Thursday, 27 September 2012

Beyond the Wall: Writing a Path Through Palestine

"An unflinching portrait of life in the West Bank in the 21st Century."
Andrew Kelly, The Observer

Updated 25th October 2013

I am delighted to celebrate the publication of my fourth book, Beyond the Wall: Writing A Path Through Palestine (Seagull Books/Chicago University Press), which I discuss in a long interview with For Books' Sake. Read Part One here, read Part Two here and Part Three here. There's also a long interview on TYCI and another, by Julie Tomlin, on Digital Women. Further press mentions, hat-tips and interviews have included The New Statesman, World Literature Today, The MancunionThe List, Platform 51, La Carpa del Feo, Book ElfThe Boar, film-maker and writer Simon Guerrier's site, New Humanist, Ideas Tap, The Asian Writer, Variety, The Student Journals, SpikedNewsclick IndiaWomen's Views on News and The Observer.

Beyond the Wall was launched with a panel event at The Mosaic Rooms, entitled Writing A Path Through International Affairs. Journalist Susannah Tarbush has written an excellent report on the event, here. I was joined by Anna Blundy, former Times Moscow correspondent and author of a series of novels about war correspondent Faith Zanetti, inspired by Marie Colvin; poet, economist and novelist Nitasha Kaul, whose debut novel ‘Residue’ was shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize and who has written extensively about global economics, Kashmir, India and Bhutan; and Rosie Garthwaite, who began her reporting career straight out of university and the army in Basra, Iraq, and has worked as a reporter and producer for the BBC, Reuters and Al-Jazeera. Her book How to Avoid Being Killed in a Warzone is a survivors’ guide to staying alive in combat territory.

Publishers' blurb as follows:

Beyond the Wall: Writing A Path Through Palestine is a sharp, immediate reportage published by Seagull Books/Chicago University Press on 15th May 2012. It is the latest release in Seagull’s series of short Manifestos for the Twenty-First Century, which tackle current issues in international political affairs. The publisher’s page can be found here and the Amazon UK page, which has a little bit more blurb, is here.
Beyond the Wall: Writing A Path Through Palestine is an unflinching portrait of life in the West Bank in the 21st Century, seen through the eyes of its activists, its ordinary citizens, its children, its population of international aid workers, reporters and foreign visitors. From my first experience of the caprices and cruelties of checkpoint culture upon entering the West Bank to a final confrontation with the army in Silwan I report, reflect upon and analyse multiple aspects of life in an occupied territory. Covering Bethlehem, Hebron, Jerusalem, Ramallah, Nablus and Nazareth, speaking to children in the refugee camps at Balata and degree students in the lecture halls of Birzeit University, I share observations of Palestinians from all walks of life.
Beyond The Wall: Writing A Path Through Palestine is based on my first visit to the West Bank as a reporter in 2011. A short film by Murat Gokmen, summarising the effects of the trip on some of the participants including Anne Chisholm, Ghada Karmi, Ursula Owen and me can be viewed here. I was not a Middle East activist or specialist and went with the intention of reporting exactly what I saw, as it happened. I was both shocked by the behaviour of the military and circumspect about many aspects of Palestinian culture. My final vision balances faith in the vigour of the country's young activists, shock at the perverse effects of military occupation on the mentality of the occupied and the occupiers alike and sorrow at seeing the frustration and anger of the country's youngest citizens.

