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It is becoming ordinary for writers to speak about Palestine

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on 13 Comments

In yet another sign that solidarity with Palestinians is now a central political value of liberal/left American culture, about 150 people jammed a room in the Center for Fiction in Manhattan a week ago to hear authors read from a new book, a literary collection called Extraordinary Rendition: (American) Writers on Palestine. Below you will see several videos I made of the writers.

The editor of the book, Ru Freeman, the Sir Lankan-American novelist, introduced the readers with an inspiring speech. Let me summarize it.

At an earlier gathering, a few contributors to the book were photographed, and one said, “What is there to smile about–” in reference to the situation in Palestine. And Freeman reflected that in her own extensive travels, “some of the warmest, wittiest, most joyful people I’ve ever met I met in Palestine,” and they had told her: Don’t cry for us. “Go back and do whatever you can do.” This book, she said, “is that can-do for me.”

There are 65 contributors to the book, and “65 is a pretty wonderful number.” As Arlo Guthrie said, If you have one person talking about something, they’re crazy, two people talking about it, they can be arrested, but when 50 people are talking about something, “my God, you have a movement.”

“Sixty-five is a hard-to-dismiss number… It’s hard to say that they’re only leftwing loonies…  or only black, or only white, only east coast liberals, or only west coast treehuggers, or only the non Jewish or only the people who have never been to Palestine, or only those who have.”

What united all the writers, Freeman said, was that “they wanted to ameliorate the bridge that exists between national policy and personal moral culpability.” And all she asked of the writers was that they exhibit “parity of conscience.”

In a time when we can talk about any oppression, any war, any life, any death, any terror anywhere in the world with non-obfuscatory language, it seems only right that we are able to do the same when we talk about Palestine.

And Freeman said we are winning that moral struggle:

With each event we have, it becomes normal to say the word Palestine. With each event we have, it becomes easier to dismantle the narrative that has taken hold certainly in this country… of a land without a people. With each event that we host, it becomes extraordinarily ordinary to have a bunch of writers gathering together to speak about Palestine, as ordinary as it would be to speak about Russia, or France, or Cuba or Guatemala, or the United States. So this book is a gift of recognition as well, a way of saying to people in Palestine, we see you.

BTW, I had heard that there was institutional pushback against the event taking place. But there was no evidence of such resistance that evening in midtown.

Now here are videos of some of the writers. I’ll get the entire event video up when it’s posted.

First, here’s Nancy Kricorian reading a poem, Letter to Palestine with Armenian Proverbs. Her introduction to it is brilliant.

Here is Tiphanie Yanique reading a story that transposes the biblical story of Abraham, Isaac, Hagar, and Ishmael to the Virgin Islands.

Now here is Rickey Laurentiis, a Brooklyn poet by way of Louisiana, reading a portion of his incantatory poem, representing a “hard conversation” with Wallace Stevens, and dealing with violence against blacks in the south. “Of the Leaves that Have Fallen (Stevens, Like Decorations in a Nigger Cemetery)”

And this is the journalist and poet Tom Sleigh reading from an essay about the relationship between grief and grievance, based on observations from a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria. And he also reads an ancient lamentation on war.

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13 Responses

  1. msmoore
    December 11, 2015, 3:24 pm

    Cannot access content.

  2. JWalters
    December 11, 2015, 6:26 pm

    “a land without a people”

    A perfect example of the mythological, fairy tale lies upon which the Israelis and their supporters base their “narrative”.

    The fact that these absurdities dominate the mainstream media is clear proof that the facts are being suppressed by Zionist money. There is quite simply no other reasonable, logical explanation.

    My kudos to these writers for bringing reality into society’s discussion of this insanity, which is rooted in criminality and war profits.

  3. Eva Smagacz
    Eva Smagacz
    December 11, 2015, 8:21 pm


    The danger is that Israel may decide that the time to get rid of Palestinians is NOW.

  4. Eva Smagacz
    Eva Smagacz
    December 11, 2015, 8:38 pm

    People used to ask me, why do you use your own name on the internet – what about safety of anonymity?

    And I would find it difficult to put it to words, but I think that the impact of telling the truth is greater when we do not hide and it underlines the power of our convictions.

