Day 5 Palfest 2010

Our first event was at Al Khalil/Hebron University, where our host
pointedly announced from the podium, “We are not a free people.” After
the plenary, Rachel and I headed to our workshop entitled “The Media’s
Role in Creating Political Realities.” The classroom was filled with
journalism students, the majority of them young women in headscarves,
and two of their instructors. Rachel started by asking the students to
define the word “media,” and I then used a specific campaign to
illustrate “finding a hook” in order to attract attention for a story.

The discussion that followed quickly grew heated. The students were
angry about the Western media’s bias in reporting the Palestinian
situation. There was a lot of outrage in the room, and unlike many of
our other interactions, I’m not sure we added, or received, many rays
of sunshine.

Next we toured the Old City with the public relations director of the
Hebron Rehabilitation Committee, which has restored many buildings in
the Old City and placed Palestinian families in them as a way to hold
back the encroaching settlements. The volunteer families have to live
cheek-by-jowl with the most extreme of the Jewish settlers. We visited
a small row of Palestinian shops just past an Israeli checkpoint
facing a settlement. We bought ceramics, bead bracelets, and
embroidered scarves and hats while the settlers eyed us from across
the road. The dry wit of our English writers definitely helped cut the
tension: Adam made note of the settlers’ “Biblical hippie” style.
“They look like they need a good scrubbing, those boys do,” Sheila

We were running late, but our guide had made an appointment for us at
the local kheffiyeh factory, whose owner was awaiting our arrival. We
were going, no we didn’t have the time, and finally, okay we could
stop for five minutes, which of course turned into a half hour. We
entered the small ground-floor factory to the deafening clatter of the
weaving machines. What kept us longer than intended was the difficulty
of making a selection from the dizzying array of colors piled up on
the shelves of the storeroom. Our group swarmed and buzzed over the
goods. The designs were beautiful, and the kheffiyehs affordable as
well as easily transportable.

For a moment we felt like proper tourists—it was nice to shop without
having what felt like bigots who suffered from borderline personality
disorder watching your every move.

From the factory we boarded the bus towards round two at Bethlehem
Checkpoint, with its watchtowers, barbed wire, and concrete barriers.
A professor at Bethlehem University told me they refer to the
checkpoint as “Lambs to the Slaughter,” and as I made my way through
the metal chute towards the narrow turnstile, I did feel like a
variety of livestock. In addition, the disembodied, garbled soldiers’
voices barking through loudspeakers gave the whole thing the aura of a
dystopian science fiction novel. The Palestinian father in front of me
was waiting poised for the green light to flash at the top of the
turnstile. He held a two-year-old in one arm as a four-year-old stood
clutching the father’s pant leg. The trick, you see, was for all three
of them to make it into the contraption together—or else risk possibly
hours of separation. I calculated the space available and decided it
was possible, although barely. The green light finally lit up and the
three of them pushed through.

After arriving at the hotel in Ramallah, I headed to the Khalil
Sakakkini Center with a few others who were scheduled to “perform”
that night. The outdoor garden of the restored mansion was another
dramatic venue—like the Turkish bath and the Ottoman castle in Nablus
earlier in the week—and the inspiring video message from Arundhati Roy
was followed by readings that ranged from the comic to the tragic. My
contribution was on the darker end of the spectrum, in keeping, I
suppose, with the dark mood I felt that afternoon. Nothing like
imaginatively recreating the Armenian Genocide after a long day in

The evening ended with a dinner where I found myself being interviewed
by New York Times reporter Ethan Bronner, whose articles I tend to
read with skepticism—his son is currently serving in the Israel
Defense Forces, and he often can slant his facts to a fairly
doctrinaire Israeli point-of-view. But I was happy to honestly share
my experiences with him. He was writing about the two literary
festivals—The International Festival of Writers of Israel in West
Jerusalem and PalFest in East Jerusalem and across the West Bank—that
were happening simultaneously.

When I saw the piece the next day, I was surprised by its frank
assessment of the occupation and the way PalFest voices framed the

I guess you know you’ve had a tough day when the New York Times
coverage may well be the best part of it. But tough days can sometimes
be the most productive: I hope at least one of the students I so
briefly interacted with in Hebron went to sleep that night, not less
angry, but less despairing. I myself ended that day angry, exhausted
and yet poised for action.


Nancy Kricorian

Originally published in May 2010 at

May 15, 2010