It is only now, about halfway into the trip, that I think about the strategy of occupation. How do you subjugate a people? By nihilism, chaos and anarchy in the name of control. You do it by sabotaging their certainty, by toying capriciously with their presumptions, by continually tilting the playing field, moving the goalposts, reversing decisions, twisting definitions, warping parameters. You control where people can and can’t go, then change the rules arbitrarily so that they cannot make plans or have any stable expectations. You give a permit to one person but deny one to another person who’s in exactly the same circumstances, so that people cannot deduce, conjecture or extrapolate based on an individual’s experience. You make them feel that their house is not their home and can be violated, occupied, demolished or taken at any time, so they cannot fully relax even in their own beds. You isolate them and put a wall where their view used to be. You instigate a faux ‘system’ of permits, which is deliberately obscure and can be changed at any time. You shout at them in a language that is not their own and which they do not understand. You monitor them. When they travel you put your hands all over their possessions. You arrest and question anyone for any reason at any time, or threaten to, so they are always in fear of it. You are armed. You intimidate their children. You change the appearance of their cities and ensure that the new, alien elements—the walls, roads, settlements, sides of walkways, gates, tanks, surveillance towers, concrete blocks—are much bigger than them or on higher ground so that they feel diminished and watched. You make everything ugly so that seeing is painful.

Their consolation is that if they die, the euphemism ‘martyr’ will conceal the ignominy.

Further launch events related to Palestine, the Middle East, war reporting, international reportage and international affairs include the below. A full and updated list of appearances can be found here

  • [Friday 4th May, 4.30pm, The Globe Theatre, London. I will be participating in a panel discussion entitled Theatre under Occupation: What Does Shakespeare Have to Say to the Palestinians? following the Ramallah-based Ashtar theatre company's staging of Richard II in Arabic.]
  • [Saturday 19th May, 2pm, Watershed, Bristol. I will be in conversation with novelist Selma Dabbagh as part of Bristol's Festival of Ideas, in an event called Palestine Now. Click here for details.]
  • [Wednesday 30th May 2012, 7pm, Kuumba Imani Millennium Centre, Liverpool, as part of the city's Writing on the Wall festival. I will be in conversation with novelist Ahdaf Soueif about the Middle East revolutions. Further event details here.]
  • [Saturday 9th June, 11.30am, Hay Festival, Hay-on-Wye. I will be interviewing war reporter Janine di Giovanni. Further event details here.]
  • [Sunday 10th June, 11.30am, Hay Festival. I will be interviewing Ahdaf Soueif about Cairo and the Arab Spring. Further event details here.]
  • [Saturday 7th July 2012, 5.30pm, Southbank Centre, London. I will be chairing a discussion on The Art of War (Reportage), with BBC war reporter Frances Harrison, journalist Oliver Bullough and Caine prize winning writer Michela Wrong. For event details click here.]
  • [Monday 9th July 2012, 5.30pm, Bluecoat, Liverpool. I will be giving a solo reading and talk on the effects of the military occupation in Palestine as part of the Liverpool Arabic Arts Festival. For event details click here.]
  • [Friday 17th August 2012, 4pm, Edinburgh International Book Festival. I will be chairing a panel discussion on international war reportage with Ed Vulliamy and Janine di Giovanni.]
  • [Tuesday 9th October 2012, 5.30pm, SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies), London. I will be curating and chairing a panel event called Palestine Now: Writers Respond as part of the university's autumn series of lectures on the contemporary Middle East. Further details here. My speakers will be Rachel Shabi, Naomi Foyle, Miranda Pennell and Selma Dabbagh.] 
  • [Sunday 11th November 2012, 6.30pm, The Map cafe, Kentish Town, London. I will be discussing Palestine with the writer and academic Ghada Karmi.]
  • [Friday 16th November and Saturday 17th November 2012. Location and speaker details confidential. I am speaking at a leaders' conference about art, culture, politics and the role of the media amongst Arab Spring states.]  
  • [Sunday 18th November 2012, Leighton House, London, 3pm. I will be in conversation with British Palestinian author Selma Dabbagh as part of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea's Nour festival of North African Arts. Event details here.]
  • [Friday 7th December 2012, The Watershed, Bristol, 8pm. I will be opening the Bristol Palestine Film Festival and chairing a Q&A with speakers including film directors Ken Loach and Leila Sansour after a screening of the film 5 Broken Cameras. Details here.]
  • [Saturday 8th December 2012, The Watershed, Bristol, 6pm. I will be speaking and reading at an event called Writing A Path Through Palestine alongside writers Selma Dabbagh and Guy Mannes-Abbott. Details here.]

