المؤسسات الألمانية تُسكت المؤلفين الفلسطينيين، والمجتمع الأدبي العالمي يستجيب بالتضامن
30 octobre 2023

On Friday, Oct. 13, the Frankfurt Book Fair (Frankfurter Buchmesse) — the world’s largest trade fair for books — announced its support for the Israeli regime via Instagram:  “Frankfurter Buchmesse stands with complete solidarity on the side of Israel.” This announcement accompanied the canceling of Palestinian author Adania Shibli’s award ceremony, which was to be held at the fair. She was set to receive the 2023 LiBeraturpreis — a prize that is given annually — for her novel, Minor Detail

The LITPROM literary association, granting the award, stated:

“Due to the war started by Hamas, under which millions of people in Israel and Palestine are suffering, the organizer 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.”

The statement aligned with Juergen Boos — the director of Frankfurt Book Fair — who expressed his fear over the war: “We strongly condemn Hamas’s barbaric terror war against Israel, and we are horrified.” While the fair claims to provide a positive experience for all its participants — irrespective of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disabilities, ethnicity, nationality, age, language, religion, or world view — their focus on making “Israeli voices especially visible at the book fair” violates their own code of conduct “as a place of cultural diversity where people from all over the world gather peacefully.”

While the jury’s rationale for selecting Adania Shibli's Minor Detail highlighted the book’s rigorous composition and exploration of the impact of borders and violence against Palestinians, the prize failed to celebrate this selection. Instead, it announced the cancellation of the ceremony, falsely claiming that the decision was made in agreement with the author. Adania Shibli’s U.S. publisher, Barbara Epler, quickly refuted that the decision was made “jointly” with the author. In Epler’s letter to The New York Times, she stated: “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. To cancel the ceremony and so try to silence the voice of Adania Shibli — ‘due to the war in Israel’ — is cowardly. But to say Shibli agreed (amid all the suffering in Gaza) is worse.” The New York Times corrected its article accordingly.

These sudden announcements faced a backlash in the cultural and literary fields, with many voices pointing out that the Frankfurt Book Fair is prejudiced against Palestinian voices. To show solidarity in support of Adania Shilbi’s Minor Detail — a book that deals with the long-standing sexual violence inflicted by Occupation Forces on Palestinian women and girls, as well as the daily torment of Israeli borders and checkpoints ArabLit Quarterly organized an open letter “in response to the closing of space for Palestinian literary voices, the wrongful claim that Adania Shibli was consulted about this decision, and the attacks on Shibli’s novel in the German press.” The letter has been circulated since its publication on Oct. 16, with more than 2,000 intellectuals, authors, academics, educators, poets, and others signing it, to stand against the silencing of voices, particularly amid the genocide against Gazans.

In fact, not only did cultural and literary institutions sign a statement, but other literary institutions stepped up and announced their withdrawal from the Frankfurt Book Fair, in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza. Sharjah Book Authority was the first to announce their decision to end their participation in the book fair, highlighting “the role of culture and books to encourage dialogue and understanding between people,” a role that is being erased by the organizers as they attempt to remove works that point out Israeli crimes against humanity.

Many unions and publishers followed Sharjah Book Authority's steps in condemning the book fair for sidelining Arab and Palestinian voices and boycotting their right to expression and representation. Among these institutions is the Arab Publishers’ Association, which confirms its right to support the Palestinians in their resistance to gain freedom and independence from the Israeli occupation. In its statement, the group condemned the cancellation of Adania Shilbi’s award ceremony as an act devoid of integrity and justice. Other publishers who announced their boycott of the Frankfurt Book Fair released statements through their social media accounts, including the Emirates Publishers Association, Egyptian Publishers, Dar Suad Al Sabbah, Asser Alkotob, Dar Masaa, Jabal Amman Publishers, and others.

Both Indonesian and Malaysian writers boycotted the Frankfurt Book Fair after Palestinian voices were silenced. In their statement, the Indonesian Publishers Association on Monday repudiated “the Frankfurt Book Fair’s stance of supporting and giving a wider stage to Israel at this year’s exhibition while denying the Palestinian people’s right to independence.” Malaysia’s Ministry of Education, meanwhile, asserted that there is “no compromise on Israeli violence in Palestine.”

The Torous Center in Kuwait has called for the Arab Publishers’ Association to suspend the memberships of Arab publishers who participate in the Frankfurt Book Fair and consider them as complicit in supporting the Zionist regime. Torous Center also invited all Arab book fairs to host Palestine as their guest of honor in an initiative to reintroduce a complete portfolio of Palestinian literature to the public.

During its ninth session in Cairo, the Zayed Book Fair conducted a symbolic tribute to writer Adania Shilbi, in solidarity after her award ceremony was canceled in Frankfurt. An honorary shield was presented to Mr. Naji Al-Naji, the cultural adviser to the Palestinian Embassy.

