By Matthew Rothschild on May 25, 2009

The Israeli government sent in troops on May 23 to try to break up the opening of the second annual Palestine Festival of Literature in East Jerusalem.

Stephanie Saldana, an American writer living in Jerusalem, went to the Palestinian National Theater for what she thought was going to be the opening of the festival.

“We arrived and the place was swarming with the Israeli army, with trucks and huge guns,” she wrote in an e-mail to a friend. “I am still in shock. To ban literature? To ban reading? How is this possible?”

The Israeli minister of internal security ordered the busting of the literature festival, according to The Guardian newspaper.

“Shortly before the opening event was due to begin, a squad of around a dozen Israeli border police walked into the Palestinian National Theater, in East Jerusalem, and ordered it to be closed,” the Guardian reported. “Police brought a letter from the Israeli minister of internal security which said the event could not be held because it was a political activity connected to the Palestinian Authority.”

The Palestine Festival of Literature is supported by UNESCO and the British Council, among others.

After they were kicked out of the theater, the speakers and some of the audience members regrouped at the French cultural center.

Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif gave this account at palfest.org.

“I saw 10 old friends in the first minute, all the Jerusalem cultural and academic set were there, a lot of Internationals, a lot of press,” she wrote. “We stood in the early evening light, by the tables laden with books and food and flowers, nibbled at kofta and borek and laughed and chatted and introduced new friends to old. . . . Then we started moving towards the auditorium and I heard someone say quietly, ‘They’ve come.’

“Who?

“Looking around – and there they were, the men in the dark blue fatigues, with pack-type things strapped to their backs and machine-guns cradled in their arms. I had a moment of unbelief. Surely, even if they were coming to note everything we said and to make a show of strength they still wouldn’t come with their weapons at the ready like this? But then there were more of them, and more.”

Soeuif described the walk to the French cultural center, and the successful resumption of the festival there. “We could have gone on for hours – but we stopped at half past eight. We dispersed; energized, happy, shaking hands, signing books, promising to all meet up again. Today, my friends, we saw the clearest example of our mission,” she said, invoking the words of Edward Said. “To confront the culture of power with the power of culture.”

The Palestine Festival of Literature, a weeklong celebration, is continuing in various Palestinian cities. ( “Palfest brings writers and artists from around the world to Palestinian audiences,” says its website, palfest.org.

Along with Soueif, the writers taking part in the festival this year include: Suad Amiry, Victoria Brittain, Carmen Callil, Abdulrazak Gurnah, Suheir Hammad, Nathalie Handal, Jeremy Harding, Rachel Holmes, Robin Yassin-Kassab, Brigid Keenan, Jamal Mahjoub, Henning Mankell (accompanied by his wife, Eva Bergman), Deborah Moggach, Claire Messud, Michael Palin, Alexandra Pringle, Pru Rowlandson, Raja Shehadeh, and M G Vassanji.

Though Israel did not succeed in shutting down the entire festival, the use of the army to try to quash a literary event sent a chilling message.

“It's another horrific way Israel, the so-called democracy, tries to commandeer and bully the spirits of the people they continue to oppress,” says the Palestinian American poet Naomi Shihab Nye. She calls the bust at the Palestinian National Theater part of a “harrowing campaign of harassment and humiliation.”

The next part of that campaign may be a crackdown on anyone who marks Israel’s Independence Days as a “nakba,” or catastrophe, reports Haaretz.

On May 24, Israel’s ministerial committee for legislation “approved a preliminary proposal which would make it illegal” to hold such protests, the paper said. Those who would violate it would “face up to three years in prison.”

(For a video of the suppression at the Palestinian National Theater, go here: http://palfest.org/video.html At about 2 minutes, 20 seconds in, the soldiers arrive.)

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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