Spurred on by a silencing of Palestinian voices within the Western cultural industry and horrified by “Israel’s incessant bombardment of Gaza as a form of collective punishment,” a collective of more than 350 global publishers and people working in the industry issued a public statement in early November expressing solidarity with the Palestinian people. Now Publishers for Palestine have organized an international #ReadPalestine week which begins tomorrow, November 29, coinciding with the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.
Until December 5, people worldwide will be able to download e-books for free in eight languages, made available by participating publishers. For the moment over 30 books are on the list, but organizers expect that more will be added each day. These include award-winning fiction and poetry by Palestinian and Palestinian diaspora authors as well as non-fiction books about Palestinian history, politics, arts, culture, and “books about organizing, resistance, and solidarity for a Free Palestine.”
Here’s a sampling of the books:
US-based Interlink Books will be offering writer and peace activist Phyllis Bennis’ primer, Understanding the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
Montréal-based Mémoire d’encrier, one of a number of independent Canadian publishers that have been energetically involved within the collective, will be offering the late translator and author Issa J. Boullata’s memoir of growing up in Jerusalem during British mandate Palestine and the painful memory of leaving his home during the Nakba in 1948. Boullata’s memoir, The Bells of Memory, was written in English; Mémoire d’encrier, which publishes in French, will offer the e-book in French translation by Chantal Ringuet.
The Valencia, Spain-based Semba Llibres has made available the photography book To Live, Die, and Be Born in Gaza, edited by David Segarra. The 2014 book is available to download in Arabic, English, Catalan, and Spanish. Segarra, a journalist, who writes in his introduction that “the conflict in Palestine has accompanied all of us who come from the Mediterranean throughout our lives,” was inspired to write the book following Israel’s Cast Lead Operation in Gaza in 2009.
London-based Saqi Books will make Palestinian author Sahar Khalifeh’s 1976 novel Wild Thorns available in English, translated by Trevor LeGassick and Elizabeth Fernea. Wild Thorns, Khalifeh’s third novel, describes the experience of a young man returning home after spending several years working in the Gulf, and his shock discovering that people have adjusted to everyday life under Israeli military occupation.
New York-based Other Press is offering its 2023 National Book Award finalist Raja Shehadeh’s We Could Have Been Friends, My Father and I: A Palestinian Memoir. In it, Shehadeh describes his complex relationship with his father and the experience of occupation, exile, and dispossession.
Librarians and booksellers are also involved in the #ReadPalestine initiative and the group Librarians and Archivists for Palestine will be holding an event on December 4 with author and journalist Sim Kern who will speak with historian Rashid Khalidi about his book, The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine. Other panels, teach-ins, and readings are listed on the Publishers for Palestine site.
The Arablit platform’s Marcia Lynx Qualey built the Publishers for Palestine website and said that the #ReadPalestine action came out of a group zoom call. “The idea is that the initiative doesn’t end with just reading. Reading is a solidarity action to take you forward to other solidarity actions. We wanted to jump start getting people engaged in educating themselves. Offering these free books was a way to do that.”
Franco-Moroccan journalist and publisher Kenza Sefrioui of En Toutes Lettres, based in Casablanca, Morocco, said that signing the Publishers for Palestine statement was complementary and a continuation of other petitions and letters she has signed, including one issued by the 800-strong network, the International Alliance of independent publishers which protested the cancellation of the award ceremony for Palestinian writer Adania Shibli at this year’s Frankfurt book fair. She also felt Publishers for Palestine were aligned with a network of North African academics who recently signed a declaration “no peace without decolonization.” Although Sefrioui has not yet added a book to the list, she feels the initiative fits into “our commitments and creates a framework of global solidarity in the cultural world.”
Michel Moushabeck of Interlink Books said, “I wholeheartedly support the #ReadPalestine project. The books offered for free will promote learning—or unlearning—about the struggle for Palestinian freedom and equality. Some will introduce readers to the beauty and diversity of Palestinian literature while others will hopefully inspire informed debate and open people’s eyes about what our governments are doing in our name.”
Beginning November 29th the books will be available to download on the Publishers for Palestine website. Some of the books are also available to download on the individual publishers’ websites.