In Between, co-author of the critically acclaimed The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Culinary Journey, and co-editor of Gaza Unsilenced. She is also a policy advisor with al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network. She was recently featured in Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, Episode “Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza” as his guide through the Gaza Strip. From 2003-2007, El-Haddad was the Gaza correspondent for the Al Jazeera English website and a regular contributor to the BBC World Service. A graduate of Duke University and the Harvard Kennedy School, she is a Clinton Scholar, as well as the recipient of the ADC’s Inspiration for Hope and the Literary Leadership Award.

Each panelist will each speak for about 20 minutes, after which we will have a question and answer session. Please join me in welcoming our first panelist, Dr. William Youmans.

Will Youmans:

Hello. Thank you for coming out to this talk today. I wanted to give a special thanks to the interns, Sarah, Abby, Zoë, and Mirvat. I was telling them before the panel that in 2002 I was an intern here, and I tried to organize my own intern lecture series, I mean with my own fellow interns, and I have to say that it’s come a long way. This is so much better and more sophisticated of a theme than anything that we could come up with. And Mirvat pointed out, “Well that was before Facebook”, so we did have a little bit of a disadvantage in getting people out. But yeah I’m very proud to come back fourteen years later and contribute to this.

I wanted to start with the very small observation about the theme of this series, “Mobility.” I think that this and Mirvat’s description of why mobility’s so important – I agree with it in many ways, but it’s funny to think about how the question of mobility is opposed to one of the major themes of Palestinian identity and its rootedness in the land, attachment to place, the doctrine of steadfastness, of sumoud of staying the course, belonging within a land. So how do we marry this topic of “Mobility,” or the problem of mobility, with this traditional linchpin of Palestinian experience of rootedness in the land.

I first want to point out [something about] mobility, the different kinds of mobilities: there’s a mobility that can be a tragic mobility, and that’s the mobility that’s the result of usurpation, of being uprooted, the forced mobilities of dispossession. So the refugee experience is one defined by mobility. So on the one hand mobility is — there’s a tragic kind of mobility that’s essential to the Palestinian experience, but there’s also this very tragic immobility or coercion that limits mobility at the same time. So in an interesting kind of way, mobility cuts both ways but for many people in the world especially first-world problems type of people there’s a very optional mobility which is being able to move in the world at one’s whim. And that should be a right that is a goal that is the standard that all regimes of transportation or regimes of permission to move in the world should be held up against. It’s also a luxury of having a place to belong. So i’m trying to tie these two different kinds of mobility together.

The symbol of the respected first-world passport is a signifier [of] desired citizenship status and it shows just that having an american passport is itself a sort of privilege because it stands for a certain type of citizenship — a type of citizenship that Palestinians lack. So Palestinian mobility is refugees, is forced, it was tragic, it was against their will but now we have a struggle for the freedom of movement especially in the occupied territory. Occupation itself is immobility enforced through regimes of violence. So, one reason I’m pointing this out is to remember that the Palestinian experience is not just the experience of the Occupied Territories but that of the diaspora where a certain kind of mobility was forced upon this.

Now this whole initial observation is a reference to physics, or the movement of bodies, but today we’re interested primarily in media and communication so different kinds of mobilities, not just the mobility of people but the mobility of ideas, words, thoughts, narratives, feelings, and I think that this is as important as physical mobility. That’s why in our very harsh U.S. prison system solitary confinement is one of the most damaging forms of punishment. It socializes the human. It isolates the inmate from others, and that social disconnection can be more maddening or as maddening as the physical imprisonment or the physical denial of movement.

As much as Israel has interfered with Palestinian physical movement in the Occupied Territories, it cannot and has not been able to block this mediated form of mobility to limit the Palestinian imagination or to quell outside solidarity with Palestinians as much as it has tried. And so I will be focusing on those two directions of mediated mobilities: solidarity with Palestinians from the outside, but also a Palestinian’s understanding and learning, and access to the rest of the world through media. But I want to start out a little bit with a theoretical conceptualization of media that starts with a very unlikely place and that’s Modernization Theory.

Modernization Theory is originally a view of development started in a very kind of U.S.-Washington D.C. sort of context during the Cold War. The U.S. was trying to find a way to explain how there could be development without resorting to Marxism or Communism. So it was within the geopolitics of the Cold War and so all these social scientists descended on the developing world to try to figure out how can it modernize. Despite this being a sort of neocolonial paradigm motivated by geopolitics, the social scientists actually generated some interesting ideas, many more fanciful ideas — that was, there was this one standard recipe for development — but I think that one of the concepts that one of the modernization theorists came up with is actually related to our talk of media and mobility in the Palestinian context.

