Saturday, 27 February 2010


Dan-Chyi Chua

dan-chyi chua

Dan-Chyi Chua was a broadcast journalist, before forsaking Goggle Box Glitz for the Open Road. A three-year foray led her through the Middle East, China, SE Asia, Latin America and Cuba, and she's now grounded herself as a writer for, content with spending her days in Jerusalem.

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Reality Check or How to hold a festival under occupation
May 23, 2009
Special to asia!

The story that everyone will be talking about as they head home from today's opening of the Palestinian Festival of Literature will not be the lineup of speakers or the panel sessions. It will be the fact that Israeli security forces came with guns in their hands and closed the ceremony down.

one wall

(This is a part of a special coverage of the Second Palestinian Festival of Literature, as it brings some 20 international writers – western and Arab – to the West Bank, from Arab East Jerusalem to Ramallah, Jenin, Bethlehem and Hebron.)

The writers and guests at the Second Palestinian Festival of Literature were enjoying the cool evening in the small courtyard outside the Palestinian National Theatre. Lavishly-named, it was a simple two-storeyed unobtrusive structure. But for a people without a homeland, having a national-anything is a small victory to be had in the face of their perceived occupiers. Yes, even when it is a humble abode like this one, which resembles more a residence.

It was just minutes before the opening was scheduled to start, when the Israeli security forces arrived. Everyone was told to go into the building. Murmurs followed and it was declared that the venue would be changed to the French Cultural Centre which had diplomatic immunity from Israeli jurisdiction.


Israeli security forces

About ten armed Israeli security forces arrived at the Palestinian National Theatre

We marched together to the venue, with a new-found sense of solidarity. Some held the floral arrangements, while others bore the trays of pastries for the opening reception. It looked like a strange self-catering group tour of East Jerusalem.

So there we were, meandering through the East Jerusalem neighbourhood, when a elderly participant made an unscheduled stop at an army van that had been parked closeby. She poured out her frustrations, and chastised the solitary solider sitting in the driver's seat through the open window. He remained silent, and looked just that little bit dismayed. When she left, he wound up the window and went back to being shielded behind the tinted glass.


palfest 2009 shutdown

Shut down before it could even begin

Over at the French Cultural Centre - another unassuming structure with the European Union and French flags flying outside- chairs were put out in the muddy lawn, as the crowd trickled into the side courtyard. Speeches were made and adjusted for the loss of time in moving the event. Much as they tried to hold the attention of the now restless audience, they were foiled a very lively Saturday evening unfolding outside the gates of the centre. A bridal convoy of cars merrily honked their way down the road. At close range too were Israeli patrol cars which had followed us here and were now parked outside.


Israeli police at the French Cultural Centre

The Israeli police were obliged to respectfully keep a distance from the French Cultural Centre


In the end, nothing more dramatic happened and the evening concluded peacefully.

Turning out to be more of a cultural experience than most had expected, it was a curiosity, for myself included, but not so for the Palestinian people.

To express solidarity with someone is not just about understanding their situation. It is also be aware of just what you are showing support for.

This was a precious first lesson we should be glad to have experienced, just like those who had been caught at the checkpoint from Jordan into Israel for hours on end. That is how long it takes to clear Israeli checks if you are a Palestinian coming home from Jordan. It may have been an inconvenience, but at the very least, it was not a daily occurrence. Most of us will at the end of this week return to our lives of relative liberty. For the Palestinians, the indignity goes on

One of the writers said today that the one thing that set us apart as humans was our ability to tell stories, and that he was here to listen.

It is not a bad idea - to say the very least - to arrive in the West Bank, set aside the ideals, causes and perceptions that we have packed along with our luggage on this trip, and instead listen to the stories of the people here. The voices of the Palestinian people are already sufficiently subdued, without outsiders coming to further drown it out. Hopefully the next few days, this is what will happen, that voices which never make it outside the West Bank will be heard, loud and clear.

And let's be even-handed, and remember that there are two sides in this conflict. The right to be heard does not belong to just one side, and giving it to one will and should not deprive the other.

Let the Israeli side of the story be heard, as well.

A conversation is two-way, and as much as we would like to help, it is not the outsiders who need to be speaking. It is the Israelis and the Palestinians. The best we can do, is make sure they are both talking. Inshallah, as they say around here, God-willing, that will come to pass.


(This post is a part of's coverage of the Second Palestinian Festival of Literature, held in May 2009)



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