Culture

Palestine Writes announces postponement due to Coronavirus

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It is with heavy hearts that we announce the postponement of Palestine Writes Literature Festival, which was set to take place the weekend of March 27-29, 2020 in New York City.

Given the global uncertainty and concern surrounding the rapid spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus), we must prioritize the safety and well-being of our speakers, attendees, staff, and volunteers. We are devastated beyond words to have had to make this unavoidable decision. We have worked hard over the past year—envisioning, organizing, raising money and planning the festival, down to the smallest details to make it a magical experience for all involved, and we do not take postponement lightly. However, after much research, consultation with some of our key speakers coming from overseas, and group huddles, we felt it would be irresponsible of us to proceed as planned. Below are some of our key considerations:

  1. While the actual health risks posed by this virus may be on par with other common viruses, its transmission appears exceedingly faster and easier, making the real physical risk in terms of the number of affected persons far greater, with the most vulnerable among us paying the price if we continue “business as usual.”
  2. Under orders from the current administration, the CDC has only now expanded its testing criteria and still has not made it possible to conduct widespread testing. When test kits are made available in large numbers around the country, confirmed cases in the US are likely to surge quickly, particularly in densely populated areas like NYC, perhaps causing some level of panic as we’ve seen in other cities around the world, most of which are under varying levels of emergency protocols.
  3. A large portion of our speakers are coming from abroad, where there have been confirmed cases of the virus. Bringing them to New York adds a layer of risk to an already uncertain situation in the city, where at least two people have already been diagnosed.
  4. Most of our speakers traveling from abroad to NYC are Palestinian, and we fear the Trump administration could use the virus as an excuse to further humiliate and detain Arabs and Muslims entering this country.  Thus, in addition to concerns over the health of our travelers, we feel an obligation to protect their dignity.
  5. Many countries already have quarantine measures in place for travelers coming from cities with confirmed cases of the virus, which puts our speakers at risk of quarantine at multiple points in their journeys.
  6. People are traveling from all over the US to attend this festival, passing through a multitude of airports and stations where they might contract the virus and unwittingly transmit to others.  We have no way of knowing, controlling or protecting our guests if that happens. We would not forgive ourselves if anyone ended up getting seriously ill as a result.
  7. As many of our patrons have already booked their flights and hotels to attend this festival, we felt it would be disrespectful to delay a decision knowing that the situation is not likely to improve in the short term, and we hoped to give as much time as possible for people to change their plans with minimal or no financial loss.
  8. It is very clear to us that there is a marked difference and disconnect between attitudes abroad compared with domestic US public attitudes, with most countries taking immediate emergency containment measures, whereas in the US, the Trump administration has placed a gag order on the CDC, forcing our top scientists to filter vital health information through politicians before it reaches the public. The lack of adequate testing and containment measures in NYC is cause for concern on our part, particularly as we can see how this epidemic is unfolding elsewhere around the world, and we feel a responsibility to our supporters to act in good faith and good conscience based on the information available to us at this moment. We also feel a particular commitment to guests coming from some of the world’s most vulnerable areas, with long histories of colonialism and other forms of violence, including medical violence.

We are prepared to start over on multiple fronts to make Palestine Writes a reality, as we’re sustained by the overwhelming enthusiasm for this festival.  In fact, we reached ticket capacity nearly two months ago and re-opened sales after securing additional space.  Then we sold out again a month before the festival, with daily requests for tickets still coming in. The thirst for such a celebration of Palestinian literature is clearly great, and that makes us more resolute in bringing this groundbreaking festival to life, despite the current setback.

In the coming days, we will work to recuperate our expenditure. We take very seriously the trust that our donors and sponsors invested in us, and we plan to meet our responsibility and passion to bring this festival to fruition. For attendees who booked their own flights and hotels, we hope this statement can help you avoid cancelation fees.  We are also happy to help however we can.

Ultimately, we could not allow financial concerns to trump the real risks to public safety. If all of our vendors and affiliates in this endeavor adopt the same attitude, it will make our work much easier, and we take this opportunity to appeal to their sense of community and good judgement based on human concerns rather than financial ones.

In any event, please stay tuned. We will announce the new dates for the festival soon.

In the meantime, we are happy to honor all ticket refund requests (please send to [email protected]).  Otherwise, we can hold your ticket at the price already paid for the rescheduled festival. If the rescheduled date does not work for you, you can request a refund at any time.

With hearts that are simultaneously broken and determined,

The Palestine Writes Organizing Committee

Susan Abulhawa, Bill Mullen, Suhad Khatib, Jacqueline Berry, Linda Mansour, Yamila Hussein Shannan, Nada Elia, Rima Najjar, Ebony Coletu, Andrew Ross, David Palumbo-Liu, Jordy Rosenberg, Adam Miyashiro, Malini Johar Scheuller, and Remi Kanazi