So one of the seminal texts of Modernization Theory that shaped how Americans, the government, and NGOs thought about media and development was a book by Daniel Lerner published in 1958, about 50 years ago, The Passing of Traditional Society: Modernizing the Middle East. One part of the book is a very interesting case study of life in a small Turkish village between 1950 and 1954. So much of the book is orientalist and has very questionable methodological stances vis a vis the “natives.” But I think it does offer some value for our discussion today.

So to refresh you or to introduce you to Lerner’s work, I want to start with 1950. That year Lerner sent a Turkish researcher to visit a small village called Balgat. Balgat was only eight miles from Ankara, yet it was seemingly of a different world and time, a yester-year. Balgat was rural, simple, disconnected. Very few people who lived in the village ever left the village, even fewer people from the outside would even go to the village. Despite not being under military occupation as the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories are today, there was a lot less movement than the Palestinians got to experience. Even Gaza is relatively transient relative to Balgat of 1950. For Lerner, this lack of movement, [he] defined it as “traditional”, which was a slightly improved way of calling it “backwards,” which was common among modernization theorists, [who] used that word back then. But in Lerner’s very well-written parable of the village he identifies several characters who enjoy various degrees of mobility. There is one person in the whole village who actually traveled a little bit, and that was the grocer. The grocer excited Lerner. The grocer had big dreams of moving up in the world. He was exposed to film and radio through the coffee shops of Ankara, and he got from that experience a desire to go to America to see the big fancy grocery stores there. Yet, he was the lowest person in the village’s traditional hierarchy. The top of that hierarchy was the mukhtar, the village head. He had an immobile identity. He was meant to stay in that village. He was meant to die there. And he could not aspire to anything more. He personified the traditional or the old way of life. So this was how Lerner saw this village through his Turkish researcher’s eyes in 1950, and then in 1954 wanted to visit Balgat again to see what what happened in those four years. And when he returned he decided he saw “modernity” taking place. So, thus, modernization is possible. He saw busses going to the village from Ankara; the village was actually incorporated into the city. There was finally a school, a police station, running electricity. People were starting to dress like westerners — something that Lerner really cared about about a lot, for some reason. And everyone had radios! Previously only the mukhtar had owned one. And the grocer actually had passed away unfortunately so we don’t know what happened with the grocer.

But in this theory of modernity Lerner was very interested in modernity as a state of mind, as a result of particular social-psychological attributes. The grocer was modern because he saw the world as a place that he could be part of. He saw opportunities within that place. But most of all Lerner championed him because of his psychic openness that led him to desire to physically travel to make his life better. That was for Lerner the ultimate sign of being modern. It was to reject fate.

Since Lerner was commissioned by The Voice of America, you know, our government’s international broadcaster, he was directed to think about how media mattered for people in terms of their mobilities in the world and this question of modernization. What he asserted, what Lerner asserted but failed to really demonstrate, was that the village’s modernization came about because radio let people imagine different lives for themselves. They came to want the chance to be mobile even if they could not actually leave the village physically; they got the chance to travel through their imagination. And what this did was this put pressure on the village itself to change through a form, to improve, to modernize because people’s expectations about what they should have in their lives changed. This pushed upon what he called the “want-get ratio,” you know, a very mathematical-psychological kind of formula. Lerner calculated that listening to the radio and seeing films altered what the people wanted vis-a-vis what they could actually get. The disproportion would cause frustration, which would lead to reform and bring about change because the people would want the nice things they hear advertised on the radio.

As an aside you can see the underlying politics of consumerism apparent in all of this; after all this was an ideological project in response to the threat of Communism.

Lerner called this sort of mediated travel — and I think this is the key term, sorry it took so long to get there — but the key term that he uses is called “psychic mobility.” This happens when people aren’t actually moving but their imaginations are moving, and one of the values of media for modernisation theorists was that it allowed people to sort of travel through and to imagine these different lives. So now on first glance, you know, how do we jump from this Balgat of 1954 to the Palestinian context. It’s a very different political situation. You know, the Palestinians under Israeli occupation do not suffer from the development challenges that Balgat did in 1954. Palestinians actually face a strategy of what Sara Roy called “de-development” —  intentional nondevelopment. It is a sort of regression by design. The Israeli regime in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem is largely tailored towards furthering Palestinian weaknesses, dependency, keeping Palestinians from having the strength to challenge Israeli primacy, home demolitions, resident permit restrictions, the war on Palestinian entrepreneurship, the blockade of Gaza, obviously are all examples of this.

