On the Road

Yasmin El-Rifae

I am writing this in the car on the way from Haifa to Ramallah. Cell phones beep as we cross between Israeli and West Bank coverage. The view out the window has changed from the dark green mountains and manicured landscapes of northern Israel to the rocky textures of the West Bank mountains.

On 23 May, more than a dozen writers will arrive in Ramallah from different parts of the world to take part in the Palestine Festival of Literature, which I help organise. Every year since 2008, it has put on public literary events with Palestinian and visiting writers in different cities in the evenings. Over the course of the week, it also aims to show the visitors something of Palestinian history and present-day reality. A lot of time is spent on the road, travelling through the geography of occupation: the checkpoints, the walls, the segregated motorways.

The festival visits historical sites and meets with Palestinian writers, activists and cultural workers. This year we will look at the work of the Hebron Rehabilitation Centre, in a city centre ravaged and shuttered by settler colonialism and occupation. From there we’ll go to Haifa, to see something of Palestinian life in an Israeli city. In Jerusalem, we will walk through the old city and sees the flags marking houses that have been taken over by settlers.

In past years we have been able to bring writers from other parts of the Arab world and the Palestinian diaspora into Gaza. There is no entry for the festival this year, but our Gazan partners are running a series of events featuring writers, film and music.

The festival returns to Ramallah at the end of the week for its closing event. Once a summer getaway for Jerusalemites seeking cooler temperatures on its hills, Ramallah has been transformed by the displacement of thousands of Palestinians. The capital of the Palestinian Authority is also a commercial hub, a mix of traditional white-stone houses and gardens, and new malls and apartment complexes.

On the outskirts of the city, we will go for a walk with Raja Shehadeh, who has walked the hills for decades, and written extensively about the effects of the occupation on the land.