As you know, terrible repercussions have followed the horrific events that took place on the 7th of October 2023, which itself came after many decades of staggeringly tragic and bloody conflict. Though they are not even remotely comparable to the atrocities that have taken place in Palestine/Israel since, consequences are rippling across the world, even in the literary community. As editor (and on behalf) of Erato Magazine, I condemn the suppression and closing-off of Palestinian voices, art, and literature, including that of Palestinan author Adania Shibli.
For context, award-winning Palestinian author and winner of Germany’s LiBeraturpreis 2023, Adania Shibli, was to receive the award for the German version her book, Minor Detail (New Directions/Fitzcarraldo, English translation by Elisabeth Jaquette), Eine Nebensache (Berenberg Verlag, German translation by Günther Orth) at the 2023 Frankfurt Book Fair – the world’s largest trade fair for books. However, a statement released on the 13th of October on the event organizer, LitProm’s website says that the award ceremony will no longer take place. In addition, the public discussion with Shibli and her German translator Orth has also been cancelled.
According to the New York Times, LitProm’s original statement claimed that this had been made in accordance with the author’s wishes, but Shibli has since refuted these claims. LitProm’s statement currently says:
“Due to the war started by Hamas, under which millions of people in Israel and Palestine are suffering, the organiser Litprom e.V. decided to not hold the award ceremony of the LiBeraturpreis at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Litprom is looking for a suitable format and setting for the event at a later point. Awarding the prize to Adania Shibli was never in question. Litprom firmly rejects the accusations and defamations made against the author and the novel in parts of the press as unfounded.”
The novel in question consists of two different parts. The first one, based on a true incident, sees the rape and murder of a Bedouin girl by Israeli soldiers in the Negev desert in 1949. The second part follows a woman from Ramhallah decades later as she tries to find out more about the incident.
Barbara Epler, Shibli’s US publisher (New Directions) wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Times, saying that:
“With the unbelievable heartbreak that is now being suffered on all sides, it serves no one to put forward falsehoods, especially about the author of a novel about the Nakba that is so historically true.”
In the letter, Epler further criticized the organizer’s event choice to cancel the ceremony and “try to silence the voice of Adania Shibli — “due to the war in Israel”— is cowardly,” and I completely agree.
Giving voices to Israeli people in their very real suffering should not come at the cost of Palestinian voices. If anything, this is a time where Palestinian voices should be protected and amplified, not suppressed.
The Human Rights Watch has described the horrific events taking place in Gaza as unlawful, deadly, and a breach of human rights and international law – yes, there are rules even in war. Further, the United Nations have repeatedly called for ceasefire and the protection of Palestinian civilians from mass ethnic cleansing.
As Shibli's voice will not be heard at the Book Fair, take the time to read Minor Detail and other works by or about Palestinians. Some of my recommendations are The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine by Rashid Khalidi, Nakba: Palestine, 1948, and the Claims of Memory by Ahmad H Sa’di and Lila Abu-Lughod, Return: A Palestine Memoir by Ghada Karmi, The Fateful Triangle by Noam Chomsky, Except for Palestine: The Limits of Progressive Politics by Marc Lamont Hill and Mitchell Plitnick, and Light in Gaza: Writings Born of Fire (Anthology) edited by Jehad Abusalim, Jennifer Bing, and Mike Merryman-Lotze.
www.haymarketbooks.org are currently offering free eBook downloads on three of their titles on Palestine, including Light in Gaza.
I fervently disagree with LitProm’s choice and stand with so many other editors in backing Adania Shibli. The voices of Palestinian victims need to be protected and amplified, always.
Note: I encourage you all to have a look at the open letter on behalf of 350+ writers, editors and other literary figures (myself included) in support of Shibli by ArabLit. If this applies to you, I also encourage you to sign.