Ibrahim Nasrallah: All Roads Lead Back to Palestine

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Ibrahim Nasrallah was born in the Wihdat Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan in 1954. As with many members of his generation, he found himself living outside of Palestine and destined to despair. (Photo: al-Akhbar - Marwan Tahtah)

By: Mariam Abdallah

Published Friday, December 9, 2011

Palestinian critic, poet, and award-winning novelist Ibrahim Nasrallah had to overcome a life of hardship to write the story of his lost homeland and its scattered people.

Ibrahim Nasrallah leans to serenity in literature and in real life as well. One has to make an effort in order to hear his words, which verge on whispers. He has come to Beirut to attend the Beirut Arab International Book Fair to promote his new novel, Qanadil Malik al-Jalil (Lamps of the Galilee King). The Palestinian author was bold enough to narrate his life far from literary tricks and evasions.

Ibrahim Nasrallah was born in the Wihdat Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan in 1954. As with many members of his generation, he found himself living outside of Palestine and destined to despair. He remembers the ceiling that could not protect him from rain and the door that could not shelter him from the cold. He recalls the books that he desired to read. His school was a tent, and “every four children would share the same book.”

Even as he grew older, he did not get the chance to live what he had missed out on in his childhood. Images of the tent and diaspora had much control over his life. “I hoped to study music and go to college, but my family’s difficult situation made me focus on trying to stay alive.” Everything around him reminded him of Palestine: the tent, misery, suffering…all those things that crush a Palestinian’s daily life.

Nasrallah lived through two decades of political repression in Jordan of the 1950’s and 60’s. “No one had the courage to turn the radio on and listen to Jamal Abdel Nasser,” he says. He admits that a slow deterioration had already begun to eat away at the Palestinian organizations when he reached political consciousness. Thus, he chose to assume the position of a critic rather than participant.

The poet, author, and critic did not live in an environment that supported writing. “Everybody was against writing; my school and family were opposed to self-education,” he says. Books were a luxury in those times and Jordan’s difficult economic conditions did not offer many opportunities even after he graduated from the teachers’ institute.

Eventually, he was forced to emigrate to work as a teacher in Saudi Arabia between 1976 and 1978. He took advantage of his time there to compose his first literary work. “I lived in an area that Yahya Yakhlef once called: Najran Below Zero,” he says.

He left the desert after an experience that he describes as “harder than that he lived at the camp. People were completely crushed -- unimaginable poverty and widespread illnesses. It was only two years ago that the Saudi King acknowledged the complete marginalization of those areas.”

During that period, he read Ghassan Kanafani’s books, which led him to return to Jordan and dedicate his life to working for Palestine. His return was not easy. He worked as a journalist for 18 years before he was able to devote himself to writing in 2006.

The urge to write stemmed from his awareness of the importance of literature in popular heritage. He wanted to create a work that portrays Palestine the beautiful…once in a poem, another in a novel, in a story, painting, or film.

Cinema had a great influence on his work. He used to see reality off the screen as a deserted and miserable world. His passion for the silver screen led him to become a critic. He wrote two books on film criticism: Hazaim al-Montasirin (Defeats of the Victorious) and Sowar al-Wojoud: al-Cinema Tataammal (Photos of Existence: How Cinema Meditates).

He believes that boycotting Israel is indispensable in the fight to regain usurped Palestinian land and rights. Thus, he refused to participate in Turin International Book Fair in Italy in 2008, because the organizers were planning to celebrate Israel’s 60 years of existence at the fair.

In his opinion, the only way to understand what is happening around the Arab world is through understanding what is happening in Palestine. That is why he launched his Shurufat (Verandas) trilogy, which represents a new depiction of the central cause of Palestine.

He seems pleased that he completed these novels prior to the latest explosion in the Arab world. His bias for change makes him consider himself among the instigators of the revolution “against the corruption and rust that has overtaken the Arabs,” he says.

He describes his struggle with Jordanian censorship as “malicious,” especially since his 1984 poetry collection titled Noman Yastarid Lawnah (Anemone Regains Its Color) was banned 22 years after its release.

“I am the author with the most banned works in Jordan. I have been subjected to such censorship on four occasions. I was banned from traveling for six years and from holding poetry readings,” he says.

In Zaman al-Khuyoul al-Baydaa (Time of White Horses), which was nominated for Arab Booker Prize in 2009, he narrates part of the Palestinian people’s history between 1917 and 1948. In his opinion, Jabra Ibrahim Jabra and Ghassan Kanafani should not have disregarded narrating this period, despite the difficulty of doing so.

His latest novel Qanadil Malik al-Jalil is being released in the midst of the Arab uprisings. It revolves around the historic figure, Daher al-Omar, who revolted against Ottoman rule and was able to establish the first modern national entity in Palestine between 1689 and 1775. In his novel, Nasrallah imagines that today’s protests demand the return of al-Omar and his state, which was based on religious tolerance, social justice, dignity of the individual, and the rejection of familial rule.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

All roads lead back to Saudi Arabia, where all the Arabs come from.
The Arabs have 21 countries. LIke that isn't enough for them, they want tiny Israel.

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