On Urban Futures: Colonial Space Today Introduction to Palfest 2019

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For its 10th occurrence, the Palestine Festival of Literature curated conversations that were resolutely spatial. This introduction by PalFest 2019 co-curator Mahdi Sabbagh describes the reasons behind this theme, as well as the itinerary accomplished by the festival in March 2019.

Article published in The Funambulist 27 (January-February 2020) Learning with Palestine. Click here to access the rest of the issue.

PalFest’s founding idea was to create an international literary event to undermine the cultural siege imposed on Palestine. Over its first decade, Palfest brought some 200 Palestinian and international artists together to stage free and public events across historic Palestine. Over that same time not only has Israel’s colonial project further expanded and entrenched itself, but we have seen its techniques and technologies exported around the world.

PalFest (photo By Nadia Bseiso) Funambulist (5)
PalFest 2019 in front of one the H2 Israeli settlement in the center of Hebron-Al Khaleel’s old city. / Photo by Nadia Bseiso for PalFest 2019.

Our theme for the 2019 festival was Urban Futures: Colonial Space Today. For those living in Palestine there is no doubt that they live under various levels of colonial rule: from the expansionist settler-colonial occupation of the West Bank and Gaza; to the refugee camps housing families displaced 71 years ago; to the Palestinians living as second-class citizens of Israel. Yet the colonial reality remains difficult to grasp (obfuscated) to many on the outside. Palestine continues to be narrated as a conflict, a place of division or, most commonly, not discussed at all.

The cultural siege is bi-directional: it isolates Palestinians from the rest of the world while muddying outsiders’ understanding. The idea of solidarity is often demoted to secondary importance behind urgent questions of humanitarianism. We reject this elision and work to create connections of mutual solidarity, of intellectual exchange, of committed artistic production. We work to highlight not only what is happening in Palestine, but how it intersects with anti-colonial and anti-capitalist struggles around the world.