Palestine +100: Stories from a century after the Nakba
The 1948 Nakba and its ongoing dispossession of the Palestinian people from their land have generated a perpetual reality of absence.
In writing, absence reflects the same dynamics that continue to propel Palestinian resistance: their displacement is intrinsically tied to their belief of return.
The Palestinian return necessitates the transmission of memory through generations, notably the memory of what was lost.
In her introduction to this collection of science fiction stories by Palestinian writers, editor Basma Ghalayini describes Palestinian writing as "a search for their lost inheritance, as well as an attempt to keep the memory of that loss from fading." How would memory be processed and disseminated, 100 years after the Nakba?
The stories in this collection are set in 2048 and offer an imaginary glimpse into what might be. Beneath these fictional accounts, however, is an underlying consciousness of a population that needs the space to articulate something more profound than an escape from the ramifications of the Nakba. Indeed, there is no escape.
Writing about Palestine in 2048 is as much about the future as it is about an unresolved past, and how this still has the potential to permeate in the coming years.
|Editor Basma Ghalayini describes Palestinian writing as 'a search for their lost inheritance, as well as an attempt to keep the memory of that loss from fading'
Fiction, however, offers an alternative to imagine and communicate these fantastical forays into a not-so distant future, while never forgetting about the historical trauma impacting generations since the Nakba.
Saleem Haddad's story, Song of the Birds, expresses this sentiment: "By the sea, she felt herself a prisoner of both history and time."
The story is powerful in terms of how it combines trauma and existential pondering as the protagonist grapples with the memory and impact of her brother's suicide. One hundred years later, the Nakba in this case remains a perpetual laceration in an individual's experience.
Anwar Hamed's contribution, The Key, offers an interesting perspective on the Israeli preoccupation with the Palestinian right of return. The story utilises the key – symbol of the Palestinian return – to explore the uneasy undercurrents within Israeli politics and its settler population. Return is depicted not just as a Palestinian right but the Zionists' greatest fear of all.
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For Palestinians, the violations endured in their daily lives due to Israel's colonial presence have already created what for others would constitute a surreal existence.
The book merges this reality with possibilities as well as their elimination, depending on the author's perspective. Freedom, after all, is still to be experienced by Palestinians. An imaginary excursion to 2048 is fraught with opportunity and denial.
The underlying political themes are also skilfully portrayed in this collection. Emad el-Din Aysha writes of Israel's Director of Security experiencing a virtual hack that rewrites the colonial narrative by turning to Palestinian history.
As frustration builds within the Israelis, the Palestinian narratives emerge, allowing the reader to grasp the concept of history rewriting itself by turning onto what has been widely disseminated. The Israeli state's propaganda becomes the prime fodder for this overturning, even as the emergence of Palestinian identity establishes itself virtually, with the ability to organise and mobilise.
The intertwining of politics and Palestinian life is a theme that is impossible to miss in this collection. In Vengeance, Tasnim Abutabikh weaves an intricate story in which land and lives once again play out in a manipulative battlefield of wits, remembrance and inaccuracies.
The tragedy, however, provides the foundations for a renewed, resilient stance, as well as redemption: "We shall reclaim the air we breathe, if not the land we stand on, one mask at a time."
Application 39 by Ahmed Masoud is an engaging narrative depicting Gaza's chance to host the Olympic Games. Witty and tragic, this story is an example of how Palestinian writers have borrowed from the current oppression to shape their perceptions of a future Palestine.
How would Gaza host such an international event? The author finds solutions that bring a wry smile to one's face, as the reality of international duplicity when it comes to Palestine is exposed.
What of Palestinian memory in the future? In The Association, Samir el-Youssef investigates the assassination of "an obscure historian". In the course of the story, which shifts from investigation to a cause, we are reminded, "no one has the right to forget the past."
There is no escaping the fact that to write about a future, revisiting the past is imperative. Palestinians, however, are obliged to do more. History is not confined to a defined timeline, due to the ongoing Nakba.
|History is not confined to a defined timeline, due to the ongoing Nakba
It is with this realisation in mind that the reader comes to terms with what the authors have achieved in this book – breaking the boundaries of science fiction to tell stories which borrow from a trajectory of violations and resistance in an attempt to narrate possible futures.
By the time the last page is turned, the reader instinctively withdraws to reflect on 1948 to realise, just as Palestinians do, that chronology in colonisation becomes an abstract concept when compared to the trajectories of Palestinian memory and the power of contemplation for change.
Ramona Wadi is an independent researcher, freelance journalist, book reviewer and blogger specialising in the struggle for memory in Chile and Palestine, colonial violence and the manipulation of international law.
Follow her on Twitter: @walzerscent