Another way this is furthered is by eliminating Palestinian movement to keep Palestinians dependent on the good graces of the Israeli occupation regime, which at the same time of course facilitates the mobility of Israeli Jews into, out of, and between the colonial settlements. That’s essential to the apartheid paradigm. So we can talk about, and previous panelists have talked about, the actual strictures on physical Palestinian mobility. And of course we could talk about the ultimate immobility of Palestinians, which is a lack, denial, of the right of return which keeps Palestinians, refugees, in place, or I should say out of place, out of the country which is their ancestral homeland. So that immobility descends from the tragic mobility that began in 1948. The people of Balgat obviously didn’t suffer the same kinds of impediments.

By taking Modernization Theory as the standard we can see how Israel has tried to prevent Palestinian modernity. And it has failed to do this because it is a project of illegitimate coercion. The Israeli ideological project has not been able to achieve total hegemony to which it aspired, which is to be validated, to be legitimized by the people who it displaced. And now it has succeeded in other ways in terms of grabbing the land, in terms of state-formation projects since 1948, and in relegating Palestinian existence to a contested, suspended, or non-sovereign margin. But where it’s really failed is to prevent these sort of psychic mobilities that have kept Palestine alive both in the imaginations of people outside of Palestine, Palestinian or not Palestinian, but also in keeping Palestinians living under Israeli rule from having spark or life or desiring more. Israel has been unable to prevent that.

There’s no shortage of representations of Palestinian life either self-produced or made by others, witnesses to Palestinian plight. Yes, we could say that there are certain gaps in American journalism and mainstream news and it’s one of the last holdouts along with the halls of power. But these are sights for work and struggle among activists to be sure and I think we’ve all seen some transformations in that regard. But everywhere you look around the world you see people learning about, discussing, talking about, thinking about the issue of Palestine, and this is largely driven by people who have psychic mobility in Palestine. I mean, how many Palestinian solidarity activists around the world have actually traveled there, right. The international solidarity movement was great about getting people to actually travel there and see there, but there are many more activists working on behalf of Palestinian rights than there are people who have actually traveled there. How many of you have been to the Palestinian Occupied Territories for example, by a show of hands? A relatively small number of you. So, chances for the rest of you are that your exposure to the Palestinian issue is a psychic exposure. Israel has been unable to stop that. So outsiders are being mobilized based on learning and compassion built through media exposures, through social media, through documentaries, through classes that they’re taking, through books. This is the impact of advocacy. This is the impact of human friendships. People learn about Palestine from meeting Palestinians. Face-to-face communication is very impactful still, even in this age of social media.

Now on the reverse side, Palestinians living under the occupation are infinitely times, I think, more world-aware than people who have the rights of physical movement. Say the average North American, and yes I include Canadians and Mexicans among U.S. Americans, as not being particularly attuned to the rest of the world, whereas Palestinians who do not even have the kind of passport that can permit them to travel are much more connected to the world in many ways. I met journalists from Gaza who’ve never left Gaza, who speak English fluently and know about events that are happening in the United States. That’s not to say that Palestinians are omniscient or know everything. Certainly I’ve met a lot of Palestinians who don’t even know what’s happening in Ramallah or Gaza City or Nazareth or Haifa or Beirut. But overall there seems to be to me a worldliness of the Palestinian experience that is based through this sort of psychic mobility that I would not say that that’s completely divorced from the fact of diaspora life — that many Palestinians were actually forced into their mobility. It’s a commonality of exile that every Palestinian I know has family who lives in some other country, and that is one way for them to also learn about these other places.

So Palestinians have these rich imagined connections to other places. You can see it in Palestinians rooting for Brazil each World Cup. You can see it in the various desires to learn multiple languages that you see of Palestinians. Even when people can’t move, then what they make, what they produce in terms of media does travel. Palestinian filmmakers, journalists, artists, musicians, writers, and academics are producing highly mobile works of expression, documentation and so on that have the effect of taking us into their lives, right. And Israel has not been able to stop that. Yes, there were times when Israel did try to use various regulations, coercions, to try to prevent and politicize these Palestinian expressions and we see this play out in different countries around the world in various things while there are nominations for film awards or questions of boycott and that kind of thing. We see these contestations happening around the world, but that’s a sign of the efficacy of Palestinian psychic mobility.

