Palestinian literature

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Palestinian literature refers to the Arabic language novels, short stories and poems produced by Palestinians. Forming part of the broader genre of Arabic literature, contemporary Palestinian literature is often characterized by its heightened sense of irony and the exploration of existential themes and issues of identity.[1] References to the subjects of resistance to occupation, exile, loss, and love and longing for homeland are also common.[2]

Historical Origins[edit]

Palestinian literature is one of numerous Arabic literatures, but its affiliation is national, rather than territorial.[3] While Egyptian literature is that written in Egypt, Jordanian literature is that written in Jordan etc., and up until to the 1948 Arab–Israeli war, Palestinian literature was also territory-bound, since the 1948 Palestinian exodus it has become "a literature written by Palestinians"[4]:9 irrespective of their place of residence.[3]


Palestinian Literature spoke to other causes of oppression and discrimination across the world. In his book, one of the foremost leaders of Palestinian literature and the person who coined the term Palestinian Resistance Literature, Ghassan Kanafani says, "In my stories I give my characters the freedom to express their own positions without reservation".[5] This sense of international solidarity can also be found in Palestinian poets' work such as in Mahmoud Darwish's poem Cuban Chants, "And the banner in Cuba.. The rebel raises it in the Aures.. Oh a nation that feels cold",[6] and in Samih Al-Qasim's poem, Birds Without Wings.

In the period between the 1948 Palestinian exodus and the 1967 Six-Day War, Palestinian Resistance Literature played a significant role in maintaining the Palestinian identity; forming a bridge between the two periods, which allowed the Palestinian identity to survive especially in the absence of armed resistance. In his book, Palestinian Resistance Literature Under Occupation,[7] Ghassan Kanafani argues, "Palestinian resistance literature, just like armed resistance, shapes a new circle in the historical series which practically has not been cut throughout the last half century in the Palestinian life”.[8]

Since 1967, most critics have theorized the existence of three "branches" of Palestinian literature, loosely divided by geographic location: 1) from inside Israel, 2) from the occupied territories, 3) from among the Palestinian diaspora throughout the Middle East.[9]

Hannah Amit-Kochavi recognizes only two branches: that written by Palestinians from inside the State of Israel as distinct from that written outside.[3][4]:11 She also posits a temporal distinction between literature produced before 1948 and that produced thereafter.[3] In a 2003 article published in the Studies in the Humanities journal, Steven Salaita posits a fourth branch made up of English language works, particularly those written by Palestinians in the United States, which he defines as "writing rooted in diasporic countries but focused in theme and content on Palestine."[9] However, Maurice Ebileeni argues that a fourth branch referring exclusively to anglophone literary works is not sufficient. Rather, Palestinian displacement both in Israel/Palestine and the diaspora have led to cultural and lingual diversification among Palestinians that exceeds experiences in Arabic- and English-speaking locations. Ebileeni suggest a polylingual branch that entails works by Palestinian authors - or authors of Palestinian descent - written in English as well as Italian, Spanish, Danish, Hebrew and several other languages.[10]

Palestinian literature can be intensely political, as underlined by writers like Salma Khadra Jayyusi and novelist Liana Badr, who have mentioned the need to give expression to the Palestinian "collective identity" and the "just case" of their struggle.[11] There is also resistance to this school of thought, whereby Palestinian artists have "rebelled" against the demand that their art be "committed".[11] Poet Mourid Barghouti for example, has often said that "poetry is not a civil servant, it's not a soldier, it's in nobody's employ."[11] Rula Jebreal's novel Miral tells the story of Hind Husseini's effort to establish an orphanage in Jerusalem after the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, the Deir Yassin Massacre,[12][13] and the establishment of the state of Israel.


