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Palestinians still got time to read, and the Palestine International Book Fair is here to prove it!

Palestinians still got time to read, and the Palestine International Book Fair is here to prove it!
Children enjoying their time at the Palestine International Book Fair. (WAFA Images / Baha Nasr)

By Khaled Tayeh

RAMALLAH, Tuesday, September 20, 2022 (WAFA) – No matter what they go through in what may have almost become a daily routine for them, be it detention, a house demolishing, a home ransacking, an inspection at a checkpoint, Palestinians decided that they still have to time to practice a habit as old as time: reading!

With the participation of 350 publishing houses from around the globe, the 12th Palestine International Book Fair opened its doors on September 14 on the grounds of the National Library in Ramallah.

After an absence of four years due to the Corona pandemic, the fair was held under the slogan “Palestine, the homeland, and Jerusalem, the capital”, and will continue until September 24.

The fair sees the participation of hundreds of publishing houses and cultural institutions from Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Eritrea, Qatar, Morocco, Kuwait, Sharjah, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Germany, France, Canada and Italy, while Tunisia has been selected to be the guest of honor for the 2022 edition of the fair.

Additionally, 150 Arab poets and writers are participating through a series of cultural seminars and events which offer visitors of the fair many interesting, refreshing and energizing cultural programs, such as book signing sessions, music, and poetry reading, among others.

The book fair is set up on an area of 5,000 square meters of the Palestinian National Library. It is considered to be the first event of the National Library, established on what was built to be the Presidential Guest Palace, and which is still in the process of building.

“I’m presenting the works of the French-German Cultural Institution at the fair”, said Dagmar Schneider, head of the Library of the French-German Cultural Institute in Ramallah, “We work on language courses, and we have a big library; it’s a place where you go to feel like home, but you’re not at home.”

“I’m impressed by the fair here. A lot of people, a lot of families are coming, and they’re interested in books as well as activities. They come to ask us what we’re doing and what they can do in our center. I’m astonished that so many people are coming,” said Schneider, who said that her favorite books are novels and works of Palestinian and Arabic history.

Sarah Nab’aa, from the Yunus Emre Institute, an international non-profit organization created by the Turkish government, said that the institute is present at the fair to show its books and advertise since new courses are coming up.

“Usually, a lot of people come to visit the fair during the morning, and these include schools and students on trips,” said Nab’aa on the public’s reception of the fair. “It really depends if you’re a reader or not.”

Laith Ayyash, a volunteer from the Give Palestine Association, said that the association is working to establish libraries in villages or camps near the Palestinian territories occupied in 1948.

“We’re here trying to sell children’s books in order to make money to establish libraries in poor areas,” said Ayyash, whose favorite books include religion, psychology and philosophy. “We’re trying to make kids go back to reading and put aside their phones, laptops; that’s why mostly we offer children’s books.”

Mahmoud Masri, who works at the International Legal Cooperation in the Palestinian Anti-Corruption Commission, said that the commission is trying to promote its work and be with the public as much as it can.

“We have a number of publications, some of the regulations that we’ve been working on. We have a short review of the commission’s mobile application, we highlight some of the activities that we do there,” said Masri. “We also have a reporting tool that you can use to report corruption.”

“The fair so far is so good, and from what I’m seeing, there are good numbers of readers in Palestine, and there’s an interest in reading, definitely,” said Masri, who said he is a fan of true crime novels.

Amnah Jameel, the owner of the Amnah Publishing House in Jordan, could not contain her happiness for participating in the book fair in Palestine.

“We offer many kinds of books on politics, economy, culture, history, religion,” said Jameel, who prefers philosophy books.

Khaled al-Muhannady, from the Dar Nabja Publishing House in Qatar, said he’s happy to be present in Palestine to show support for the cultural and literal movement in the country.

“Our books at the fair aren’t for sale but for display only, and then we’re going to donate them here in Palestine,” said al-Muhannady, who said he reads almost all kinds of books.

Palestinian author Nahed AlShawa, who’s originally from Gaza and owner of the Canada-based publishing house Noon Books: Nahed AlShawa Cultural said that she aims to deliver her books to all the children in Palestine, as she misses Palestine and its people.

“Our goal is to publish books in Arabic aimed to create a citizen with a global perspective, to fight for freedom and fight against discrimination,” said AlShawa. “The fair is wonderful. I’ve never been this comfortable; you feel like you’re among your friends and family.”

“Whoever reads books published by us always comes back again, especially the public libraries and schools. Palestinians are readers and interested in writing as well,” concluded AlShawa, who said she loves books that make children wonder, analyze and understand themselves and the world.

Qasam Hamayel, from al-Nasher Publishing House, stood at a corner that displays all the literary works written by iconic Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish.

“This is one of the best book fairs I’ve ever attended. People’s reception is just amazing. I give it 9 out of 10. Palestinians are absolutely readers,” said Hamayel, who’s a fan of literature and philosophy books.

Coming all the way from Egypt, Mohammad al-Baa’ly, from the Sefsafa Publishing House, said that he is very happy to be in Palestine for the first time.

“I feel great about participating in the book fair in Palestine for the first time, and I hope it won’t be the last. I feel that a lot of efforts are put on to make this event as good as it is,” said al-Baa’ly. “I’m here to present books published by Sefsafa, and these include fiction, history, anthropology, and other travel books. We’re here to meet Palestinian readers and bookstores, hoping to have a long-term cooperation.”

Yazeed Qasas, from the Palestine Writing Workshop, introduced his group as “a bunch of writers who try to encourage young readers to read more through meaningful stories and beautiful artworks and illustrations.”

“We have multiple books; educational books, entertainment books, books with good illustrations that have a good meaning as well,” said Qasas. “I’ve done other fairs but this fair is the biggest one. I’m enjoying seeing all the writers and illustrators. It’s very good for Palestinians to come all together. It shows how Palestinians like to be educated given that we’re under occupation.”

“A lot of people come to look at the art side here but many others come to buy as well,” concluded Qasas, who prefer books on self-help and psychology.

Author Siham al-Sayegh, from the Palestinian Ministry of Culture, stood at the Tunisia corner to oversee the guest of honor for the 2022 edition of the fair.

“The President has chosen Tunisia to be the guest of honor for the 2022 edition of the fair. You can find books about Tunisian heritage, and they’re all on display only, not for sale.”

“The fair is amazing. All Arabs are here. All Palestine is here. The public’s reception is great despite the fact books can be expensive,” said al-Sayegh, who likes to read English classic literature books.

Palestinians from throughout the West Bank make a daily effort to visit the book fair. They battle Israeli military checkpoints and settlers' assaults on the roads to reach Ramallah and attend an event at the fair or just walk around and look at the large variety of books on display. The book fair has become an opportunity for Palestinians to forget their daily problems, mainly those caused by the Israeli occupation that restricts their movement and interferes in their daily life matters, and have a nice and enjoyable outing for a change.

K.T./M.K.

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