We can think of particular attacks that are very powerful, so Emad Burnat’s Five Broken Cameras, which was nominated for an Oscar or Suhair Hammad’s poetry, DAM’s hip hop, Mohammad Assaf’s voice, you know the Arab Idol, various documentaries by Palestinian artists like Jackie Salloum or the group Visualizing Palestine — the infographics that they put out, very well researched visual depictions of facts related to Palestinian life – [these] are all part of these units of psychic mobility. Al-Haq’s human rights reports circulate in effect with the Human Rights Watch and the Amnesty International report as well. Of course the Palestinian civil society BDS [Boycott, Divestment, & Sanctions] call in 2005 is a text that has traveled, as in [it] has inspired activists around the world to pick up the call for BDS. These have all traveled widely taking outsiders to Palestine as Palestinians define it, in this sense psychically transforming their relationship to their notion of Palestine.

The mobile artifacts of Palestinian creativity emboldens a psychic mobility of Palestinians and non-Palestinians alike, creating these lines of solidarity so that if you travel to South Africa or you travel to Ireland you can see graffiti or expressions of solidarity with Palestine even without people having gone there. Importantly, and one of I think the most important psychic mobilities, is within the Palestinian diaspora. Palestinians become more connected to the land of their heritage in new and imagined ways. Recovering their families’ lineages or actually moving through, having mobility through time, understanding Palestinian history and their relationship to it even if they’re living in Australia or Europe or Egypt. Dispossessed but not mentally in a sense. [They are] mentally present in their homeland. Some of the texts that have been important to facilitating these connections include representations of Palestine’s past. I would point you to Walid Khalidi’s Before the Diaspora, or the other book All That Remains. All That Remains documents Palestinian villages or what’s left of them. Before the Diaspora features pictures of Palestinian villages before 1948 and cities as well. All these texts have moved in the world. Before the Diaspora is translated into I think eight languages or so. All these texts give us a psychic mobility into our past as Palestinians, as the diaspora, and to what Palestine was. And I think that that is the most important sort of psychic mobility that Israeli restrictions on physical movement have not been able to stop. These sorts of texts are especially vital to Palestinians in diaspora because they are the ones who have the ultimate stake in Palestine’s future. You know being present in it psychically. Thank you.

Laila El-Haddad:

Hello everyone. Wow, so tall Will, I have to lower it a foot. Well that was a pretty deep, Will, I don’t know,  hard act to follow. For those of us in the non-academic world I might bore you or I might not, I don’t know. Thank you for coming in the middle of the day like this.

Yeah, I mean everything — the topic that we’re supposed to be speaking about is so interesting to me personally and I think to a lot of Palestinians who have lived between spaces and identities, which is something that kind of has informed my take on the Palestinian issue, having lived in various places but kind of being void of any citizenship. So, and you know I very much echo what Will was saying about remembering that the Palestinian experience is one that extends beyond, you know, physical location, right, which is something that the Oslo Accords and then increasingly over time Israel has tried to institutionalize, right, [which] is to sever that connection —  continue that fragmentation of the Palestinians from one another. So what it also did is essentially only recognize those Palestinians, those who had a right to vote in whatever sort of meaningless elections that we have, but were only those Palestinians that possessed a hawiyya, right, that Israeli issued ID card that the Israelis began to issue in 1967. And you could only obtain a hawiyya if your parents had it and were physically present in 1967 and you renewed it and went through all these — and essentially dismissed all the Palestinian refugees or those who either registered or not. So it also did that and that process continues.

And so again, part of what is of great interest to me is how to convey this collective Palestinian experience and how to do it as individuals. So, I mean it’s something that sort of took me a while to grapple with and I’m still kind of working with. But to just kind of give you some background, you know as I said, I, like many Palestinians, grew up sort of all over. So I was born in Kuwait. My parents were born and raised in Gaza, studied in Egypt in the Nasserite 1960s, and [went] back to Gaza, and then they sought work in the Gulf. And then I grew up in a western compound, [where] we were kind of like socialized in American ways — but again, you know, void of the actual documents that would you know validate. So we’re not actually American citizens. Socialised in American ways, and yet we’re Palestinian and it was sort of conversely we possessed the Palestinian identity documents — the hawiyya that I was talking about — that enabled us to return to Gaza on a yearly basis. But then not socialized in Palestinian ways because (and I think it might be easier these days) we were talking about social media and you know Facebook, but in the 1980s you essentially were like a nuclear unit in a Western compound in Saudi Arabia. Who were you communicating with and how were you learning about your history? Palestine becomes a sort of patchwork and really potent symbols and tastes and stories.

