JAKARTA: Asian publishers want to counter the Western media narrative as they take part in a global initiative launched this week to encourage people to read Palestinian authors and history.
#ReadPalestine started on Wednesday and runs through to Dec. 5.
It was created by Publishers for Palestine, a global solidarity collective comprising more than 350 publishers who have called for an end to all violence against Palestinian people and for Tel Aviv and its allies to be held accountable for war crimes in the wake of the deadly Israeli onslaught on Gaza that started last month.
The collective, which includes more than 70 Asian publishers, has made available for free download more than 30 works of poetry, fiction and nonfiction.
“The initiative aims to be an amplifier for the Palestinian cause within the literary community, particularly in the West,” Iskandar Kamel of Malaysia’s Kawah Buku told Arab News.
“The way they have muted themselves and chosen to align with genociders, adopting an apolitical stance and neutrality in the face of atrocities, is entirely unacceptable. This is especially noteworthy considering that, all the while, they have preached about human rights and liberal principles to the Global South.”
Kamel cited as an example the biggest annual book fair in Frankfurt, which last month called off an awards ceremony to celebrate Palestinian writer Adania Shibli.
“Publishers, bookstores, authors and the entire literary community cannot remain neutral; choosing to be apolitical is not an option. It is our responsibility to play our part,” he said.
Ronny Agustinus, chief editor of the Indonesian publishing company Marjin Kiri, is a member of the International Alliance of Independent Publishers, which wrote a letter condemning the cancelation of the Frankfurt event.
“Because there are so many misunderstandings about Palestine from various parties, it becomes important to share studies and reading materials as thoroughly and as much as possible about Palestine so that we can get the whole picture,” he said.
“Literature can paint the reality of Palestinian lives poignantly and evocatively.”
The #ReadPalestine free ebook list includes “Wild Thorns,” a novel by Sahar Khalifeh about life in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and “Things You May Find Hidden in My Ear” by Mosab Abu Toha, a Palestinian poet whose abduction by Israeli forces made global headlines earlier this month. He was later released following an international outcry.
“Writers and publishers bear histories and narratives; and with them, truth. Western media is so powerful and it has skewed the thinking of many people, including writers. We can fight against that through our books and writings,” said Faye Cura of Philippines-based Gantala Press.
When it comes to Palestinian literature, women writers are Cura’s favorite.
“Many people have biased views against Muslim women, thinking they are ‘conservative,’ ‘passive,’ ‘silent,’ etc. The women writers definitely resist all that and paint a stronger, more powerful image of the Palestinian woman,” she said.
She hopes that #ReadPalestine will forge strong relations among writers, translators, artists and publishers across the world so that the “conversation and resistance continue until liberation.”
Malaysian publisher The Patriots said speaking about the Palestinian plight was also a responsibility of the literary community.
“We are collectively disappointed with this ongoing cancel culture against the Palestinian literature. It is against free speech to do so,” The Patriots said in a statement to Arab News.
“We hope this initiative could at the very least break this hostile attempt. The Palestinians could not, should not and must not be stifled.”