By Katie Comfort Through a variety of programs and organizations on campus, North Park has made outstanding efforts to educate about peaceful solutions to the conflict in Israel/Palestine. Since my freshman year I have been an active member of the Middle Eastern Student Association, where I developed relationships with Palestinian students that inspired me to travel to the West Bank three times in the past three years.
After returning from my most recent trip in March, I began reconsidering how those of us who have experience in the conflict introduce people to Palestine and Israel. Usually we give lists of key dates in dry lectures with PowerPoint presentations, or we launch into long-winded stories in which we try to superimpose narrative with analysis, hoping that something we say sticks and that students will pursue further knowledge independently. However, true engagement requires a human connection. For this reason, I’ve compiled a brief list of some creative sources which have helped me stay the most connected to Palestine in hopes that books and movies might be a more comfortable entry point for those who are unfamiliar.
The Butterfly's Burden by Mamoud Darwish (2006): An internationally acclaimed poet, whose work dives into his own narrative of exile and return, Darwish explores themes of love, loss and identity. The Butterfly’s Burden, three collections of poetry translated by Palestinian-American, Fady Joudah, is one of my favorites because the original Arabic is presented next to each poem and the poems were all written after Darwish, who initially fled during the Nakba in 1948, returned to Palestine in 1996. If you pick up a copy, be sure to read “Who am I, Without Exile,” “You’ll be Forgotten, As If You Never Were” and “Sonnet II.” And, should you ever find yourself in Ramallah, be sure to check out the small Mamoud Darwish Museum, which chronicles his life and work.
I Saw Ramallah by Mourid Barghouti (1997): For people who prefer a narrative approach rather than a poetic interpretation, this autobiographical work offers a good exploration of experiences of exile, return and the politics of those. One of the first things I learned about Palestinians is that their very existence is tied to the politics of the situation. After living in Bethlehem this past summer, I was overwhelmed by how people’s narratives and histories commonly included land confiscation, exile, loss and fear. In Barghouti’s autobiography, he brings a poetic lyricism to his experiences of returning to his hometown for the first time in thirty years. He explores the complicated identity of someone who has lived in exile as a global refugee, and he discusses identity and home in a way that makes Palestinian displacement come alive for all readers. I Saw Ramallah succinctly covers the history of Palestine in a way that makes it clear how the dates we so often memorize are connected to actual human experience.
A Bottle in the Gaza Sea by Thierry Binisti (2011): While everything discussed above touches on realities of Palestinian life exclusively, there is a need to engage in the reality of Palestinians and Israelis together. The film A Bottle in the Gaza Sea is based on an internet pen-pal relationship between a student in Jerusalem, and a student in Gaza City. The way that their narratives are presented and broken down, does a good job to bring a human understanding to the innocent actors on both sides of this protracted conflict. Though the content of this movie has the potential to normalize the situation, I appreciated that it acknowledges the need for honesty, conflict and human connection between Israelis and Palestinians while also giving space for the narrative of each individual to be explored.
The Time that Remains by Elia Suleiman (2009):
In this film, Suleiman creatively explores his own family’s narrative based off of diary entries from his father and letters from his mother. The film is reminiscent of a Wes Anderson movie in style and understated comedy while dealing with a conflict that we usually view as unwaveringly serious. The film, which has been recognized globally at film festivals for its creative approach and its use of absurdity appropriately captures the insanity of the everyday as it explores four periods in Suleiman’s family history.
The hope in providing these few sources is that we might start to think creatively about how to engage in learning. In academic settings, there is often a myth that we must be experts before we can speak up about what is going on. I have found that engaging in the creative work of those who have lived experiences removes this barrier, and allows us to connect in ways that turn engagement into a human experience instead of a purely academic one.