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Gaza Writes Back—Short Stories from Young Writers in Gaza, Palestine

By Alan Goodman | April 7, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


Gaza Writes Back: Short Stories from Young Writers in Gaza, Palestine is a remarkable collection of short fiction. The book was released on the fifth anniversary of Israel’s massive assault on Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009—a massacre that killed over a thousand people, destroyed schools, hospitals, and homes, and left a million and a half people locked down in a devastated land, subjected to a vicious blockade that reduced the caloric intake of the Palestinian people in Gaza to subsistence levels. In the aftermath of the massacre, Israel, with the complicity of the Egyptian regime and with the backing of the U.S., tightened the choke-hold on the people of Gaza, substantially cutting off connections with the outside world. (For background on Israel and the oppression of the Palestinian people, including in Gaza, see the special issue of Revolution: The Case of Israel: Bastion of Enlightenment or Enforcer for Imperialism?)

Editor and contributor Refaat Alareer writes in the introduction, “Gaza Writes Back comes to resist Israel’s attempts to murder these emerging voices, to squander the suffering of martyrs, to bleach the blood, to dam the tears, and to smother the screams.” And the authors see their writing as part of forging a culture of resistance.

 Half of the stories started out as assignments in a Creative Writing or Fiction course Refaat Alareer teaches in Gaza. He encouraged the young contributors to write fiction stories in order to universalize the pain, outrage, and defiance they have experienced and felt. At the same time, these authors draw deeply on personal experiences. At an event promoting the book at Revolution Books in New York City, Yousef Aljamal, author of the story “Omar X,” read from his story, and also told the true story of his older brother Omar, killed by Israeli troops.

Another important dimension to Gaza Writes Back is the participation of women writers and the portrayal of women in Gaza. A majority of the authors are women. Refaat Alareer notes, “[T]his young wave of female short story writers comes to continue the struggle and at the same time revolutionize it, adding their own sensibility and their own worldview. It is also notable that the women portrayed in the stories are powerful, independent, intellectual, and proactive. Their role is no longer restricted to giving birth to freedom fighters, they are the freedom fighters. How similar or dissimilar they are and what major concerns these young women voice in their stories should be left to researchers, academics, and reviewers to discuss.”

I asked Rawan Yaghi about what went into drawing on her life experiences in writing about the horror of being subjected to an Israeli bombing attack. She spoke about how every time she recounts the story she contributed, she re-lives the pain of what she writes about. But that these stories are not “hers,” they belong to the people they describe. And she talked about how not keeping this all to herself is part of resisting. The courage of all these authors is inspiring.

The stories in Gaza Writes Back have universality in the sense of conveying life in Gaza. And they have universality beyond that. As I read stories of people prevented from leaving Gaza to attend funerals of their loved ones, youth subject to being shot as a “suspect” for simply being defiant, or people denied medical care available to those in the world outside the walls of Gaza, I thought of how these stories, and the oppression and struggle of the Palestinian people, connect with and concentrate the lives of so many in this world of savage inequality and vicious oppression. And why the cause of the liberation of Palestine resonates so strongly with oppressed and justice-loving people everywhere, despite the ferocious efforts of the powers-that-be in this country to dehumanize and demonize the people of Palestine.

The event at Revolution Books in New York City was part of a nationwide tour of bookstores, campuses, and activist groups. You can find events (or contact the organizers to schedule one) at the publisher’s website:

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