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Susan Abulhawa got deported, and Palestinian literary festival seeks funds to cover the legal costs

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Three months after Palestinian-American author Susan Abulhawa was denied entry to her homeland to participate in the Kalimat Literature Festival, organizers have launched a public campaign to help fundraise the legal fees incurred around her case.

Kalimat was an innovative and novel festival that brought together 14 international and local authors for a series of cultural events and university workshops in November 2018. The week-long event was an overwhelming success, but was overshadowed by Susan’s denial of entry. Instead of being the Festival’s keynote speaker on opening night in Jerusalem, Susan was instead detained for 32 hours and eventually deported to the US. Two failed appeals resulted in USD $6000 in court and lawyer fees.

Kalimat organizers, who were all volunteers and did not anticipate these costs, have now put out a call to crowdfund these expenses. Their Go fund me campaign appeals to

all allies of culture, freedom of expression, freedom of movement, and solidarity with the plight of the Palestinian people, to mobilize in helping bear theses financial costs. Susan’s case epitomizes a collective condition and dilemma that Palestinians routinely face to simply maintain their links to their homeland, and/or to engage in benign (albeit uplifting) cultural activity.

Organizers emphasized that:

It is unconscionable that the victims of Israel’s discrimination must bear these costs alone, especially when Susan’s case captures a broader condition that draws attention to these discriminatory policies internationally, together with its fight back.

PEN America put out a statement last November in support of the festival and Susan, while condemning Israel’s restrictions against critical and creative voices

“We are greatly alarmed that an invited guest to a literary festival was unable to attend and speak at an event intended to celebrate Palestinian literary traditions and to encourage the exchange of ideas between writers and readers,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Director of PEN America’s Free Expression At Risk Programs. “Abulhawa’s deportation continues a rising pattern of the suppression and punishment of critical voices by the Israeli government. We call on Israel to uphold its constitutional protections for free expression and to allow Abulhawa to enter Israel freely.”

Palestinian and international authors also expressed support for Susan and the festival, highlighting the importance of such initiatives  for the Palestinian people. Such celebrations of culture maintain dignity and hope in contexts of injustice, and serve as an exercise in agency, humanism, creativity and resistance.

Donations to the legal fees can be made here.  All contributions go to cover legal fees incurred.

Mahmoud Muna

Mahmoud Muna is known to many as the bookseller of Jerusalem. He works in his family's two bookshops, and he is a regular contributor to current affairs media. He is also the coordinator for Kalimat Literature Festival, plus many other cultural initiatives in Jerusalem. His interest lies somewhere between culture and identity, behaviours and language.

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