Israel has blocked Palestinian writer, Susan Abulhawa, from participating in a Palestinian literature festival being held in occupied Palestine. Abulhawa, who is now a US citizen, is well-known for her book Mornings in Jenin, and was set to play a major part in the Kalimat Palestinian Literature Festival which began on Saturday in occupied East Jerusalem.
Instead she was forced to address the festival’s audience via video conferencing after being held by Israeli security for 36 hours at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, and deported back to the United States.
As the occupying power, Israel controls almost all access into the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) which comprises the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Since Israel controls virtually every entry point into the OPT, anyone wishing to enter these occupied Palestinian areas, must go through Israeli-controlled checkpoints and border crossings.
Israeli authorities claimed that Abulhawa was denied entry because she was to have co-ordinated her travel with them in advance, following a previous deportation in 2015. At the time of writing, the Israeli Interior Ministry did not reply to questions about whether Abulhawa had received written notice in 2015 of the new procedures she would have to follow.
“It pains me greatly not to be with my friends and fellow writers to explore and celebrate our literary traditions with readers and with each other in our homeland. It pains me that we can meet anywhere in the world except in Palestine, the place to which we belong, from whence our stories emerge and where all our turns eventually lead. We cannot meet on soil that has been fertilized for millennia by the bodies of our ancestors and watered by the tears and blood of Palestine’s sons and daughters who daily fight for her,” Abulhawa told the festival via video conferencing.
Abulhawa’s publisher, Bloomsbury, was “appalled” at the decision by Israeli authorities to deny Abulhawa entry into her homeland. “Susan Abulhawa is an important and internationally bestselling Palestinian writer whose novels uniquely and powerfully portray the history and plight of her country,” said Bloomsbury’s editor-in-chief, Alexandra Pringle. Pringle said that the Israeli decision to bar Abulhawa – who was a guest at the Time of the Writer literature festival hosted by the University of Kwazulu-Natal in 2013 – denied the author the opportunity to meet and engage with her readers.
According to festival co-ordinator, Mahmoud Muna, the decision to prohibit entry to the author was politically motivated. Abulhawa has been a vocal supporter of the Palestinian cause and of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
In a bid to stem growing criticism of what many have labelled Israel’s apartheid practices against the Palestinians, Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, passed a law in 2017 allowing the banning of foreigners deemed to be critical of Israel.
Since the passage of the law, a number of prominent figures have been detained or denied entry into the OPT. In July, South African model, Shashi Naidoo, was blocked from entering the West Bank for an educational trip. In May, Israeli security forces denied Ghanaian Member of Parliament, Ras Mubarak, entry into the OPT, even though Israeli authorities had issued him a permit to enter the OPT.
In December 2016, Associate General Secretary for the World Council of Churches (WCC), Dr. Isabel Apawo Phiri from Malawi, was banned from entering Israel after landing at Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. The Christian theologian was attending a WCC meeting in the holy city of Jerusalem.
In April 2015, South Africa’s then Minister of Higher Education, Blade Nzimande, was denied entry into the OPT, while en-route to Ramallah to promote research collaboration between the University of Johannesburg and institutions in the OPT.