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Two peoples write from right to left: Palestinian and Israeli anthology of poems and short stories

Monday 23 January 2012

Edited by Nava Sonnenschein and Ahmad Hijazi
published by the School for Peace,
Neve Shalom Wahat al-Salam
with funding from the Fund for Reconciliation, Tolerance and Peace; the Wye River People-to-People Exchanges Program; the Swiss Friends of Neve Shalom Wahat al-Salam; the Israeli Center for Libraries and the Hebrew Book Project supported by the Department of Literature of the Ministry of Culture and Sport.


Just in time for the new year, the School for Peace published a bilingual anthology of Hebrew and Arabic literature. As the editors describe in the book’s forward, this idea goes back a long way, to the first encounters of the School for Peace that followed the Oslo Accords in the early 1990s.

Some educators and literature teachers involved in those encounters asked themselves and each other what they might do as ordinary people that could be conducive to ending the conflict. The obvious conclusion was that they could work from the place of their greatest strengths. And so, they had the idea of producing an anthology of literature. The School for Peace favored the concept too as an extension of its work. If face-to-face encounters could reach a few hundred people in any one year, a published anthology of carefully chosen stories and poems, which epitomized the separate realities of the two peoples, could create a rich, unmediated, cultural encounter that would be open to the general reader. They had in mind both young people and adults. The literature chosen would have to span a broad spectrum of the reality of each side, and would need to take into account the many kinds of asymmetry that exist in the relationship between the two peoples. Just as in any encounter between the two peoples, there was both opportunity and also danger. Edward Said had already highlighted, in his book "Orientalism" some of the pitfalls.

The concept slowly crystallized and received its biggest push during one of the most difficult junctures in the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians, following the outbreak of the second Intifada in the year 2000. During the months and years that followed, the School for Peace kept alive the contacts between the two sides in projects that were often conducted outside of the borders of Israel and Palestine. Among these were encounters between a group of courageous Palestinian and Israeli educators that had the objective of learning and teaching the literature of the other side. During one of these encounters, they carried this to the practical level of staging teaching sessions on each other’s literature. The sessions were observed and evaluated by participants from the other side, and feedback was then shared.

The learning from these encounters helped to shape the selection and presentation of the material that forms the anthology. The book was enriched and refined by participation from senior figures in both the Israeli and Palestinian literary worlds, as well as by educators and activists. During the long period of working on this book, the School for Peace staff came to understand that the way in which Palestinians and Israelis look upon each other’s literature is different. Their perspective is shaped by the asymmetrical relationship between the two peoples. It is equally true that their motivations in reading each other’s works differ, and the value that each can derive from the experience differs too. Whatever the outcome, this very unusual book offers Jewish Israeli and Palestinian readers a rare glimpse into each other’s separate realities.

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The Anthology (back and front covers)

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