New Blog Series: Cross-Cultural-Dialogues In the Middle East

By Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi and Chana Morgenstern

The two of us met during a particularly gritty winter in our first year of graduate school at Brown University. While Chana, an Israeli fiction writer, translator and scholar had just begun working on her PhD in Israeli and Palestinian Comparative Literature, I was completing my MFA in Fiction at the Literary Arts department. Given her background as a Jewish, Israeli writer and mine as a Muslim, Iranian fiction writer we quickly developed a dialogue about literature’s potential to provide a space for confronting some of the more challenging questions of identity and politics that define the contemporary Middle East. In the circle of Middle-Eastern writers that we often found ourselves hanging out in, we had many discussions about what in America we often referred to as the “experience of being nowhere;” in other words the feeling of being suspended in a liminal space between the American cultural landscape and our respective homes and cultures in the Middle East: Israel, Palestine and Iran. Over the course of many dinners that stretched into the early hours of the morning, we decided that those of us who could would travel to the Holy Land to address and attempt to resolve our bicultural quandaries in a land that is marked by hybridity and division, and that is also at the forefront of the collective imagination of the Middle East today.

Now that we are here in Jerusalem, a city whose identity has so often been contested over the centuries, we find ourselves engaged in a boisterous literary conversation with Israeli and Palestinian writers and artists who come from a variety of religious backgrounds. Over the next few months we will be presenting a series of interviews and articles that explore Jewish and Arab relations within Israel and the Palestinian Territories as well as the larger Middle East.  One of the guiding questions of this series will be whether or not literature and film can offer a fertile space for cross-cultural and religious dialogue in the region.  The series, as we foresee it, will cover emerging guerilla poetry movements, collaborations between Israeli and Palestinian intellectuals and writers, interviews with international and local film makers, reviews of the Jerusalem Film Festival, as well as an overview of various grassroots cultural organizations in the West Bank.

We are hoping to gain a broader perspective of the various ways in which contemporary Israeli and Palestinian cultures negotiate the region’s complex and hybrid social landscape. We are also interested in looking at the connections between political activism and literature and the potential democratization of the social sphere through the arts.  We are looking forward to traveling back and forth between Israel and the Palestinian Territories—from Jerusalem to Ramallah, Jenin to Hebron, Bethlehem to Tel Aviv and back, and to posting about our experiences and impressions over here.



Looking forward to this as it develops and good luck!

We have quite a community of literature lovers within the Middle East, other than our common love of reading, we maintain a reasonable dialogue through many mediums including twitter.

I recommend you post your account ids, if you have twitter ones, even though a name search resulted in zero, so we can follow, as we can share!

One excellent tweep, amongst many, is @arablit.


You should also check out Palfest, if you aren’t already aware of it. They can be found on Facebook.


Thanks Mischa, not really a FB type, but obviously I am aware of PalFest which has a reasonably high profile across the web.


Sounds like an important project.  I look forward to reading more.  A while ago a wrote an article on the way in which narrative-art can counteract the problem of dehumanization. Perhaps it could be of use to you.

All the best,



The boycott is aimed at institutions, NOT individuals. It applies to individuals academics only in so far as they are acting on behalf or as officials or representatives of Israeli academic institutions, at the national level.
The occupation is not just the domain of the government, army and security organisations. Everything is tainted: institutions of justice and law, the physicians who remain silent while medical treatment is prevented in the Palestinian territories, and also the university lecturers and professors who do nothing for their imprisoned colleagues in Palestine, but conduct special study programme for the security forces. If all these boycotted the occupation, there would be no need for an international boycott!

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