Thursday November 29th marks the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. First set in 1977 by the United Nations General Assembly as part of resolution 32/40 B. The day aims to encourage Member States to continue giving widest support and publicity to Palestine while promoting Palestinian heritage and culture.

Regardless of my attitudes towards the efforts the UN makes when it comes to the Palestinian cause, I highly believe in the importance of having an official International day to remember the Palestinian culture. Amidst all the current distractions young people face on different media channels, along with the extreme exposure to social media content that lacks quality, it is essential -now more than ever- to emphasise the importance of the Palestinian culture.

A young Mahmoud Darwish

I mainly want to focus on Palestinian literature of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. For this specific article, let us skip anything prior to the Ottoman period and the big reservoir of Hakawati stories (the collection of local and folkloric stories from different villages and towns). Modern day authors, poets and historians include household names like Jabra Ibrahim Jabra, Mahmoud Darwish, Ghassan Kanafani, Edward Said, Fadwa Touqan, Ibrahim Touqan, Samih al Qasem, Tamim Barghouthi, Tawfiq Ziyadeh, Ibrahim Nasrallah and Abdel Karim Karmi amongst many others.

The work of these writers is worth gold. The above mentioned names come from different backgrounds, social classes, religions and political parties. Their richness comes from their high level of education and exposure to the world. In many cases, exile from Palestine offered them the chance to study in some of the best universities around the world and being exposed to working with international writers and figures. Many became professors in universities, translators of international books and authors of their own.

Fadwa Touqan

Contemporary Palestinian literature is often characterized by its heightened sense of irony and the exploration of existential themes and issues of identity. The subjects of resistance to occupation, exile, loss, and love and longing for homeland are very common. The term Palestinian Resistance Literature (أدب المقاومة الفلسطيني) became prominent through the works of many writers listed above. Ghassan Kanafani argues:

Palestinian resistance literature, just like armed resistance, shapes a new circle in the historical series which practically has not been cut throughout the last half century in the Palestinian life.

The importance of these authors is also observed through their occurrence in pop culture. For example, some works by Samih Al Qasem were converted into songs by Marcel Khalifeh. Ibrahim Touqan wrote Mawtini which became the unofficial National anthem of Palestine. Edward Said’s Orientalism is considered a reference point in proving stereotypical views on Arab culture as wrong and lacking essence.

Sahar Khalifeh

I can write a full article on the importance of Palestinian Women authors! In most of her work, Fadwa Touqan presented the resistance in contemporary poetry. The fact that someone like her who was denied to continue their education to be later labelled as the “poet of Palestine” is a form of resistance in its own right. Rula Jebreal‘s novel  Miral  tells the story of Hind Husseini‘s effort to establish an orphanage in Jerusalem (reflecting on a very important event in a very important time in the history of Palestinian resistance). Susan Abulhawa‘s book Mornings in Jenin is an international best seller and tells the story of a Palestinian family that lost its home during the 1948 war. The book narrates exaggerated and heightened events to remind the Arab reader never to forget the struggles of the first generation of Palestinians in exile. Sahar Khalifeh is another Palestinian award winning author who is also the founder of the Women’s Affairs Center.

Ghassan Kanafani

This article is a stepping stone to introduce new readers to Palestinian literature. I highly recommend you avoid works written by foreign (especially non-Arab) authors on matters related to the Palestinian cause. War, love, peace, history, culture and home are subjects sufficiently discussed in the works of the above mentioned names.  The next level of reading would be authors of Palestinian descent who write in English as well as Italian, Spanish, Danish, Hebrew and several other languages.

What’s your favourite piece of Palestinian literature?

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official artmejo/artmejournal policy.

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