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Peace is not peace without women

(c) Womankind Worldwide and ActionAid

On the eve of International Peace Day, new research from the charities Womankind Worldwide and ActionAid shows that in five former warzones peace applies to just half the population. Women play a critical role building peace at the local level, but their efforts are undermined by a lack of support and political will.

While women are hit hardest by war they are shut out of peace processes: over the last 25 years only 1 in 40 peace treaty signatories have been women. Interviews conducted in Afghanistan, Liberia, Nepal, Pakistan and Sierra Leone show that women’s priorities – human rights, education, freedom from violence – are not addressed in national peace plans.

The joint report ‘From The Ground Up’ highlights how women work together to make peace a reality for themselves and their communities by providing crucial services, resolving disputes and securing justice. Their work goes unrecognised and unsupported and many groups struggle to survive.

From The Ground Up is a new report from Womankind Worldwide, ActionAid and the Institute of Development Studies, which examines the roles that women play in local peacebuilding in Afghanistan, Liberia, Nepal, Pakistan and Sierra Leone. Whilst much attention has focused on women’s participation in international and national level peace processes, little has been documented on women’s roles building peace in their local communities. Researchers spoke to over 550 women and men across the five countries, including representatives of women’s rights organisations, and discovered that despite the geographical, social and cultural differences, there were some striking similarities:
  • Women and men have different understandings of what peace means, with women more likely to cite freedom of movement, freedom from domestic violence, food and financial security, and access to education for themselves and their children.
  • Women are likely to work collectively, rather than individually, in pursuit of peace. Collective action provides both a greater degree of security, and an amplified voice.
  • Women’s local peacebuilding is making a vital difference but too often unsupported. Women are building peace on a shoestring, without basic resources. Their efforts at local level are not recognised, nor their voices heard, in national and international processes

Womankind’s newly appointed Chief Executive Jackie Ballard said:
Women work together in some of the most difficult and dangerous places in the world to try to build lasting peace for themselves and their families. A tough job is made tougher by a lack of support. The money is there in the Conflict Pool, but is not being dedicated to those grassroots women’s groups who are rebuilding communities without basic supplies and support.
When women are excluded peace is more fragile, so by denying them a fair share of UK support we’re not just short changing women but also ourselves.

The UK already has a peacebuilding fund – the Conflict Pool – which seeks to reduce the number of people around the world whose lives are affected by violent conflict. Womankind Worldwide are calling for 15% of this existing expenditure to be dedicated to supporting women’s participation in peacebuilding, the minimum recommended by the UN.

Bandana Rana, Executive Chair of Saathi Nepal and member of UN Women Global Civil Society Advisory Group, said:

From Nepal to Liberia, from Pakistan to Sierra Leone and Afghanistan, a common thread of peace pulls women together, and compels them to act at local level for a just and equal future.
Learning from and supporting the work of women's organisations, who are at the frontline of building peace at local level, is a crucial part of a future where peace can prosper, not for just half the population, but for everyone.

  • For more information including a copy of the report please contact Womankind’s Communications Manager Sarah Jackson,  
  • Country-specific information, images and quotes available for Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Nepal and Liberia.
  • Womankind’s Chief Executive Jackie Ballard is available for interviews and comments. Quotes from women and men interviewed as part of the research are also available, please contact Sarah Jackson as above.
  •  The UK’s National Action Plan on women, peace and security is being reviewed in 2013. Womankind is asking supporters to write to their MPs, and ask them to take action in three ways: Writing to the Foreign Secretary, asking for 15% of the Conflict pool to be dedicated to activities whose principal objective is to address women’s specific needs, advance gender equality or empower women, in line with UN commitments; asking a parliamentary question; and joining or supporting the Associate Parliamentary Group on Women, Peace and Security.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Make some Violet Noise