Poetry, using classic pre-Islamic forms, remains an extremely popular art form, often attracting Palestinian audiences in the thousands. Until 20 years ago, local folk bards reciting traditional verses were a feature of every Palestinian town.[14]

After the 1948 Palestinian exodus, poetry was transformed into a vehicle for political activism. From among those Palestinians who became Arab citizens of Israel and after the passage of the Citizenship Law of 1952, a school of resistance poetry was born that included poets like Mahmoud Darwish, Samih al-Qasim, and Tawfiq Zayyad.[14]

The work of these poets was largely unknown to the wider Arab world for years because of the lack of diplomatic relations between Israel and Arab governments. The situation changed after Ghassan Kanafani, another Palestinian writer in exile in Lebanon published an anthology of their work in 1966.[14]

The work of Nathalie Handal an award-winning poet, playwright, and writer appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines. She has been translated into twelve languages.[15] She has promoted international literature through translation, research, and the edited The Poetry of Arab Women, an anthology that introduced several Arab women poets to a wider audience in the west.[16][17]

Palestinian poets often write about the common theme of a strong affection and sense of loss and longing for a lost homeland.[14]


The art of story telling is part of the cultural life in Arabic speaking countries. The tradition of “Tales From a Thousand and One Nights” is not an exception. In Palestine in each small town or village an itinerant story teller or hakawatis would visit and tell the stories they knew. The tales of the hakawatis once told for all ages are now emerging from the Palestinian Diaspora as children’s books.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ibrahim Muhawi; et al. (2006). Literature and Nation in the Middle East. Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 978-0-7486-2073-9. 
  2. ^ "Palestinian Literature and Poetry". Palestinian National Information Center. Retrieved 2007-07-28. 
  3. ^ a b c d Hannah Amit-Kochavi. "Hebrew Translations of Palestinian Literature — from Total Denial to Partial Recognition" (PDF). Beit Berl College, Israel. Retrieved 2007-08-17. 
  4. ^ a b Elad-Bouskila, Ami (1999). Modern Palestinian Literature and Culture. London & Portland, OR, Frank Cass.
  5. ^ "Ghassan Kanafani: The Symbol of the Palestinian Tragedy". Retrieved 2016-07-30. 
  6. ^ كنفاني, غسان (1968). الأدب الفلسطيني المقاوم تحت الاحتلال (PDF). بيروت: مؤسسة الدراسات الفلسطينية. pp. 63–64. 
  7. ^ كنفاني, غسان (1968). الأدب الفلسطيني المقاوم تحت الاحتلال (PDF). بيروت: مؤسسة الدراسات الفلسطينية. 
  8. ^ كنفاني, غسان (1968). الأدب الفلسطيني المقاوم تحت الاحتلال (PDF). بيروت: مؤسسة الدراسات الفلسطينية. p. 10. 
  9. ^ a b Steven Salaita (1 June 2003). "Scattered like seeds: Palestinian prose goes global". Studies in the Humanities. Retrieved 2007-09-06. 
  10. ^ Ebileeni, Maurice (20 October 2016). "Palestinian Writings in the World". Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies. 18 (7): 1–24. doi:10.1080/1369801X.2016.1231590. Retrieved 26 October 2016. 
  11. ^ a b c Adnan Soueif (21 October 2006). "Art of Resistance". The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-09-06. 
  12. ^ "Jewish filmmaker tells Palestinian story - Israel Culture, Ynetnews". 1995-06-20. Retrieved 2011-03-25. 
  13. ^ Associated, The. "Jewish film maker directs Palestinian story in 'Miral' - Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News". Retrieved 2011-03-25. 
  14. ^ a b c d Mariam Shahin (2005). Palestine: A Guide. Interlink Books. pp. 41–55. ISBN 1-56656-557-X. 
  15. ^ Institut fuer Amerikanistik der Uni Leipzig / American Studies Leipzig. "Nathalie Handal - American Studies Leipzig". 
  16. ^ IMEU. "Nathalie Handal: Poet and Playwright". 
  17. ^ "Arab-American writer is ambassador for Middle East". 
  18. ^ Sonia Nimr, Hannah Shaw, Ghada Karmi (2008) “Ghaddar the Ghoul and Other Palestinian Stories”, frances lincoln ltd, ISBN 1-84507-523-4

Additional references[edit]

  • Alvarado-Larroucau, Carlos, Écritures palestiniennes francophones ; Quête d’identité en espace néocolonial, Paris, Éditions L’Harmattan, coll. « Critiques littéraires », 2009. ISBN 978-2-296-08579-4

External links[edit]