    I had my share of abuse, of hate mail, even elaborate pretence of supposedly a criminal investigation being carried out against me for “inciting racial hatred” (which tested my belief in impartiality of British justice system).

    But isn’t it all about creating space for others to speak up about the injustice in the world? Especially when you are going against determined or dangerous opponent? Especially when it costs us our livelihood, our income, and sometimes our good name and freedom?

  5. MaxNarr
    December 12, 2015, 4:11 am

    Don’t you dare invoke the holy name of Arlo Guthrie in your insidious plot against the Jewish State.

    • amigo
      December 12, 2015, 11:19 am

      Stop,talking nonsense.There is no such state as the Jewish State.It is the Apartheid State of Israel.

      • Kris
        December 12, 2015, 2:06 pm

        It’s also called “the Zionist entity.”

      • genesto
        December 28, 2015, 7:04 pm

        But the best name I’ve heard for Israel thus far is JSIL, the Jewish State in the Levant.

    • Mooser
      December 12, 2015, 11:43 am

      “Don’t you dare invoke the holy name of Arlo Guthrie in your insidious plot…”

      The “holy name of Arlo Guthrie”? Oh well, I don’t really feel like linking to cuckoo-clock videos this morning, so take it as linked.

    • talknic
      December 12, 2015, 12:22 pm

      @ MaxNarr

      This Arlo Guthrie

      end to the conflict in Gaza will not come about through a military or a political solution, at least at present. Throughout history there’s probably been over a dozen different invading armies that have had a temporary claim on the area. Some have lasted longer than others, and each has left behind a little bit of the cultures they represented. There’s a rich heritage that people around the world would love to experience if it were safe to do so.

      The wealth of it’s heritage is not only in the tenants of religious dogma, or the latest conquering army, but in the food, customs, art and music that are alive and well. The spirit of the people who dwell there cannot be owned, bought or sold. It is what it is and who they are. The security of the people of Israel and of Gaza is interdependent. So what’s the solution?

      I believe there is one solution easily at hand that could lead to a political climate change.

      Put aside the future questions of political solutions for a period of – say 50 years (anything between 50 and like 99 years) and withdraw the military combatants – Let everyone claim victory, which they will do anyway.

      Then, I’d like to see a truly massive investment in the rebuilding of an entire area where the natural resources of a beautiful coastline and historic cross-roads of civilizations create a unique opportunity for visitors and inhabitants alike to experience the local culture in a way that offers hospitality, education, safety and security for anyone.

      Let’s see an economic flood of epic proportions open the borders, end the isolation and create a living breathing business, and free-cultural zone that invites investment so that everyone has something to lose if it fails and something to gain if it succeeds.

      If everyone would be willing to put off the political solutions long enough to explore the benefits of prosperity, I’d be able to say, like the guy in the movie ‘Oh Brother…’

      • diasp0ra
        December 12, 2015, 1:04 pm

        Holy crud, talk about delusional.

        Yeah, let’s keep Palestinians under occupation for 50 more years, let’s ignore all the systems in place to make life hell and which are slowly ethnically cleansing Palestine. Flood the markets with neoliberal commodification! That will solve everything!

        This position is sadly all too common, all this springs from neoclassical economical assumptions that wealth and commerce brings with it peace. That low level cooperation will have “spillover” effects into high politics, that regional integration will bring peace. That globalization and international trade will make borders meaningless, which boosts cooperation. There are multiple problems with these assumptions:

        Close US-German ties in the 1930s did not prevent them going to war with each other. The US was the primary purchaser of Iraqi oil in the 1990s, we know how that went. Another point that these theories overlook is that development is unequal, internationally and domestically, and this itself can be cause for violence and friction. Furthermore, it is not usually interdependence, but mostly dependence from one side. Such as in Palestine. In structured economic subordination “cooperation” cannot bring peace.

        Third, there are many issues with saying that globalization and regional integration will bring peace. There are doubts that this low level functionalist “spillover” theory has ever worked in the manner described, even in the European case, integration was always a “high politics” arena with any “spillover” mandated from above. Nowadays, countries are often more interested in global trade than regional trade i.e. Israel and India as examples.