The Israeli bombardment of Gaza has continued into its second week, with thousands of more Palestinians murdered in a genocidal campaign before the eyes of the world, with the approval of most Western nations. This war is not only physical but also cyber. With many influencers and intellectuals worldwide trying to revert the dominant narrative against the Palestinian people — which is being pushed by pro-Israeli traditional media — and fighting t to stand with Palestine in protests and online, the Frankfurt Book Fair (ironically and unwittingly) became a neutral platform for writers to properly discuss the Israeli oppression of Gaza.

Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek's — the author of more than 70 books on the human condition — broke the anti-Palestinian institutional narrative, sharing his shock due to the postponement of the award ceremony for Adania Shibli. In his speech, he considered the decision to be “scandalous.” Zizek's speech — interrupted by occasional heckling from portions of the audience — emphasized that “there will be no peace in the Middle East without resolving the Palestinian question. One should defend Palestinian rights.”

Others have been targeted as well. Palestinian artist Emily Jacir revealed on Instagram that her Berlin lecture was canceled. While no details were provided, it appears to be linked to changes in the list of participants in a University of Potsdam project and workshop titled “Images of History in Contemporary Art,” held at Berlin's Hamburger Bahnhof museum.

On Oct. 16, Tracy Fuad tweeted: “I'm ashamed to live in Germany, which has responded to the genocide in Gaza by canceling a talk by the Palestinian artist Emily Jacir and an award ceremony honoring Adania Shibli, author of Minor Detail.” On Oct. 19, an open letter from the Art Community to Cultural Organizations — featuring Emily Jacir’s Memorial to 418 Palestinian Villages Which Were Destroyed, Depopulated, and Occupied by Israel in 1948, 2021 — was released to endorse Palestinian liberation, urging an immediate ceasefire, humanitarian aid access to Gaza, and an end to complicity in human rights violations and war crimes committed by Israeli Occupation Forces.

Silencing writers, artists, speakers, and academics is nothing new in Germany or within German cultural institutions. In 2019, British-Pakistani author Kamila Shamsie's Nelly Sachs Prize (awarded by the German city of Dortmund every two years) was revoked due to her association with the BDS movement, which the German parliament ludicrously labels as “antisemitic,” in a legislative attempt to criminalize anti-apartheid activism. Similarly, in June of 2019, Palestinian writer Khaled Barakat faced not only a ban on discussing the Trump administration’s dealings with the Israeli regime but also a month-long prohibition on political and cultural engagement — whether in-person or virtually — imposed by the Berlin authorities.

In Australia, Adelaide Writers' Week 2023 was under pressure to disinvite two prominent Palestinian writers: Susan Abulhawa and Mohammed El-Kurd. Abulhawa's case revolved around political objections triggered by her critical tweets about unconditional Western aid to Ukrainian President Zelensky and the Israeli regime. El-Kurd, meanwhile, was targeted due to his outspoken campaigning against illegal armed settlers in Jerusalem, many of whom have targetted his neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. 

These cancellations ignited discussions about freedom of speech and canceled culture, with many deeming them unjustified in democratic societies.

A recent account and testimony from Tracy Fuad and Paul Cunningham indicate that Haus für Poesie canceled Palestinian-Syrian-Swedish poet Ghayath Almadhoun’s event for his German anthology, Kontinentaldrift (feat. 34 Arabic poets) published by action books.

The latest high-profile target of the Zionist lobby’s attempts to silence authors who speak out on Palestine has been Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen. On Oct. 18, Nguyen declared via Instagram his support for BDS after signing an open letter published by the London Review of Books on the “Situation in Palestine.” He wrote: “The Israeli government and its supporters have sought to shut down any protest of Israel, including nonviolent ones like BDS … even literature and the arts from Palestinians or sympathetic to them are being silenced.” Nguyen also revealed that 92NY (or 92nd St Y, a cultural center in New York) canceled his event without further explanation of the reasons for such a decision. Thus, Nguyen switched his event to McNally Jackson Bookstore, which was held on Oct. 21, and talked about his book and “about how art is silenced in times of war and division because some people only want to see the world as us vs. them.”

On the other hand, there were valuable efforts to uplift Palestinian voices online by offering free access to published literature by Palestinians or about Palestine. To grant readers, who rejected the shutting down of Adania Shibli’s voice and narrative, an immersive experience with her banned book, Minor Detail, Fitzcarraldo Editions granted access to the English Version of the book via Amazon, Apple and Kobo. On Oct. 18, Wasafiri Magazine showed its solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza and shared open access to Adania’s short story titled Fadwa Touqan Will Do the Tango No More translated by Suneela Mubayi. Inspired by Wasafiri’s idea, ArabLit Quarterly made Adania Shibli’s translated A Tin Ball available online

The blacklisting, de-platforming, and silencing of writers and artists represents an ongoing challenge in the Palestinian pursuit of free expression. Controversy often erupts when Palestinians seek to share their narratives and address the Israeli occupation in their literary works or discussions. What starts as a personal journey becomes a collective political statement, which is swiftly punished by the well-organized and amply-funded Israeli lobby, which often resorts to the weaponization of antisemitism to discredit Palestinian and pro-Palestinian artists.