The Culpability of The Salon du Livre in The Erasure of a Nation
No matter how great the injustice done to us Palestinians or how deeply our grief curls into time and into the earth, it seems the world still refuses to hear our voice and insists that we shall not exist in history except as squatters, terrorists, or subhuman creatures unworthy of our own land and heritage or of the right to defend ourselves and resist oppression. The latest institution to contribute to the erasure of millennia of our Palestinian culture and history is the Salon du Livre, with great influence from the French Ministry of Culture.
Every year this book fair chooses one country to honor and showcase its contemporary writers. This year, the choice was Israel: a 60 year old country established in place of the ancient land of Palestine with an imported population (Europe, the former Soviet Union, U.S.A., Ethiopia, etc.) in place of the native population, the Palestinians, who were ethnically cleansed from most of the land and who still languish in the abject conditions of refugee camps, under a cruel military occupation, or at the whims of winds that swirl us about in a Diaspora. Israel, with an abysmal human rights record, leading the world with the most violations of international laws and UN Resolutions, has taken a land once multi-religious, multi-ethnic, and multi-cultural and turned into a place of exclusivity for Jews only. This country, called an Apartheid State by moral authorities the likes of Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter and accused of Nuremburg crimes by leading scholars of international law like Drs. Francis Boyle and Richard Falk, is the nation that France has chosen to celebrate at its most celebrated Book Fair.
Yet, until recently, I thought we still had a chance in March. I naively thought that France would welcome our narrative and present my book, The Scar of David, especially since the French version (Les matins de Jenine) is being released on 6 March. It is a story that I pulled it from the depths of my country’s anguished soul and from the most primal scream to be heard and recognized for the violated nation that we are. But no Palestinian [even Palestinian-Israelis] are invited and I was thus encouraged not to come.
How can this be? Do they know that Israel sits on top of emptied Palestinian villages? The crops that Israelis eat come from a soil fertilized and made rich from the bodies of my Palestinian ancestors and fruit from trees planted by those same ancestors, starting with my grandparents and going back centuries if not millennia? I am unquestionably a daughter of Jerusalem, even if Israel deems me not to be human enough to live and thrive there as all my ancestors before me have. Does the Salon du Live wish to pretend, as Israel does, that Palestine and Palestinians do not and never did exist? Do they know Jesus was Palestinian and many Palestinian Christians can trace their ancestry to the first century? There are Palestinians whose surnames are “Canaan”. No Israeli has roots that sink as deeply into that land as the dispossessed Canaan family must! Has it occurred to the organizers that those Hebrew tribes that existed in Palestine 3,000 years ago are more likely to be my ancestors [if indeed genetic continuity is possible over such a period], not the ancestors of Russian Jews or any other imported Israeli ethnic group?
Or is the Salon du Livre simply complicit in the ongoing efforts of Israel to rid the world of us and any memory of our heritage, culture, history and gaping wound?
The world has roared with contempt at Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s alleged desire to wipe Israel off the map. And yet, Israel has actually been slowly wiping Palestine off the map for the past 60 years, in deeds and words. Every day acres of land are confiscated from what little remains to us of Palestine in order to build Jewish-only domains. Every day our men and women, as young as 12, suffer in their jails and torture chambers without charge or trial. At every turn, there is a wall, a bullet, or a checkpoint to deny, starve, or humiliate and break us. Death constantly comes at us from air land and sea with the most sophisticated weaponry. Every hope or dream we might have suffocates in refugee camps unfit for human beings but which our proud people have endured for more than half a century. Recently the commissioner-general of UNRWA warned that “Gaza is on the threshold of becoming the first territory to be intentionally reduced to a state of abject destitution, with the knowledge, acquiescence and–some would say–encouragement of the international community.” So, the world watches life being slowly and deliberately extinguished in Gaza, as Israel, with unbearable irony, turns Gaza into a massive concentration camp. And around the world, the voices of our leaders, artists, writers, and activists are silenced, ever we try to speak, to protest, or scream in agony for help. Yet our demise is met not with contempt, but with muffling of our painful narrative and celebration at international book fairs like the Salon du Livre!!
What have we done to deserve such a fate? What have we done to France or to the world that no one will stand against such injustice? Everything has been taken from us and our hearts carved out because we are not Jewish! What has been our crime that we should be so excluded from the human race, forced to negotiate endlessly with our oppressors for the basic human rights accorded to the rest of humanity? Spoken of as if animals when we dare to fight back? Why will no one hear our voice? What hope do we have if even lovers of books will pretend we do not exist and therefore have no story worth reading?
I still plan to go. I figure if little Palestinian boys with rocks are brave enough to fight soldiers with rifles and tanks, I shouldn’t be afraid of facing hypocrites with books and a suspect agenda.