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The Mona Lisa of Gaza

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The Center for Political and Development Studies, CPDS, organized a discussion on Thursday, September 3, about the recently released book Gaza Unsilenced with its co-editors Refaat Alareer and Laila Al-Haddad, which was attended by students and activists who came to learn more about the book from its editors, both of whom are from Gaza.

Refaat Alareer, a lecturer of English Literature and creative writing at the Islamic University of Gaza and the editor of Gaza Writes Back, spoke of his personal experience co-editing in the book. Alareer’s family home, which sheltered his extended family, was destroyed:

Some of you may know, I was not in Gaza in summer 2014, and someone told me that my brother was likely killed in Shuja’iyya, and you all know what happened there. After calling my family, and after two days of waiting, the news was confirmed. Our four-story home was destroyed. All our memories were buried under the rubble; it took us 30 years to build the house.

Alareer explained that his family went to the site of the demolished house and upon seeing the destruction, one of his sons said:

“I wish I had not come here.”

Refaat Alareer, lecturer of English Literature and creative writing at the Islamic University of Gaza speaks of his personal experience co-editing Gaza Unsilenced. CPDS, Gaza September 5,2015

Refaat Alareer, lecturer of English Literature and creative writing at the Islamic University of Gaza speaks of his personal experience co-editing Gaza Unsilenced. CPDS, Gaza September 5,2015

Alareer’s brother, Mohammed (or Hamada as Refaat calls him), left a wife and two kids. His kids keep asking, according to Alareer, about ‘when their father will be back.’ Alareer added that it was him as a child who named his brother ‘Hamada’, and that he was special to him, noting that this book came so that “he is not reduced into a number.”

“The story of my brother is the story of every single Palestinian in Gaza,” he concluded.

Gaza Unsilenced reveals a broad view of Palestinian resistance and struggle in the face of decades of Israeli occupation, oppression, and barbarity showcasing voices of Palestinians struggling for freedom while exposing the criminality of Israeli policies against non-Jews in Palestine.

Dozens of writers and authors contributed the essays and stories in the book, both Palestinians and non-Palestinians, including Ali Abunimah, Ramzi Baroud, Diana Buttu, Jonathan Cook, Belal Dabour, Richard Falk, Chris Hedges, Hatim Kanaaneh, Rashid Khalidi, Eman Mohammed and many more. The book was published by Just World Books, which also published Al-Haddad’s two books, Gaza Mom and Gaza Kitchen and Alareer’s Gaza Writes Back.

Laila El-Haddad, co-editor of Gaza Unsilenced

Laila El-Haddad, co-editor of Gaza Unsilenced

Laila Al-Haddad, herself a Palestinian from Gaza, based in the U.S., joined the discussion via skype, adding: “owning the Palestinian narrative is important,” and that “both editors are from Palestine, Gaza.” Commenting on the impact the book had, Al-Haddad noted: “the book was just literally released, but it had an impact on U.S. audience. I attended a talk in D.C. and the room was packed.” Stressing the role of young people in narrating what is going in Palestine and Gaza, Al-Haddad urged the attendees to write in both English and Arabic to educate as many people as they could.

A book should not be judged by its cover, many think. The cover art photo of Gaza Unsilenced, a girl’s face is pockmarked by shrapnel in dozens of places, “is amazing and tells the story of Gaza,” concluded Al-Haddad. Alareer added:

“She is the Mona Lisa of Gaza.” 

The book is available worldwide except in Gaza.

The book discussion, one among a series of talks held under Hashim Yeop Sani Library at CPDS, aims to highlight recent books on Palestine. 

Yousef M. Aljamal
About Yousef M. Aljamal

Yousef M. Aljamal is a refugee from Gaza and currently is doing his PhD in Middle East Studies at the University of Sakarya in Turkey. He is the translator of Dreaming of Freedom: Palestinian Child Prisoners Speak.

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11 Responses

  1. annie
    September 5, 2015, 4:49 pm

    i’ve read this powerful book and highly recommend it. so weird it’s unavailable in Gaza — i will never get used to this blockade.

  2. JWalters
    September 5, 2015, 7:00 pm

    I look forward to Andrea Mitchell interviewing Tom Friedman about this book.

  3. ritzl
    September 6, 2015, 10:31 am

    I confess that I kinda glossed over this article because “Mona Lisa of…” seemed too trite by half.

    But then I looked at the photo and a few minutes later realized I had been, and was still, staring at it, deciphering her meaning, plumbing the depths of her experience and existence, opening and closing mental doors, and generally feeling things I could never feel without her help.

    All because of that smile.

    The photo alone is Pulitzer material.

    Annie says the book has equal depth.

    Thank you.

    • bintbiba
      September 6, 2015, 11:58 am

      So perfectly well stated, ritzl

      “All because of that smile.

      The photo alone is Pulitzer material ” .

      • Refaat
        September 9, 2015, 3:34 am

        btw, the picture is by Mohammed Asad NOT Ezz.
        Mohammed is one of the finest photographers in Gaza. We were luck to use his picture for our book

        the picture does deserve The Pulitzer Prize for Photography.

    • just
      September 6, 2015, 1:59 pm

      You’re right, ritzl. Her beauty shines despite her grievous wounds.

      Her eyes are truly something to behold. “She is the Mona Lisa of Gaza.” ~ indeed.

      Must read this book. Thanks, Yousef M. Aljamal.

  4. Citizen
    September 6, 2015, 1:00 pm


  5. CigarGod
    September 6, 2015, 5:05 pm

    There is the image I’ve been waiting to put on a t-shirt.

  6. justravindersingh
    September 7, 2015, 6:37 am

    Just learning Arabic via Skype for free from the best tutors available and provided by preply over here to learn ans speak Arabic with Skype

    Any one seeking to learn any International Language can learn it here very easily…

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