Excerpt

From the Introduction by Ru Freeman

The impetus to ask a group of writers to reflect on the ongoing assault on the thin and shifting borders of Palestine, and the people who are confined to that tenuous landscape, became impossible to set aside in the face of the 2014 assault on Gaza, an assault in which Israel claimed it hit 5,226 targets within the 139 square miles that constitute Gaza, and one which left 2,104 Palestinians killed, including 495 children, and 10,626 injured, many critically. Parallel to the bombing of Gaza was the simultaneous incursion into Palestinian neighborhoods in the West Bank which went unmentioned in the American press. It resulted in the largest land-grab by Israel since 1948, with the seizure of $3.5 million worth of Palestinian property within and surrounding Jerusalem. In the face of such numbers, and the fact that we as Americans, willingly or not, fund the perpetration of such violence through our taxes, but more so by our silence, I felt that we needed to confront the reality that Cunard articulated in 1937: it is impossible any longer to take no side.

Against the backdrop of what had transpired, it would have been easy enough to gather a group of people who could give us facts and figures, history and conjecture, attack and defense. Yet the 2,402 square miles of Palestine, and the 3.9 million people who live within its fragmented territories occupy a larger moral and ethical space, particularly for American writers, one which is critical to the way we look at the world into which we release all our artistic endeavors. We need, as artists, to be able to hear the beat of that larger world, to provide in its hour of need, some perspective that can move toward a recognition of the fact that our hands too are stained – if we remain silent – with the blood of others.

We are fond of identifying ourselves with victims during certain historical moments: We were all Americans (during 9/11), we were all from Newtown (in the aftermath of that shooting), we were all Trayvon Martin/Michael Brown/Eric Garner, we all rose and fell with the Berlin wall and with Nelson Mandela. Yet we are rarely inclined to commit our art to documenting how, exactly, this comes to be. How do, in this case, the injustices experienced by Palestinians belong to us all? What makes us identify with people and a cause that is geographically remote but pulses with an intimacy that belies that distance? How does the giving and receiving of help sharpen our resolve on other fronts, and strengthen our bonds, and what forms can that solidarity and empathy take? Is it direct and literal, or oblique and fragmentary?

In an article titled “Poetry & Inhumanity: Anti-War Art: Nearly Impossible?” written for The Best American Poetry (August, 2014), Sara Eliza Johnson takes issue with Noah Belatsky’s article in The Atlantic (“Anti-War Art: Nearly Impossible”), which was written in the context of the July attack on Gaza by the Israeli Defense Forces. Belatsky concludes that such art is almost impossible, that the prettifying (through narrative, aesthetic inference, etc.) drive of the artist distances the consumer, and renders the art itself irrelevant in terms of it having any impact on the machinery of war. Johnson, on the other hand, argues for writers, poets in particular, to consider their response to state-sanctioned violence which extends from police brutality (Ferguson), to the subsidizing of terror in other nations (Iraq, Iran, and Palestine). To support her argument for art that removes the space we often leave between ourselves and the misery and horror experienced by “others,” she points to Thomas Hirschchom’s “The Incommensurable Banner,” (2008), a visual art installation that depicts photographs of dead victims of the “War on Terror,” a piece that serves to create discomfort, to nag at our conscience, to observe that this dead body is, in fact, not us, but that we are deeply culpable in its existence. That discomfort is a useful way to describe the space that the writers in this collection were asked to occupy.

* * * *

The spirit behind this anthology is that it would first compel us to set our names down beside each other as writers willing to remove the barrier between the story we hear and/or are told, and ourselves. Secondly, that it would permit the creation of a new way of thinking about how we, as writers and readers, might raise our voices against the seeming inevitability of war and a culture of dispossession and invasion that has been allowed to remain unquestioned for too long. As Mourid Barghouti writes in his memoir, I Was Born There, I Was Born Here (2012), “The weaker party in any conflict is never allowed to tell his own story,” for the enemy will not allow a competing narrative. The story that is told, that the Palestinians are “wrong, defective, and deserving of the pain that they have brought upon themselves,” is given life through the deliberate muting of the Palestinian voice. It is into that ruinous silence that the writers gathered here pitch their voices and, together, construct sure footing.

Extraordinary Rendition
A thrilling debut: Ru Freeman has given us a wonderfully bold and determined protagonist in a richly drawn, complex, fascinating story. I loved it.— Lynn Freed, author of The Servants' Quarters.