Are you creative, crafty, musical, political? Feel like mainstream depictions of women don't represent you? Then join Violet Noise, a new 100% female-run collaboration based in London. This is what they have to say, and I support them totally:
Influenced by the DIY movements of our feminist forebears, we seek to promote female musicians and creatives and create a space to have fun, be inspired and meet like-minded people. We will be having regular events at the Hoxton Bar and Kitchen. The launch night will be 1st October from 8 p.m. when we celebrate the launch of Katie Allen’s new book Just Sew Stories. It will be FREE ENTRY, there will be sets from awesome female DJs, live music from The Hysterical Injury plus a free craft table where you can decorate and take home your own tote bag.

Join the Violet Noise Facebook group to keep up to date, come to the event and follow them on Twitter.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Want to support women all over Asia? Do a PAWA walk

This just in from my friends at PAWA, the Pan Asian Women's Association, and wholly endorsed with great admiration by me:

PAWA is a registered charity set up in 2009 to raise the profile of Asian women in the UK and fundraise to benefit girls’ education in Asia.  They are managed entirely by volunteers and in the past two years over 95% of their income has been donated to support grassroots projects, which are carefully vetted and proposed by PAWA members, voted by members and members are encouraged to visit the projects. PAWA donations focus on the education of girls during the vulnerable teenage years.

PAWA covers 30 countries from Iran to Japan, Indonesia to Kazakhstan. Participation is open to all, women and men, Asian and non-Asian. This year, everyone can walk the talk - with a public fundraising Walkathon.
  • Date: SUNDAY 23 September 2012 from 10:00am.
  • Route: A 5 kilometers walkathon in Regents Park followed by a picnic family lunch.
  • The Participants: This is open to the public so anyone who wishes to support PAWA’s donation mission can register.  PAWA are aiming for approximately 500 participants and their families alongside PAWA partner organisations, societies and charities. Asian embassies will be invited to participate and field a team, to be led by the wife of the ambassador. Independent and state secondary schools will be invited to participate.
  • Contact:  Betty Yao MBE, Chair, on or Zehan Albakri, Vice-chair, on

Charities that PAWA currently support:
Banyan Tree – Kerala, India
Supporting girls from disadvantaged Dalit families. PAWA funds enabled 3 girls to finish their training in nursing, teaching and medical transcription. PAWA funds also went towards building a community centre where 250 teenagers attend for English tuition.

Chow Kit Kids – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Situated in the red light district of Kuala Lumpur, PAWA funds support a Youth Centre for 13-21 year olds who are vulnerable victims of child trafficking. PAWA also funds a trained counsellor to help teenage daughters of sex-workers to stay on in education instead of following their mothers to a life on the streets.

Burma Assist – Based in India
Works with Burmese refugees in New Delhi, PAWA funds support a tailoring centre managed by 3 Burmese women. The centre runs 6-month tailoring training courses to help the most vulnerable girls in the refugee community learn a skill so they will be able to support themselves and help their families.

There are also some additional charities that PAWA members selected to support from PAWA Walk donations. Donations will be ring-fenced for girls’ education projects with each charity:

Care Pakistan – Pakistan
Funding a girls’ secondary school where it costs just £1 per child per month. School building and land have been given by the regional authorities in a Public-Private partnership.

Sahabat Anak – Indonesia
Entrepreneurship programme for teenage girls.

Rebuilding Sri Lanka – Sri Lanka
Building a library which would benefit 4,000 children.

Afghanaid – Afghanistan
To support a programme to provide the means for girls to go to school where that is feasible and with home schooling where schools are not viable.

Dil Trust – Pakistan
Runs a programme called: Girls not Brides. With permission from parents and village elders this project allows girls to continue their education. Much needed are computers and computer skills training.