Madiha Kark

The Palestine Festival of Literature (PalFest) now in its sixth year has been successful in portraying a part of Palestinian culture rarely seen in the media. Arablit blogger and Warscapes columnist Marcia Lynx Qualey has described the PalFest as the Iron Man of festivals and possibly, “the most physically and psychologically challenging festival in the literary world.” This year, the five-day PalFest (31st May–4th June) will be held across four cities, Ramallah, Bethleham, Haifa and Nablus. 

The festival includes poetry performances, music, writing workshops, author talks and panel discussions. Among the renowned participants are Najwan Darwish, Kamila Shamsie, Michael Ondaajte, Saphire, Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Susan Abulhawa, Atef Abu Saif, Teju Cole, DAM (first Arab hip hop group), Hussam Ghosheh and Nathan Hamilton. Approximately 30 confirmed authors, ranging from singers, authors, poets, journalists, documentary journalists and filmmakers will lead the festival. The two workshops that are a hallmark of the festival are Cultural Journalism and Performance Poetry which are taught over the course of four days in and effort to allow the artists to share their craft and empower the people with a tool to tell their stories. 

In previous years, cherished authors like Mohammad Hanif, Taha Muhammad Ali, Lorainne Adams, Geoff Dyer and Alice Walker have been part of PalFest. Alice Walker poetically describes her experience at the festival in the clip:

The Palestine Festival of Literature was established in 2008 to showcase and support cultural life in Palestine. The resilience of the organizers is commendable in breaking the cultural siege imposed on Palestinians by the Israeli military occupation. It is fair to say that since the inception of the festival it has allowed a peek into Palestinian culture that has led to strengthening cultural links between Palestine and the rest of the world. The organizers of PalFest hope to create ‘the power of culture over the culture of power.’ 

In a blog post titled Imagining Palestine through PalFest, Rana Baker writes about the scene at 2013 PalFest:

“Melodies wafted outward and flew over the packed courtyard of Dar al-Basha as the sun cast a magnificent carpet of light over the antique walls of the Dar. Unfamiliar with the sudden vividness that had engulfed the neighborhood, people living nearby swarmed through the rusty entrance and stood their ground there or sat on the stairs until it was impossible to go into or out of the door without having to push our way through them.”

In 2009, both on the opening and closing night, the Israeli police – on court orders – made attempts to prevent the festival from taking place. The festival was moved to other buildings but was not shut down particularly because the organizers refused to bow down to culture of power. Another clip from the 2011 PalFest highlights the hope and challenges of the organizers.  

The Twitter handle for PalFest has been abuzz, counting down to the days the festival will begin and teasing the audience with author bio’s and tidbits. 

In a conflict-ridden place like Palestine, festivals like Palfest allow the world to better understand the stories and narratives of a region that is singing and writing its own song.

For more information on festival schedule, updates and author profiles check their website, Twitter and Facebook:

Madiha Kark is a freelance journalist. She was born and raised in Lahore, Pakistan and moved to Texas to complete an M.A. in Journalism from the University of North Texas. With a deep interest in migration and refugee experiences, she is researching narratives around the world for a book of nonfiction short stories.  She serves as an editorial intern for Narratively and volunteers at the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas.