Posted by: sean | May 21, 2010

Palestinian voices

In my last post, one of the questions I brought up was the lack of a Palestinian, or more generally Arab, voice in the American discussion on Israel/Palestine. Phil Weiss has taken up that issue on his site, and in the comments, one of his readers asks what I think is a fair question:

I asked Rashid Khalidi for recommendations of Arab writers to describe Palestinian experience. He named himself and one or two others, but also did suggest more Israeli authors than Arab.

Who have you read? Who would you recommend be published?

In fact, when I went to my own bookshelf and looked at the books I have on Israel/Palestine, it’s true that most of the tomes in English and French are written by non-Arabs, often enough by Jews or Israelis. Part of this, I think, is a problem of translation; it’s hard to find much Arabic literature on the subject translated into European languages in general and English in particular. To the best of my knowledge, there is little to nothing available in English by Anis Sayigh and Shafiq Al-Hout, for example.

That said, there is a lot available from a Palestinian or larger Arab point of view. I’ve taken a few minutes to come up with a very limited list of some works I’m familiar with (not all of which I’ve read) by Palestinian authors. These are just off the top of my head, and I’m sure I’m missing a lot of the good stuff. Maybe through some crowdsourcing in the comments, we can build up a more complete list. To get you started, here are a few I’ve come up with in no particular order:


Edward Said – The Question of Palestine
Yezid Sayigh – Armed Struggle and the Search for a State
Azmi Bishara – The Arabs in Israel
Rashid Khalidi – Palestinian Identity; The Iron Cage
Walid Khalidi – All That Remains
Nur Masalha – The Politics of Denial
Rosemary Sayigh – The Palestinians; Too Many Enemies
Joseph Massad – The Persistence of the Palestinian Question
Nadia Abu El-Haj – Facts on the Ground
Hisham Sharabi – Palestine and Israel


Mourid Barghouti – I saw Ramallah
Edward Said – Out of Place
Hanan Ashrawi – This Side of Peace
Jean Said Makdisi – Beirut Fragments; Teta, Mother and Me
Sari Nusseibeh – Once Upon a Country

Fiction and Poetry:

Mahmoud Darwish – The Mural; Unfortunately, It Was Paradise
Anton Shammas – Arabesques
Emile Habibi – The Secret Life of Saeed: The Pessoptimist
Ghassan Kanafani – Men in the Sun; Returning to Haifa

Again, this list is far, far from exhaustive. I haven’t listed any journal articles or films or works by non-Palestinian Arabs, and I’m sure there’s a whole host of books I’ve either overlooked or am not familiar with at all. I hope that this little list is just a small step in the direction towards a more complete showing of literature by Palestinians and other Arabs about the issue of Palestine/Israel. But I’m counting on you, fair readers, to comment and show me what you’ve got.



  1. Great idea for a post.

    In the category “memoirs”, I’d say Memory for forgetfulness by M. Darwish is essential reading.

    From the top of my head, I would also mention literary works by Lebanese authors extremely sensitive to the Palestinian experience in their country:
    – “Sitt Marie-Rose” by Etel Adnan (truly an extraordinary book)
    – “Gate of the Sun” by Elias Khury.

  2. No one seems to ever cite “The Palestinian Exodus from the Galilee, 1948,” a synthesis of Palestinian oral history compiled by Nafez Nazzal. Pub: Inst for Palestine Studies (July 1978)

  3. This may be of service:

  4. Academics: Beshara Doumani, Isam Nassar, Salim Tamari, Samir Seikaly, Raja Shehadeh, Abdul Latif Tibawi. There are also several more books by Walid Khalidi.

    Saree Makdisi, Edward Said’s nephew, has written on the issue, including a book called Palestine Inside Out. There is also Ibrahim Abu-Lughod’s work.

    Qustantin Zrayq’s canonical Meaning of the Nabka has been translated into English.

    Lots of fiction, but only Sahar Khalifeh and Suad Amiry (Sharon and my Mother-in-law) come to mind.

    There is plenty more. This includes only the ones that immediately come to mind.

    Rosemary Sayigh is English, married to Yusuf Sayigh (whose memoirs, when they are published, will be another addition to this list). If she counts as “Palestinian” then that widens the criteria.