        As for Globalization, Rosenberg argues that “ is simply not the case that globalization is reducing the significance of borders and sovereignty, and thereby territorial disputes. For, counter-intuitively perhaps, the development of capitalism has been characterized by a social – and also spatial – differentiation of the political and economic spheres, in which political sovereignty and boundaries become more precisely defined and regulated at one and the same time that these boundaries are ever more routinely transgressed . Absolute sovereignty and free trade developed together, as products and defining features of capitalist modernity, and not in opposition to one another; and equally since 1980, the increased global flows of capital and bodies that are the hallmarks of globalization have been paralleled by a proliferation of new forms of border control, regulation and surveillance.” (Rosenberg, 1994, 2000)

        By sticking to these assumptions what is created is not actual peace, but a narrative of peace that allows states to “rebrand” themselves without having to put in the actual work for a resolution. Instead then of saying that economic prosperity and cooperation help peace, it may be more accurate to say that peace processes and the appearance (narrative) of peace are amongst the most competitive strategies for neo-liberalising states and societies in highly a globalized capitalist world.

        The assumption is that peace brings with it its own economic dividends, and this may in some contexts be true; but it is also the case that actual peace can challenge the current status quo of nations operating on a political-economy of crisis (large weapon manufacturers, private security firms, etc), which would paradoxically mean that peace is a threat to economic development.

        Modern liberal thinking is very black and white in its understanding of who wants and who opposes peace and their causes. Poverty is not necessarily a trans historical cause of conflict, and middle classes and businessmen are not inherently peaceful. That’s not to say that poverty and terrible economic contexts can’t produce conflict and violence, but there are many a counter-example where violence erupted in the contexts of rapid economic growth and declining poverty (as with the onset of the second Palestinian intifada in 2000).

        TL;DR: You can’t buy peace.

    • Misterioso
      December 12, 2015, 2:46 pm


      Israel is neither a “state” nor a country, i.e., it has yet to formally declare its borders and have them accepted as such by the international community.

      • talknic
        December 19, 2015, 5:32 am

        May 15, 1948

        Letter From the Agent of the Provisional Government of Israel to the President of the United States, “MY DEAR MR. PRESIDENT: I have the honor to notify you that the state of Israel has been proclaimed as an independent republic within frontiers approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations in its Resolution of November 29, 1947, and that a provisional government has been charged to assume the rights and duties of government for preserving law and order within the boundaries of Israel, for defending the state against external aggression, and for discharging the obligations of Israel to the other nations of the world in accordance with international law. The Act of Independence will become effective at one minute after six o’clock on the evening of 14 May 1948, Washington time.”

        Samples of the recognition of Israel:

        USA 15 May 1948 “… as an independent republic within frontiers approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations in its Resolution of November 29, 1947…”

        Russia 17 May 1948 Letter from Mr. Molotov stated: “Confirming receipt of your telegram of May 16, in which you inform the Government of the USSR of the proclamation, on the basis of the resolution of the United Nations Assembly of November 29, 1947, of the creation in Palestine of the independent State of Israel and make re-quest for the recognition of the State of Israel and its provisional government by the USSR. I inform yon in this letter that the Govern-ment of the USSR has decided to recognize officially the Stale of Israel and its Provisional Government.”

        British 27 April 1950

        “His Majesty’s Government have also decided to accord de jure recognition to the State of Israel, subject to explanations on two points corresponding to those described above in regard to the case of Jordan. These points are as follows. First, that His Majesty’s Government are unable to recognise the sovereignty of Israel over that part of Jerusalem which she occupies, though, pending a final determination of the status of the area, they recognise that Israel exercises de facto authority in it. Secondly, that His Majesty’s Government cannot regard the present boundaries between Israel, and Egypt, Jordan, Syria and the Lebanon as constituting the definitive frontiers of Israel, as these boundaries were laid down in the Armistice Agreements concluded severally between Israel and each of these States, and are subject to any modifications which may be agreed upon under the terms of those Agreements, or of any final settlements which may replace them.”

        Thus far nothing has replaced them.

        Australia 28 January 1949 “… on the basis of the resolution of the United Nations Assembly of November 29, 1947…”

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