This year for the first time the Palestinian Festival of Literature, or PalFest, was held in Gaza. Since it was founded in 2008, the festival's aim has been to bring together Palestinian and international authors, and it organises public events in the evenings and creative writing workshops for Palestinian students during the day.
According to the festival's founder, Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif, having the festival in Gaza has been the ultimate goal of the event since it began, but it has always faced tremendous difficulties in getting permits for the participating authors to come through the Rafah Crossing. This year they were successful at last, and a group of about forty Egyptian, Tunisian, Sudanese and Palestinian authors, artists and activists were granted permission to visit Gaza and participate in PalFest 2012 from May 5 to 10.
The first day of the event, May 6, was dedicated to workshops at three universities: Al Aqsa University, Al Azhar University and the Islamic Univeristy. As blogger Nader ElKhuzundar described:
The events kicked off by holding two workshops at both Al Azhar and the Islamic University of Gaza on writing and blogging in both Arabic and English. PalFest 2012 authors were astonished by the fact that many students attended the workshops. They were more astonished by the fact that most of the attendees were females.
Music and poetry
The next day, May 7, was for a lot of the Palestinians the highlight of the PalFest activities. A four-hour concert took place at Rashad Al Shawa Cultural Theatre, with three Palestinian groups and the Egyptian group Eskenderella.
Palestinian Roba Salibi wrote:
In the following video uploaded by PalFest, Egyptian poet Amin Haddad recites a poem, and Eskenderella performs “Ya Falisteeniya” (O Palestinian):
Egypt and Palestine together
Throughout PalFest there was a strong sense of solidarity between the Palestinians and Egyptians. Palestinian Tamer Hamam commented:
Nour Abed wrote:
A mass hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners was not forgotten by the participants. Egyptian Samia Jaheen tweeted:
Palestinian blogger Matar wrote:
Palestinian Mahmoud Omar echoed the sentiment:
@_Mahmoud: NOTE: #PalfestGaza is totally consistent with #PalHunger , don't think otherwise.
Despite having permission for its events, PalFest attracted the attention of members of the Hamas government. Nader ElKhuzundar described what happened:
In the last day of PalFest, a session was held in Qasr Al-Basha in the old part of Gaza City. The session included a goodbye performance by Eskenderella as well as speeches, presentations and readings by PalFest authors. The event drifted into [a discussion of] politics and suddenly, the electricity was cut. Everybody thought it was the electricity schedule under which Gaza has been living for years now so they continued the event. Five minutes later, a suspicious movement was noticed by the hall’s entrance then suddenly, the police stormed the hall, confiscated a woman’s camera as she was filming the event and called the event off claiming that there’s no official permit. […] Three hours later, the Chief of Police, his deputy and a colonel in the Interior Ministry visited the hotel. They officially apologized, stating it was an “individual error” and that they have opened an investigation into what happened. They stated that PalFest would always be welcome in Gaza.
However, a member of Hamas security admitted that the authorities had been reading the PalFest delegation's tweets and press statements, and were angered by the accusations that Hamas suppresses freedom of speech in Gaza.
Palestinian Saif Al Yazori wrote:
Blogger Nalan Sarraj wrote:
I want to apologize to the Palfest crew, but it's not my fault my government authority [Hamas] forgot how to love Palestine.
Palestinian Ebaa Rezeq was sad to see PalFest end:
Egyptian Nariman wrote: