Among the distinguished guests at the 2013 Palestine Book Awards at the Paddington Hilton in London on 14 November was the redoubtable veteran journalist Abdel Bari Atwan, who received the lifetime achievement award for his journalistic and literary work. Atwan stepped down as editor in chief of Al Quds Al Arabi earlier this year. He recounted his experience with his books The Secret History of al-Qa’ida and After Bin Laden: Al-Qa’ida, The Next Generation: there were no shortage of publishers for these, but when it came to his memoirs, A Country of Words: The Life of Abdel Bari Atwan: A Palestinian Journey from the Refugee Camp to the Front Page there were far fewer takers. This was a typical example of the way the Palestinians’ own narrative is marginalised. However he added that while at the outset of his career in London 35 years ago there were very few books on Palestine but the tide had turned with works now presenting the history, values and culture of the Palestinian people. A notable example was The Gaza Kitchen: a Palestinian Culinary Journey by Laila el Haddad and Maggie Schmitt (also shortlisted for this year’s awards).
Among other memorable moments at the MEMO event was an opening speech by Richard Falk, professor of international law at Princeton University and a UN rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories. He observed that such events celebrated the “creative resilience of the Palestinian people despite decades of suffering and ordeals that go beyond words”. Referring to eventual justice in Palestine, he felt that there was need “to take refuge in the politics of impossibility” given that so many ‘impossibilities had occurred recently such as the end of Apartheid in South Africa and the Arab Spring at its outset’. He cited the “humanistic vision of Edward Said of an inclusive solution that would bring peace and justice to both people” of historic Palestine. He referred to Said’s hope:
If the past is only an experience, make of the future a meaning and a vision.
Taking up this theme, another winner, Professor Rashid Khalidi (for his Brokers of Deceit), noted the importance of ‘cultural and academic production’ in the ‘legitimacy war’ and that “the delegitimisation of Israel by the actions of the Israeli government” was a factor. He warned of the effect of Israeli-made TV series such as Homeland in establishing the Zionist myth in people’s minds and the possibility of another similar series made in Israel now in preparation. The splendid evening concluded with a moving address by Susan Abulhawa, author of the novel Mornings in Jenin:”the narrative of Palestinians from the creation of Israel to until recently has been formed by everybody except Palestinians…there are various ways to narrate our own voice.” Middle East Monitor is to be congratulated for an event that celebrates the creative resilience of the Palestinian people, in their homeland and the diaspora.