Palestinian Literature

Palestinian literature derives from the Arab people of Palestine. It became distinguished several decades ago, but until the middle of the twentieth century, Palestinian literature was a part of the Arabic literature. Additionally, when it comes to identifying Palestinian literature, the dilemma of Palestinian Arab, Israeli, and Palestinian identity arise. It puts the question of who should be considered as a Palestinian writer. Understanding the phenomenon of Palestinian literature lies in exploring of its few components: Palestinian Arab writers, immigrants texts about Palestine, Israeli-Arab culture, and Hebrew translations of Palestinian literature.

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For a long time, Palestinian literature was a part of the Arabic literature. As a separate term, it even did not exist until the end of Ottoman rule. Afterwards, with Europes colonial expansion, Palestinian literature began to stand out. In the first part of the twentieth century, learning about poems of Ahmad Hilmi Abdel Baqi, who originated from Palestine, changed the conception of Palestinian and Arabic poetry. Abdel Baqis poems were lost with the dispersal of the Palestinians and found only 40 years after his death. They testified the distinguishing features of Palestinian literature, since the poet composed all of them in quatrains.

Furthermore, the development of Palestinian literature was largely promoted by the birth of the national press. In 1908, Khalil Baydas published the first literary magazine Al-Nafa'es Al-'Asriya. He also founded the Palestinian novella genre by writing al-Warith in 1920. At the same time, Palestinian dramatic art arose due to the efforts of the pioneering figure in this genre Jamil al-Bahri and his political play Favorite Country. Nasri al-Jowzi, Istfan Salem, and Asma al-Toubi also contributed to the development of drama in Palestine literature. Subsequently, in 1935, the novelist Mahmoud Seif al-Din al-Irani created the literary magazine Al-Fajr. Such writers as Emile Habibi and Samih al-Quasim also influenced the Palestinian literature movement in 1920s-1930s. Additionally, in the 1930s, in Jerusalem, a Palestinian poet Abu Salma established the Association of the Pen. It was the first educational organization in the territory of Palestine. Abu Salma also created the Association of Asian and African Writers and earned the title The Olive of Palestine for his poetry. In general, Palestinian poetry of this period departed from the canons of classical Arabic verse. The first changing of sensibility towards rhythm was seen in the Shauqis elegy written in a free verse by Isaf al-Nashashibi in 1932.

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Unfortunately, the 1948 Palestine War made the population of the region to become refugees in neighboring countries. The exiles trauma, leaving homeland, and humiliation reflected in the literature of the 1950s and early 1960s, which is known as literature of crying. With the beginning of the national liberation struggle, the pessimistic literature of crying was replaced by literature of resistance. For example, Samira Azzam presented the fullest portrait of Palestinians in the novel stories. She reconstructed the Palestinian character from the moment of the loss of the homeland to the Arab-Israeli War of 1967. Novels of Rabbakh and a collection of short stories The Diary of a Resistance Fighter (1970), Abu Shaviras collection of short stories In Memory of Days Past (1970), Fayadas House madness (1974), and Yakhlyufas novel Red Flowers on the Bridge Revolution (1979) also belong to the literature of resistance. Moreover, in the 1970s, the General Union of Palestinian Writers and Journalists was founded, and in 1981, the literary and art magazine Al-Karmal was established.

In particular, literary scientists suppose that Intifada period facilitated intensive development of Palestinian literature. Intifada means uprising and defines the revolt against the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories in 1987-1993. At the time, the Journal of Association of Palestinian Writers in Gaza and the Western Bank called al-Katib partly reflected writings of the Gulf War period. However, it is difficult to count all writings of this period and their influence on Palestinian literature only based on al-Katibs content, since it was limited to publishing only novels. At the same time, the journal presented an example of a periodical that contained writings of Palestinians and non-Palestinians about heroic resistance, civil and military-patriotic themes, and the exacerbated sense of a historical moment.

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As for representatives of Palestinian poets of Intifada period, they included Ziyad, al-Qasim, Biss, Faraj, al-Mutavakkil Taha, Kavar, and al-Wahidi  Works of prose writers, for example, Nasrullah, Khalifa, and representatives of the younger generation, such as Od and Gazzavi, also were notable. Palestinian literature during the Intifada period discovered the images of Jewish people and Israelis, clich?s and stereotypes created during the conflict and maintained for hundred years between Palestinian and Israeli communities. The key topic in poetry was the struggle for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. The banner of the struggle of the Palestinian people was the epic poem Jidaria of Mahmoud Darvish written in 2000. It showed a piercing longing for a homeland and pain for the destiny of the people in exile.

Speaking of the genesis and development of Palestinian literature, the chronology and the mood of writings are clear. However, when it comes to the identity issue, the question of who can be considered as a Palestinian literature representative arises. For instance, Arabs who live in Israel may identify themselves as Palestinians similar to Palestinian immigrants who do not live on the territory of Palestine but write about it.

Another multifaceted feature of Palestinian literature is writings in Hebrew and their identification as Palestinian. The part of Palestinian literature written in Hebrew is presented by Israeli-Arab authors and has been questioned to be considered as a Palestinian one. When compared to another Arabic literature, Palestinian one is defined not by territory but through identification of a writer with Palestinian nationality. Similar to Egyptian and Jordanian literary works created in Egypt and Jordan accordingly, Palestinian ones are also territory-bound. Therefore, Amit Kochavi proposed to solve the discussion around identities by dividing Palestinian literature into two branches: written in the State of Israel and written outside of it.

In essence, first publications of Palestinian literature in Hebrew were translations. Since in the 1960s, Israeli security forces controlled all Arab affairs, translation activities were unsafe. Nevertheless, translations of Mahmoud Darwish and Rashed Husein were the first step in sharing Palestinian literature in Hebrew and were aimed at knowing the enemy rather than the neighbor. Additionally, a Palestinian writer Tamuz attempted to establish a dialogue between Jewish and Palestinian writers, but this initiative was not successful. Arabic poems were treated too offensive for Jewish writers, since they complained against land. Thus, the dialogue stopped for 20 years. Another writer who made a strong influence on the Hebrew translations of Palestinian literature was Shimon Bailas. He published the first anthology of Palestinian short stories in two versions: the academic and the literature ones. Among the emigrant writers, the most known ones were Kanafani, who has invented the term "resistance literature", a poet Toucan, a publicist Waddah al-Amiri, and Jabr. Finally, the Susas novel Far from Jerusalem, written in 1986, is famous for showing the problems of assimilation of the Palestinian emigrants in Europe.

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In conclusion, Palestinian literature is a voice of the history of Palestinian people. It became distinguished in the middle of the last century after separation from the Arabic literature. Its understanding stands at the intersection of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Israeli-Arabic literature relationships, and the historical heritage of migrants. As a result, these are the main vectors towards understanding the features and chronology of such phenomenon as Palestinian literature.

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Mar 4, 2021 in Literature
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