A walk through Jerusalem’s Old City is a walk through contested narrative spaces:
Many of the spaces through which the northern PalFest group traveled on Sunday — from Ramallah to Birzeit to Jerusalem — were mute. Some were narrativized only by half-thoughts such as KEEP THE TERMINAL CLEAN and HAVE A SAFE AND PLEASANT STAY, signs that bookend Qalandiya’s giant checkpoint. The checkpoint had no tourist-friendly announcement before it to announce:
“The Qalandiya checkpoint was designed and constructed in 2001. The suffocating narrow cages, barbed wire, X-ray checks, and multiple electrical turnstiles were designed by a promising young architect named….”
Parts of the Separation Wall have been made to speak, by their graffiti, although large stretches are bare, thick-tongued, wire-topped. The homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood are without signs. The trees and stones don’t have them.
Signs became dominant as we moved through Jerusalem’s Old City. They were particularly noticeable at the intersection of the expanding “King David’s Garden” theme park and the Silwan neighborhood, where KDG-boosters reportedly hope to gain permission to demolish eighty-some homes so they can expand the archaeological theme park.
Conflict spawns and re-spawns narrative, certainly. But conflict — and conflict narratives — also can become a site of perpetuating profit; poet Najwan Darwish spoke about the multi-million-dollar business of “peace.”
The proliferation of war-inspired narratives was particularly visible inside Munther Fahmi’s English-language bookshop. There, shelves and tables were filled with nonfiction accounts of Palestine and Israel, which Fahmi said were his best-sellers. He added that: ”A lot of people are making money out of this conflict, believe it or not.” Fahmi gestured toward a shelf of books. “Including me.”
That said, I’ll have to run the rest of our narrative sideways and backwards:
In Gaza, the southern group screened the film “Reporting a Revolution,” which was accompanied by a talk from the film’s producer, Nora Younis. Novelist Susan Abulhawa went on a visit to Gaza’s much-storied tunnels.
In the north, if you rewind us from Jerusalem to Birzeit, we began the day with a series of writing workshops — led by China Miéville, Aamer Hussein, Jeremy Harding, Gillian Slovo, Omar El-Khairy, Tom Warner, and myself. These were full of small, authentic, fun stories and exercises that gave name and shape to un-signposted places: often imaginary ones inside the emerging writers’ memories and imaginations.