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 in 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 on 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.
Published Jul 29, 2010 Copyright 2010 Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi and Chana Morgenstern