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.]