In our case we were lucky that our mother forced us to go back every year and somehow assumed that we should understand the noble reason she was doing this, which was pretty pragmatic. We needed to renew the hawiyya, but she assumed we would understand [this] as kids. But, as anyone who has crossed the King Hussein bridge, at that time that was the way into Gaza, through Jordan and then ultimately to Gaza; but nowadays we would have to do it through the Rafah crossing. But you know it’s torturous. Anyone who’s been through it, especially in the 1980s would know it involved something like two days and strip searches and things that obviously a child should not be exposed to, but it was kind of just matter of fact. This is what you need to do to get to Gaza and we must get to Gaza to renew our ID because if we don’t do this everything is lost.

So it’s like a lot for a child to bear but that’s what you just — that’s just the way things are. We never really understood it as children. Again, [we were] sort of divorced from all that socialization that comes with that package and so many years later I would come to the U.S. for college and then graduate school and then eventually I moved back to Gaza at that point with my young son as many of you know or kept track of what I did. And I started off working as a journalist and [doing] kind of just hard news. And I think that like many Palestinians growing up at that time, you’re kind of taught instinctively that everything is about politics and it’s not about the personal so much, but everything becomes sort of hyper symbolic. So it never really dawned on me that it’s important for people to kind of personalize [things]; and personalizing the Palestinian experience is kind of the key to understanding Palestinians as human beings both capable and desiring of ordinary things: ordinary people desiring ordinary things.

You know and it wasn’t until I got stuck a multitude of times by various border crossings including the infamous Rafah crossing for something like a month and a half, that I had a conversation with an Egyptian friend of mine that I thought should have known better, right. Like this is somebody who is well-studied and we grew up together, and she was like, “You must be used to this by now. What’s the big deal?” And it was kind of this feeling of [being] suspended in time that of course many Palestinian refugees had experienced in the past. But here I was with a young child and I had the hawiyya, this kind of ultimate double-edged sword. So it allows you but also restricts your entry. It at once provides and restricts your access to Palestine. I should have been able to get in, but I wasn’t [able to].

Nobody really cared, everything else was kind of proceeding and kind of going on and here you were suspended in time. And it was that conversation that was kind of a turning point and made me realize that if she doesn’t understand, how can I get other people to understand? How can I convey that this Palestinian experience is about the minutia, the details, the ordinary moments of waiting at border crossings and struggling to maintain documents, kind of the never ending waiting? And it was really at that point that I began to rethink this whole concept of “If we just scream it loud enough and show bloody enough pictures people will get it,” right? And try to not be so afraid to the search for our voices as Palestinians. And I think our inclination — our instinct is to be like, “Leave it to the politician or the poet or the academic.” (Sorry no offense, Will). But like, who are we to sit here and narrate our own stories? We don’t know how to write well enough or articulate well enough or we might not speak the language of the western world. I hear that a lot — so [there is] this hesitancy to be able to narrate our stories in our own voices. And again, I just started at that point to blog and at that point I was keeping a regular blog, but not so much now, but all it was was kind of the day-to-day details of raising my son at that time under those conditions, crossing the borders, things that I thought that nobody would really be interested in. But to my surprise they were, including Israelis who had never been exposed to that kind of, at least the ones that came to my blog, to that kind of narrative. Again it shifted my thinking in how to best convey what it means to be dispossessed and stateless and so on and so forth.

But again it was this constant fear of who am I to be able to talk about the Palestinian experience. It’s my story, it’s not harrowing enough, do I have someone who was in prison? There’s all these sort of markers of your Palestinianness, like do you really pass how it is when you’re especially in Palestine. Are you fit enough to run for office? Were you in israeli prisons? Check. Did your house get demolished? Check. Did you grow up in a refugee camp? Check. And you see this happen and so it’s kind of the struggle for who has the most credibility, to speak on behalf. And then again coming to the realization of not speaking on behalf of anyone but it’s speaking on behalf of yourself, owning and finding and narrating your own story and sort of that collective shaping of the Palestinian story, the Palestinian experience.

