Writers under siege

The voice coming through the PA system spoke of freedom. But for one of the speakers scheduled to appear at the Hay Literary Festival last month, there was no such freedom. Instead of sitting on stage to discuss what it means to be a writer in an occupied land, Abjallah Taych was trapped behind the locked down borders of Gaza, unable to get the required permits to leave the country. There could not have been a more powerful symbol of the constraints facing writers from this part of the world. Taych’s voice was quiet but his message was clear and simple and it came with such a feeling of intense longing that the auditorium at Hay fell silent for minutes:

I have lived all my life in restrictions but I have never lost hope of being able to live free…. to live in an independent state, to travel when I want and to have my family live in freedom.

Atef Abu Saif signing my copy of The Book of Gaza at Hay Festival

It was left to fellow writer Atef Abu Saif, to speak on his behalf, to describe the tradition of the short story format and the tension felt by writers from Gaza between their desire to use their pen to give hope to their people and yet to reflect the reality of a life played out on a political battlefield. Atef is the editor of The Book of Gaza, the first collection in English of short stories by these writers.

Now Atef and Taych are under siege as the Israeli government launches air strikes on Gaza in an operation against Palestinian militants. More than 175 people have been killed since the offensive began last week. Thousands of troops are massed on the border with Israel amid speculation of a possible a ground invasion.

His UK publishers CommaPress received just one  text message from him last Thursday in which he described the dangers confronting his family.

We are ok so far. bombing is everywhere, u cannot walk safe in the street, or even stay calm in ur bedroom. sometimes you feel you live by chance, you could die suddenly with no alert. how many chances are in one’s life.
the other night the F16 bombarded 30 meters away from my place. we all were sleeping in the corridor in the middle of the flat. we beleive that it is the safest place, the broken glass flowded over our bodies. fortunately no one was injured. the kids canot sleep waiting the next bomb. always you have to think of a better moment in the future’

As I read this I can’t help but remember and to think about these two mild mannered men who spoke so movingly about the power of literature to give hope and how in their writing they try to show us a different side of this troubled land.

People just hear about the drones and the intafadas. You can’t escape the reality you are living in but we want to give hope that something good could happen. Are we are not supposed to dream, or to travel or to have affairs?



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