This Is Not a Border: Reportage & Reflection from the Palestine Festival of Literature, edited by Ahdaf Soueif and Omar Robert Hamilton [in Booklist]
Commemorating 10 extraordinary years of PalFest, the Palestine Festival of Literature, mother-son cofounders Soueif (Cairo: Memoir of a City Transformed, 2014) and Hamilton (The City Always Wins, 2017) gathered 47 literary luminaries to create this essential testimony, including Suad Amiry, J. M. Coetzee, Teju Cole, Claire Messud, Pankaj Mishra, and Alice Walker.
Instead of using Tel Aviv’s modern airport, PalFestivalians “try to travel in the same manner as its Palestinian audience,” arriving in Jordan and enduring border crossings that take hours instead of minutes, invasive searches and detainment, and dangerous roads. One of the most indelible experiences inspired the title; as Soueif explains in the introduction, “the majority of the barriers – the wall and their checkpoints . . . are not in fact borders; they do not separate ‘Palestine’ from ‘Israel’; mostly they cut through occupied Palestinian land, separating communities from each other.”
As PalFestivalians visit seven cities in five days with their “cultural roadshow,” Hamilton describes harrowing details; for example, a sliced-open onion lessens tear gas effects. Throughout this gathering of essays, poetry, reportage, and confessions, certain words – apartheid, erasure, pain, powerlessness, complicity, waiting, wasting, humiliation, absurdity – repeatedly resonate. But what linger longest are hope, expectation, and the demand for peace.