Why Gaza Writes Back
By Yousef M. Aljamal First published by Kiaoragaza Gaza Writes Back is a collection of short stories written by young writers in Gaza, Palestine, edited by Refaat Alareer and published by Just World Publishing in the US.
Historically, the indigenous Arab people of Palestine have been subjected to all forms of brutal treatment at Zionists’ hands. The year 1948 witnessed the creation of Israel on the ruins of 531 ethnically cleansed Palestinian villages. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians ended up refugees. The Zionist narrative of what happened has been overwhelmingly dominant. The prayers of the oppressed made little fuss on the International arena, as Israel made of David and Goliath-narrative mainstream, using its wide network of connections and diplomatic relations. The world memorized Israel’s claim of fighting “seven Arab armies in 1948 who wanted to destroy the Jewish people” by heart. This world, too, bought the Israeli narrative of the Six-Day War in 1967. Israel, again, claimed that four Arab countries “wanted to destroy it,” yet the “heroes of the Jewish state managed to defeat the Arabs.”
“Golda Meir had set the general tone in 1969 by denying that we existed at all. The first task was to get a place – literally anywhere – to say that we did exist,” the late Palestinian thinker Edward Said was quoted saying. This narrative continued to be dominant until 1970s which witnessed the rise of PLO, yet this didn’t lead to a real change. The picture of Palestinians continued to be received negatively. Labeling Palestinians as terrorists, backwards, murderers and uncivilized people, by using a colonial discourse, which reminds of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, prevailed. Thus, Palestinians had to “to get a place – literally anywhere – to say that we did exist.”
The outbreak of the first and second Palestinian Intifadas added a new experience to Palestinians living in occupied Palestine. Then came a time when Palestinians had to rise from the ashes after decades of subjections. The scenes of Palestinian kids throwing stones at heavily armed Israeli soldiers made it to the mainstream media. The Israeli narrative started to be challenged by photos coming out of the occupied territories. Palestinians started to tell their own plight, rather than being told by westerners and even Israelis. To quote the late Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe: “until lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will glorify the hunter.”
The Palestinian stone challenged the Israeli M16; Palestinian kids prevailed over Israeli soldiers. The photo of Mohammed Aldurra, dying in his dad’s lap and the stone of Faris Ouda, both14-year old Palestinians, spoke of a different narrative. The story of Palestine became no longer prisoner to Israel’s stereotypes. In the Gaza Strip, two important events shaped the consciousness of Palestinians which led to the rise of Palestinian narrative. The first was Israel’s siege on Gaza which started in 2006 and still going on until now, and the two Israeli massacres, the 2008-2009 “Cast Lead Operation” and the 2012 “Pillar of Clouds Operation,” which claimed the lives of hundreds of Palestinians. Hundreds of stories came out of Gaza by a people who have gone through the most terrible experience of killing, bombardment, electricity shortage, fuel and gas crises, house demolitions, checkpoints, closure and terror.
This experience had to be told and narrated in stories. Gaza wrote back to tell what happened to 1.7 Million Palestinians for decades. Gaza wrote back about other fellow Palestinians scattered everywhere and nowhere. Gaza wrote back to protest the dominant narrative of Palestinians. Gaza spoke for itself. Gaza remembered the loss of loved ones and the aspirations of those who are still alive. “The remembering makes it now. And sometimes remembering will lead to a story, which makes it forever. That’s what stories are for. Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story,” The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien.
Gaza’s responded with stories. Gaza eternalized itself in words, for now and forever. Gaza’s words are sharper than swords, and stronger than Israel’s tanks, warplanes and hasbara campaigns. The next battle between Palestinians and Israel will be a battle of words, of stories and narrative. The responsibility of Palestinian youth is to tell their stories. These stories are about what they often heard from their grandfathers and grandmothers, of what happened, and still happening to an entire nation.
The writers belong a generation that has experienced Israel’s siege and blockade. Their experiences, especially during and following Israel’s 2008-2009 offensive known as “Operation Cast Lead”, and 2012 Operation “Pillar of the Clouds” have fundamentally impacted their lives and their writing. A story should be written about every Israeli crime in Palestine. A mountain of stories is expected to get out of Palestine.