Again, you’d think that this would be something that’s more common. That is, I thought a lot about it. It’s not wanting — to owe respect to those writers and poets and people and academics who did their part and have narrated — and anyone who has studied obviously the Palestinian situation knows there’s no shortage of this kind of writing and in stages or immediately after 1948 you have kind of the writing and the poetry of resistance and maybe initially the poetry of longing. And it’s not really my terrain so I’m not going to get too much into that for fear of overstepping my terrain, but you really had that kind of writing that you saw, the nostalgic writing and then the writing of resistance. What interests me most is really the writing as a way of preserving and perpetuating histories and then also sort of collecting histories which can be very empowering and liberating and you know sometimes it is as simple as “You know what, nobody wrote it so write it.” Or nobody said it, say it. Own it. I mean in the case of The Gaza Kitchen a lot of that was sheer luck. Just things happened serendipitously and people were interested in food and it happened at a time where there was a lot of focus on Gaza, but whatever. But it’s funny because the more I’ll send pictures or things to magazines, like recently I sent a pitch to Cooking Light Magazine, but it sounds a little bit cookey but it has the largest readership in the U.S., and I asked if they would be interested in this piece on Palestinian cuisine and they were like, “Oh yeah that sounds interesting, we’ve only ever covered it from the trending Israeli food perspective,” right. And I’m like how do you cover Pale—- but I mean he didn’t realize, he had no sense of why what he said was in any way offensive or absurd. But the point is it just took a matter of, and who knows this may not have been as acceptable ten years ago, when even saying, mentioning Palestine in the mainstream was — so it is a matter of just again timing or whatnot.

I was reading a little bit about how again political literature and so forth and those of you who know Saad Khadra Jayyusi for her writing and literature and poetry was about expressing the collective Palestinian identity and being able to again convey the just case of the Palestinian struggle. But for others like Mourid Barghouti, Palestinian poet Barghouti, it’s actually quite the opposite. He wants — what he’s said is that poetry is not a civil servant, it is not a soldier, it is nobody’s employee. And I remember I recently had a chance to meet him and several Palestinian writers in, of all places, New Delhi and it was really interesting because we were all kind of commenting on how this was the only place — we had to travel halfway across the world to convene, you know. And each of us had a different sort of baggage with us, be it some of us had a hawiyya, some of us had a Palestinian Authority passport but no hawiyya, some of us had foreign citizenship and so on. Some of us were living in the U.S., Europe, some of us Ramallah, Cairo and then there we were all in New Delhi where this would have been impossible in our own homeland. But his big thing, his gripe is like, “Leave the poetry alone.” Like at what point will poetry just be poetry and it will not be in the name of the cause or whatever. He was commenting on this as something Mahmoud Darwish had told him before he passed away, as that he wanted to free his poetry of this kind of thing, which I thought was really interesting. And I think I wouldn’t say I kind of side on, or that’s totally the position I take because I do feel that writing and in this case literature, poetry, etc., it does play an important role, like I said, in perpetuating histories. Like I said, in the case of my cookbook I felt that was one of the purposes, goals at least, was to be able to codify this knowledge because especially as the older generation is dying off you don’t have this oral storytelling tradition anymore. I had so many people expressing how happy they were to see these dishes that they had heard their great-grandmother talk about but there was no other reference to it. So I do feel like it plays a part and that is sort of a means of resistance. In this sort of war to occupy and settle not only the physical land but also to occupy the mind, words become our weapons I think as Palestinians. Not to be so radical, but I mean it’s true. I feel like that this is one terrain that transcends the physical bounds of the territory. And how now with new access through language and through social media that may not have been possible before where there wasn’t this much English language. This was something I was reading a lot, which is that people [are] finding trouble because it was mainly either in Arabic or translated to other various European languages but then not so much in English. And then so much of the Palestinian diaspora living abroad, more so than on the inside and so much in the English speaking world, and how do you bridge that gap.

I just wanted to say that there was a great little piece I wanted to read. I’m sure some of you might be — I mean first I’ll say kind of like what I always say to people, especially when it’s sort of a younger Palestinian population, which I don’t see many here. But I always say, “Everybody has a story to tell and don’t be afraid to tell it.” It doesn’t have to be something so harrowing, like I said or sometimes we have a tendency to want to fictionalize. It’s sometimes just the very mundane details of your ordinary life, again, that I think is so important that we kind of own that, narrate our stories, and put them out there. And I don’t know how many of you are familiar with Mahmoud Darwish’s poem, “We Travel Like Anyone”. Anybody? So, I love that and I’ll just end with the last two refrains which is, I’ll start with the Arabic and go to the English. [in Arabic] “Ours is a country of words. Speak, speak that I may lay my road on stone of stone to something. Ours is a country of words. Speak, speak that we may know the end of this traveling.”

Thank you.