  5. Suheir Hammad- Poet, Zaatar Diva

    Nasser Aruri-Dishonest Broker: The Role of the United States in Palestine and Israel

    Ali Abunimah
    One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

    Saree Makdisi
    Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation

    Albert Hourani
    A History of the Arab Peoples

    Jack Shaheen: Reel Bad Arabs

  6. Had similar conversation with mutual friend recently, and as I was criticizing a particular individual, he asked if I could name someone in DC who argues in American fora from the Palestinian perspective, intelligently and effectively (according to my exquisite tastes, of course!), and I was stumped into silence.

    One thing about the Israeli lobby is that it is soooo competitive, a reality that does not always travel well to the Middle East (beinart is more creature of ambition than anything else). Of course, the loudest voices are the ones with the most money, but the development of such an industry has undoubtedly created many talented, intelligent American polemicists on Israel’s behalf. Ironically, the terrain is such that their very real talents in argumentation are rarely required (‘terror,’ I win).

    In re, your previous post, I think it is important to flesh out what you mean by Zionism being incompatible with liberalism. Citizenship everywhere is bounded by illiberalism (it is impossible to conceive of it not, absent the world government my Kenyan president is secretly implementing with Hugo Chavez). Not sure I disagree with your statement, but it is really the ‘nutshell’ or the crux.

    Hope all is well … d

  7. About Palestinian Citizens of Israel (who are Palestinians and whose experience is part of what one needs to understand in the complex):
    Sabri Jiryis, The Arabs in Israel
    is a classic, so is the work of Sharif Kanaana. Since then, there is some research out by Ghazi Falah, Nadim Rouhana, Asa’d Ghanem. Also important:
    Rhoda Kanaaneh, Birthing the Nation and her more recent book
    In memoirs:
    Fauzi al-Asmar, To be an Arab in Israel.
    Hatim Kanaaneh, A Doctor in the Galilee
    Najwa Kawar Farah, A Continent Called Palestine
    and Ghada Karmi about the Nakba.

    More general:
    Mona Younis, Liberation and Democratization
    Issa Khalaf, Politics in Palestine Arab Factionalism and Social Disintegration
    A.W. Kayyali, Palestine- A Modern History
    Musa Budeiri, The Palestine Communist Party, 1919-1948
    Nadia Abu el-Haj, Facts on the Ground
    AH Sa’di, L Abu-Lughod, Catastrophe, Memory and Identity
    Victor Kattan, from Coexistence to Conquest
    In fiction:
    Sahar Khalifah, Wild Thorns and her other works are highly recommended. There are also translations of Jabrab Ibrahim Jabra (The First Well is his memoirs of early life in Bethlehem)

  8. I forgot to mention Mu’in Bseisso memoirs (Descent into the Water: Palestinian Notes from Arab Exile). Jabra’s (mentioned by Leena) is also recommended.

    I also found a file from a project I was working on some time ago, Arabic literature in English translation. Here are the highlights:

    Novelists: Anton Shammas (Arabesques), Yahya Yakhluf (esp. A Lake beyond the Wind), Liana Badr, Jabra Ibrahim Jabra (esp. In Search of Walid Masoud, The Ship), Laila Atrash (A Woman of Five Seasons), Ishaq Musa al-Husayni (Memoirs of a Hen: A Present-Day Palestinian Fable), Abdul Karim Sab`awi (The Phoenix). The last is a historical novel about Gaza.

    Poetry: Fawaz Turki (Tel Zaatar Was the Hill of Thyme: Poems from Palestine), Suheir Hammad (Drops of this Story), Fouzi al-Asmar (The Wind-Driven Reed and Other Poems, Poems from an Israeli Prison)

    There are also several anthologies, these are some of the good ones:
    Anthology of Modern Palestinian Literature (ed. Salma Khadra Jayyusi)
    My Jerusalem: Essays, Reminiscences, and Poems (ed. by Jayyusi & Zafar Ansari)
    Poetry of Resistance in Occupied Palestine (contains many classics and national poets)
    A Land of Stone and Thyme: Palestinian Short Stories

    Hanan Ashrawi also has some publications on Palestinian literature, based on her doctoral work.

  9. Anis Sayigh’s Palestine and Arab Nationalism can be found in libraries in Europe, the US, and the Middle East. Good luck finding it in a bookstore!

  10. I second Darwish’s Memory for Forgetfulness. Arcane, but well worth it. Beautiful book.

  11. How about Rami G. Khoury?

    And Elias Khoury, who wrote “Bal al shams” (Gate of the Sun), an epic book about 1948 exodus. He’s Lebanese, but could be called an honorary Palestinian as he became heavily involved with the PLO and Fatah:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: