Literary exposure: Award-winning writers tackle life under Israel’s occupation

Literary exposure: Award-winning writers tackle life under Israel’s occupation
A group of award-winning writers have launched a collection of essays highlighting everyday life for Palestinians under Israel’s 50-year military occupation.
3 min read
21 June, 2017
Israeli occupied the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem in 1967. [Getty]
A group of award-winning writers on Sunday launched a collection of essays highlighting everyday life for Palestinians under Israel's 50-year military occupation.

Entitled "Kingdom of Olives and Ash", the book features chapters by two dozen authors, including the winners of three Pulitzers and a Nobel, to draw attention to the impact of military occupation on both Palestinians and Israelis.

"We felt like we had to find some way of drawing people's attention, at least some people's attention, to this," Jewish-American writer Michael Chabon, who together with his Ayelet Waldman edited the book, told AFP ahead of the launch.

By enlisting famous authors, the husband and wife duo aimed to "sort of trick" people "into paying attention to the occupation by baiting the trap, in a way, with the work of a really amazing writer".

In addition to Chabon, winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for his novel "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay", the project involved celebrated Irish writer Colm Toibin and Peruvian Nobel Prize laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, and another Geraldine Brooks.

A young Palestinian girl in Gaza following the 2014 Israeli war. [Getty]

The writers visited the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip last year to bear witness to the reality of life for Palestinians under occupation. 

Drawing on their experiences, the authors wrote about the segregated city of Hebron, the nightlife of Gaza City, and the frustration of young Palestinians who carried out attacks against Israelis.

Chabon's chapter, "Giant in a Cage," touches heavily on the "arbitrary" nature of the occupation in the West Bank, with Palestinians often caught up in bureaucracy and subject to the whims of individual soldiers and commanders.

The purpose, he said, was "proving to the people you are conquering that they have absolutely no control over their fate or their destiny".

"I was embarrassed and ashamed, both by my ignorance before seeing it and also that such things are being done with my money as an American taxpayer and in my name as a Jew," he told The Associated Press.

'The occupation will fall'

Author Dave Eggers, who visited Gaza in his chapter, details life in the besieged Palestinian enclave and how residents try to survive in the territory often labelled the world's largest open-air prison.

Two million Palestinians live in the Gaza Strip, suffocated by a decade-long Israeli blockade, which is jointly enforced by neighbouring Egypt. 

The United Nations has said the territory will be "uninhabitable" by 2020.

Proceeds from the book will go to Breaking the Silence, an Israeli NGO which documents abuses by Israeli military forces against Palestinians and publishes testimonies of ex-soldiers.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in April cancelled his meeting with the German Foreign Minister, who had arranged to talk with the group.

In 2016, the then Israeli defence minister accused the NGO of treason and has sought to ban them from speaking in schools and curtail their work.

Co-editor Ayelet Waldman, who was born in Jerusalem and holds Israeli citizenship, said she had to try to tackle the occupation because it was done in her name as a Jew.

"The occupation is an edifice and those of us who care have to do what we can to chip away at it," she said.

"This book -- this is our brick that we are pulling out of the edifice of the occupation. Eventually enough bricks will be gone and it will fall."

The book is published in English, French, Arabic, Hebrew, Spanish and Italian.